Irena Fisher-Hwang, EE PhD ’19 finds her passion in data-driven reporting

Dr. Irena Fischer-Hwang, EE PhD 2019
June 2019

Excerpted from "Stanford grad trades STEM for storytelling," June 2019.

 

EE graduate, Irena Fisher-Hwang,PhD '19 said she realized early in her graduate studies that it was important to communicate science to wider audiences.

"There's an unexpected side to science that is really fun to communicate to people," she said. "I think if we can make science more approachable, it could really help people understand why scientists do what they do."

Little did she realize that her earlier interest in science communication would lead her to a new career path.

Irena's first foray into storytelling was through Goggles Optional, a humorous science podcast written, produced and hosted by Stanford graduate students. For the past two years, she has written and hosted dozens of episodes of the show, including one about lucid dreaming and another about how sound can hack smartphones.

"In academic science, not a lot of people will be able to understand what you are working on," she said. "But the whole goal of journalism is to take difficult concepts and explain them to the public in interesting ways."

Irena's doctoral adviser, Professor Tsachy Weissman, was so impressed by her journalistic leanings that he asked her to help him launch a podcast about his own field of expertise, information theory. Irena produced the pilot episode of the series and then trained 14 students in the new freshman seminar EE25N: The Science of Information to write scripts and edit audio so they can continue producing the series.

Turning Data analysis into storytelling

In communication Professor James Hamilton's class, Irena discovered how journalists and computer scientists are overlapping, as many reporters are now turning to big data analysis to help them with their reporting.

Irena found that the skills she honed during her graduate studies – sorting and evaluating data, managing large amounts of information and running statistical analysis, for example – are as relevant in the newsroom as they are in the lab.

"Now, finally, I feel like I've found a great way to combine my love of human stories with my rigorous training in STEM through journalism. I've had this creative streak for as long as I can remember, but until recently I didn't know what to do with it."

 

Please join us in congratulating Irena, and we look forward to seeing her on campus in the fall quarter!

 

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