Behind the byline • APOORVA MANDAVILLI
Behind some of The Times’ critical journalism on coronoviruses is a reporter who speaks seven languages, holds a master’s degree in biochemistry and, well, a weakness for “Bridgeton”.
Times Insider Explains who we are and what we do, and the behind-the-scenes detail how our journalism comes together.
As a science reporter for The New York Times, Apoorva Mandavilli knows the world of research, laboratories and technical papers. It is useful that he is trained in science with a master’s degree in biochemistry. She brings that knowledge to her current beat: Kovid-19, which includes the immune response and emergent variants of the coronovirus.
Here, she talks about what she wants to do when she realizes that she does not want to be a research scientist, to bring her children back to school and for her favorite lesser television.
How did you start working as a science reporter?
I went to graduate school for biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I was there for four years, and I used to get my PhD. If I lived one more year. But I realized that being a lab scientist was a bit slow, a little too specific and a little too antisocial. I went to journalism school at NYU’s Science Journalism Program, and since then I have been a journalist. My mother is a writer. He is a poet and a short-story writer, and I have been around literature all my life. So my job has married two very different parts of my brain – science and writing.
How do you think your science training affects your work?
This is helpful in many ways. I am not writing about biochemistry, so the exact subject matter does not help, but I understand the basics of biology. Most of my career, I have actually written for scientists, who can exact readers. They want things to be clear, but they never want things to fall down. It has always inspired me to be precise.
I also think it is helpful to understand the business of science, such as how universities operate and how the tenure system works and why scientists are desperate to publish. All of those things help me understand where the researchers are coming from and what kind of important lenses are there when looking at the paper.
Where do your story ideas come from?
Every day, I look at all the research papers and pre-indications – studies released before undergoing the standard peer review process – which have to do with Kovid. I scan long lists. Often, I see trends, something emerging that more people are talking about, either on social media or because these papers are coming out.
Sometimes, an idea can come from a sentence in someone else’s article. Sometimes, it can come from reading anything that raises a question in my mind. For example, my article about what you still need Wear a mask After your vaccination came because I thought that in early December, a few weeks before it became a national obsession.
What is the biggest challenge in doing the job?
I never have enough time. I have mostly worked as an editor, assigning stories to journalists, so I find it easy to spot the stories I want to write. I am trying to write many of them.
You previously worked on a website that focused on the autism spectrum. How does this inform your work?
It was a site that was meant for scientists, but was also read by a lot of non-scientific people. I think this is one of those places where I learned to improve this fine balance of being technically accurate and being clear and simple at the same time. Also, I learned the skill of identifying stories and watching trends. Autism is a very small niche, and we need to be able to spot small and interesting things and develop them into full stories. So I have practiced a lot.
You often write about the science surrounding the decision to send children back to school. How are you navigating this in your life?
I have two children. My son is in middle school, and my daughter 8. My children are in school two days a week. Now they do this hybrid schedule, but I know how much they miss being in school the whole time. I know how much they miss the company of their friends, and I worry about their physical safety, and I worry about their mental health. I understand parents around the world who are desperate to bring their children to school.
How do you discus when your wife is a Kovid?
When I turn away from the computer, my children are right there, demanding my attention, wanting to read, fight, shout, annoy and love. They take a lot of time. I also watch TV. I am extremely forgiving of my tasteless taste. I used to read a lot, and I am not reading novels at all, which is sad, but not my attention right now. I do a lot of crosswords, and I’m addicted to it The Times’ Spelling Bee sport.
What is your favorite lobar television?
Well, I had a lot of fun “Bridgerton“There was a period last spring when I watched” The OC “for a few months.
What will readers be surprised to know about you?
Maybe I can speak many languages - I am fluent in four Indian languages, as well as English, and can speak conversational French and Japanese. I grew up in India until the age of 17, so English is not my first language.
What would have happened if you had chosen another job, not in journalism?
Someone asked this question on Twitter, and I said that I would still be a journalist. I can’t imagine being one, because I have a lot of questions about how things work. I may not be able to ask those questions, and hold governments and institutions accountable in any other role.
Are you coming back to work?
I never stopped learning. I have learned a lot this year. Covering Kovid, I got to learn Viral Evolution and Deep Immunology and Epidemiology. This is just extremely interesting.
The Times has reported on the challenges facing working mothers during the epidemic. How have you taken care of the child when you are reporting as much as you do?
I have a very supportive husband. He is a squash supporter, so he is not working at the moment. They have played the role of caretakers to a large extent in our home. There are some things, of course, for which the children still want me, but he does a lot. For example, he takes care of all food, which is a great help.