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CAMILLE MOJICA REY, PhD spent hot Texas summers as a kid splitting her days between exploring a salt marsh and getting lost in the pages of books. Mornings were for ducking beneath huge spider webs in the thick brush to look for birds and other wildlife in the marsh behind her grandparents’ home on the Texas Gulf Coast. Afternoons were reserved for a cold drink and reading a good book in the shade of their second-story porch. After watching the sunset over Copano Bay, she would be off for a night of fishing from a pier, hoping to catch a red drum big enough to land her in the pages of the Rockport Pilot, the local newspaper. (That happened when she was 12-years-old!)
Field Biology: How to be a Kid Forever
It was her love of nature–especially fish–that lead Camille to major in biology at the University of Texas at Austin and spend a summer internship at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. Later, she would re-live her childhood, conducting field research in the rain forests of Panama and Costa Rica for her PhD in Integrative Biology from the University of California (UC), Berkeley. She published several scientific papers (1, 2) on a genus of freshwater fish related to guppies, called Brachyrhaphis.
It was while working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama that Camille felt the first pull away from academic research toward writing. She spent her days wading in streams and her nights curled up with the ever-present novel. For the first time, she felt compelled to tell stories, people’s stories. Not wanting to leave science altogether, she followed a friends’ suggestion that she become a science writer. The idea of using her scientific background to serve as a translator was an intriguing one. This coupled with a growing desire to be of service led Camille to focus on ways she could use her writing to bring health-related “news you can use” to lay audiences.
Found in Translation
After finishing her doctorate, enrolled in the Science Communication Program at UC Santa Cruz. Her first assignment as an intern was a radio report for KQED radio in San Francisco from a forest fire in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. During the program, she was also an intern at the Santa Cruz Sentinel‘s Watsonville bureau and, as part of a Kaiser Family Foundation fellowship, a full-time summer intern on the team covering science and technology at the San Jose Mercury News, the newspaper of Silicon Valley. Newspaper work was great fun. From interviewing Jesse Jackson at a farm workers’ rally to writing about how babies learn languages, working at a newspapers was never boring!
After completing the Science Communication Program, Camille worked briefly at the Valley Times before getting a staff writer position at The Monterey County Herald. There she wrote general assignment news, features and a health column. Camille was then lured to New York City by Latina magazine, one of her previous freelance clients. The magazine hired her as a health editor and she and her husband, whom she had met at UC Berkeley, moved to New York city. It was fun while it lasted, but the couple later moved back to Silicon Valley where Camille was hired as a staff writer for the Mercury News‘ Peninsula bureau. Eventually assigned to cover the “cops and courts” beat, Camille realized she had gotten too far from what had been motivating her writing career: helping people live healthier lives!
So, Camille went back to freelance science journalism, writing for a variety of clients, including National Public Radio’s LatinoUSA, WebMD and Science magazine. Her work for WebMD also appeared on CNN.com.
Hot Topics in Hot Science
During this time, Camille began freelance public relations offices at major university medical centers, eventually holding a temporary, full-time positions at Stanford University and UC San Francisco. Later, she held a full-time permanent position at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. This work was also great fun in a more behind-the-scenes kind of way. She got to spend a lot of time talking to scientists about cutting edge research and with patients about their experiences. She also wrote press releases and pitched stories to members of the media in a new “teach the teachers” kind of role.
And then the babies started coming! Three of them arrived between October of 2003 and September of 2012. That meant going back and forth between freelance writing and taking time off to focus on family. During this time, she wrote mostly for UC Davis Medical Center, with whom she was under contract from 2006 to 2011. Camille enjoyed her time working with UC Davis researchers, learning about everything from potentially harmful additives in soap to stem cells. She met courageous patients with inspiring stories. She also got to know the people behind the science, including one researcher who wound up being prescribed the cancer drug she had been studying in the lab.
Camille’s longest hiatus was from November of 2011 to June of 2016. That year, Camille and her family relocated to her hometown of Austin, Texas. Her recent clients include Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, Life Science Leader magazine, Clinical OMICS magazine and Knowinnovation.
Camille Mojica Rey, PhD is a freelance science writer living in Austin with her husband and three children. She enjoys walking, yoga and spending time with her family.