Meet Ivy Kupec and Shreya Ghosh, the creative minds behind your biannual EMBLetc magazine, which earlier this year celebrated its 100th issue with a brand-new interactive digital format. In this interview, these skilled and insightful editors share their sources of inspiration, discuss their human-focused approach to science storytelling, and offer advice to alumni on pitching their own stories. Find out what makes a compelling science narrative and get to know Ivy and Shreya beyond their editorial roles, from childhood dreams of becoming a detective or doctor to their favourite books and authors.
EMBLetc issue 101 is out now.
What books, publications or other content inspires you?
IK: Such a hard question for a former English major! I lean towards fiction (especially classics), but I also love creative, informative science writing. Sometimes I am lucky and get a bit of both. If you haven’t read Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, I recommend it!
SG: I think I’m most inspired by the ‘wacky’ ideas, stuff that forces you to think in a completely new and different way. I love science fiction/fantasy — Arthur C Clarke and Ursula K. Le Guin are perennial favourites. I also have a long list of popular science authors whose work I keep coming back to when the inspiration tank runs dry.
What’s been your highlight in your role at EMBL so far?
IK: We’ve been gradually conveying EMBL’s high standard of comms excellence in new eco-friendly, digital versions of beloved publications like EMBLetc. and the annual report. Both Shreya and I love to find new ways to tell stories, so this process has been fun even when challenging.
SG: Over the last several months of working together, we have become deeply interested in understanding and expanding our audiences, and delivering them content that is current, relevant, and inspiring. I especially love connecting to the humans — scientists and staff — who are at the heart of all the exciting science that happens at EMBL and understanding what drives their passion.
What advice would you give to alumni who would like to share their story via EMBLetc?
IK: Few things make a stronger statement about EMBL’s impact than successful alumni stories. We love getting tips from the Alumni Relations team, but we would love to also get to know our alumni better through direct connections when that seems feasible.
SG: We love hearing from alumni! One of EMBL’s key strengths is its commitment to nurturing talent, and it’s lovely to see that reflected in the successes of its alumni. If you are working on an exciting project, or have made a cool discovery, or have an interesting career journey, we want to hear about it! Feel free to write to us any time, either directly or via the alumni relations team.
What makes a good science story?
IK: Good science stories are like other good stories. One tends to think only of new discoveries, but honestly, it’s much more. Interesting people and unusual processes also can be great stories. A good litmus test? Is this something I could share with a non-scientist friend and capture their imagination too?
SG: I think a good science story is one that helps the reader learn something new at the same time as being entertained by it. It is something that leaves an impression, by either connecting to the reader’s daily life, or generating a sense of awe/wonder, or answering a deep fundamental question, or bringing two or more unrelated ideas together. Sometimes the best stories are those that bring to light the people behind the research and the process (rather than the outputs) of scientific research.
What motivates you to go to work every day?
IK: Science literacy. I’m not a scientist, but I have always loved science. The pandemic taught us that non-scientists REALLY need to understand science and its processes better. We saw ‘presidents’ perpetuating very bad information. Compelling science stories approached in different ways, I believe, can gradually build a more science-literate world. I like to think I help with this goal.
SG: Having grown up in the Global South, I have watched first-hand the effects of people not having access to scientific information — often through no fault of their own, but rather a lack of resources. I think it is more important than ever that scientific knowledge is made widely accessible and taken into account when making policy decisions that impact the lives of millions of people. I hope my work contributes, at least a teeny bit, in that direction.
What makes EMBL special?
IK: EMBL has top-notch scientists with cutting-edge instrumentation located in an environment that fosters world-class creativity, enthusiasm, and ingenuity. That’s pretty special. Bonus points for being headquartered in Germany – one of my favourite countries!
SG: I think it’s a few different things — (1) The strong spirit of collaboration and knowledge exchange that permeates all aspects of the work here (2) The focus on developing methods and technologies that help all scientists worldwide, and making such services (and data) openly accessible (3) The unique 9-year rule that results in a continuously growing community of alumni who go on to become leaders in their fields.
IK: In the science genre, I have been known to recommend books by Ed Yong, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Mary Roach, and Oliver Sacks. For fiction, I love pretty much anything by Fredrik Backman. Also, Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird may be my favourite books of all time, but I do have a lot of favourites.
SG: Ivy and I overlap a lot in our favourites 🙂 In addition to the ones she’s mentioned, I also like Robert Sapolsky and Atul Gawande among popular science authors, and Terry Pratchett and Kazuo Ishiguro among fiction authors. I also like to read in my native language – Bengali – where Bibhutibhushan Bandopadyay and Satyajit Ray are two of my favourite writers.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
IK: I really liked the idea of being a doctor or scientist, even trying to set up a makeshift ‘lab’ with household items and school supplies in a corner of our kitchen. This idea was abandoned rather swiftly maybe because of a concerned mother.
SG: I first got introduced to detective mysteries when I was six or so, and soon decided that becoming a private investigator would be the sole aim of my life. In middle school, I dreamed of being a published novelist. I found my way almost accidentally into science, and loved it so much that I ended up staying for many many years, before making a lateral move into science communication, helped no doubt by my latent love of the written word.
- EMBLetc issue 101 is out now.
- We’d love to hear from you! If you have a story to share with the EMBL community and would like to feature in the next issue of EMBLetc, please do get in touch.