Timothy Oleson

Timothy Oleson

By Leslie Jernegan

Science writer, Timothy Oleson, is the first to admit he followed a roundabout path to combine his range of interests, and land a job that strings together his years of studying them.

Throughout high school, college, and even part of graduate school, Oleson lacked a crystalized vision of what he saw himself doing. After pursuing an undergraduate degree in chemistry, he knew that spending the rest of his life in a lab wasn’t for him.

Oleson later came cross a term that struck him – geochemistry – and took a summer class in which he became interested in the field of geology. There, his teacher –who had recently finished studying geology in graduate school – encouraged Oleson to do the same.

Moving into UW–Madison’s Department of Geoscience for his master’s and doctorate, Oleson enjoyed conducting research, but, once more, realized that he couldn’t picture himself working in a lab for an entire career. Rather, he had a different idea in mind: science writing.

“I never had the clearest focus of what I was going to do – just different interests floating around,” Oleson admits. “I kind of assumed that going into journalism I’d have the opportunity to do a lot more research in different fields.”

Once he finished his Ph.D. in geology, Oleson stayed at UW to earn his master’s in journalism and mass communications with an emphasis on science writing.

“That was a totally different experience than geology was,” Oleson says. “I was only there for three semesters, but I think it did what it’s meant to do and be sort of a crash course for people looking to get into science writing and get into journalism.”

A summer internship with EARTH Magazine in Virginia led him to becoming one of its staff writers and, for now, its acting associate editor. With the magazine’s focus on his graduate studies, like earth science, climate and energy, Oleson now links his studies in science with those in journalism.

Although he spends much of his time on journalistic undertakings, such as interviewing, writing and editing, Oleson says that he’s glad to have pursued his PhD in geology.

“I think that’s helped me get to where I am with science writing,” he says. “It was in those four years that I felt like I really became sort of a real scientist for what I was doing in the lab – reading my own experiments, putting together my own analyses and that sort of stuff.”

As far as what I’m doing now, that’s helped measurably with how I read other people’s research, ask questions based on what they’ve done and sort of understand the process.

If you’re like Oleson with many, as he labels them, “nebulous ideas,” for a career, he suggests to do as he did: pursue one (or two), and see where your interests take you.

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