Growing up, Ana Ávila found herself gravitating more towards reading encyclopedias than children’s stories and young adult books. “I loved to read about the universe, ancient Egypt and ecology. I wanted to learn about how the world worked.” While deeply curious, she also had a love for the arts, and would’ve majored in theater, were it not for her mother’s words, which she recalls rather humorously: “You are insane! You are going to starve to death if you don’t have a proper career!” Ultimately, Ana decided to major in clinical biochemistry in college, but during her studies she didn’t quite know what her next steps would be after graduating.
She knew she didn’t want to work in a research lab or hospital, but without a clear path she started to become disenchanted with her studies. About halfway through her program, however, she stumbled on Oliver Sacks, a physician and science writer, whose work opened up a career option she had never considered before. It was then that she decided she would become a science writer, and it was this realization that gave her the encouragement she needed to power through her program and sustained her in her pursuit of a career as a writer.
Faith has also been an important part of Ana’s life. She was born into a Catholic family, and later joined an evangelical Christian church. Thankfully, studying the sciences as a Christian never posed a threat to her beliefs. She can remember in college when she was learning about cells and DNA thinking to herself about just how amazing God is. “I felt my heart rejoice in the glory of God, in his wisdom and his power through science. It was never a conflict for me. Science was a medium for me to worship God.” She now works as the Senior Editor for Coalición por el Evangelio (the Spanish-speaking sister of The Gospel Coalition), where she is able to merge her passion for science and faith with writing.
“I felt my heart rejoice in the glory of God, in his wisdom and his power through science. It was never a conflict for me. Science was a medium for me to worship God.”
The road to becoming a professional science writer
The path to becoming a science writer was not always a clear one for Ana. She didn’t really have any role models in her own network, and when she looked for writing opportunities on her own, most of them were in the US and not in Mexico, where she was based out of at the time. She used to envy the more straightforward trajectories of other careers, like academia and industry where the path was well paved and consisted of step by step road markers: first you obtain your undergraduate degree, then a Masters, next a Ph.D., and finally a Postdoctoral fellowship. With strength and perseverance, she forged her own way.
She started small by launching her own blog, which she describes as a little hobby she did on the side that brought her joy, while also giving her valuable experience. “My blog didn’t even really have a name, and I think I’ve deleted everything now, but it became sort of my practice ground,” she shared. Soon afterwards, she got a job at a company managing their social media, and while her role and the content she produced had nothing to do with science, she knew that accepting this position was a step in the right direction for her. She was trained as a scientist, but needed more experience in writing, and so she jumped at the opportunity to learn new skills.
Next she found herself working for a technology company, where she had to regularly pitch articles and produce content, sometimes writing up to 8 pieces a day. She describes this experience as one of the most exhausting of her life, but also one the most rewarding. “It was awesome and crazy at the same time! It turned out to be the best writing practice of my life, because it helped me learn to write under pressure and work with tight deadlines.” On the side she maintained her own personal blog, writing on various topics from faith and science, which she would share on social media. Ultimately, this led to her getting noticed by an Editor at Coalición por el Evangelio, and her first being invited to write for them, and then offered a position as an Editor.
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In her current role as Senior Editor, she has also been able to draw on her background in science, leading the content part of a faith and science podcast, and working with Blueprint1543 on a Templeton Grant funded project.
Challenges of writing for faith communities
One of the primary issues Ana has faced in writing for faith communities is helping people to understand why they should care. Recently, she found herself working on a podcast episode on the topic of burnout. She explored the topic both from a spiritual and mental health perspective, and made sure to highlight the answer to the underlying question of “why.” She was intentional about not only why Christians should care about mental health and what science tells us on this topic, but also how this knowledge is practical and can be directly applied to businesses and churches. Making these types of connections is vital to reaching faith communities, and of equal importance is knowing our audience well. “You need to know your audience, know what they care about, and help them care about things that they don’t care about, that they should be caring about.”
Ana knows her audience well. She comes from a very small town, and currently resides in Guatemala. A lot of faith based communities in her own experience tend to lose focus on the “now”, embracing a more futuristic longing for Jesus’ return. Ana is passionate about helping others know that, “Yes, Jesus is coming, and he is the most important thing ever, but also he’s left us in a material world to serve one another, to share the gospel with others, through our work and through science.”
“Yes, Jesus is coming, and he is the most important thing ever, but also he’s left us in a material world to serve one another, to share the gospel with others, through our work and through science.”
Respect is another important virtue to embrace as a writer for faith communities. For Ana, especially when dispelling myths, it is important to communicate in a respectful manner, not condescending, otherwise you risk further ostracizing your audience. “A condescending tone can sometimes be subtle, but it’s still being heard by people and that shuts them down. So you need to be very connected to the communities you are writing for, listen to their concerns, and take them seriously. Always consider who you are writing for.”
On being a woman in the church and science
In her work as a writer bridging the gap between science and the church, Ana says that it has sometimes left her feeling alone. “I think this mostly stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know anyone in this space, especially in science that was doing what I was doing.” Thankfully, over the years Ana has been able to connect with others in the Christian community who share her passion and do similar work through conferences, workshops and networking events.
When it comes to being a woman writing for faith based organizations, one challenge she has noticed is that opportunities to write on topics of motherhood and other topics of more traditional and stereotypical interest to women, are often easier to access than writing on other matters. Additionally, women professionals are often asked about their personal lives, their roles as a mother and wife in faith circles, which can make Ana uncomfortable. Ana often responds, “Yes, I am a wife and mom. Thank you for asking about that. I do not write about that. But there are lots of awesome people that do write about that, which you can ask.” Her philosophy around this has been one of embracing who God has called her to be. “I just want to be myself in the places that God has placed me in. And then more women are going to realize that hey, she’s writing about science and she’s a woman. That’s cool. I can do that too.”
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“I just want to be myself in the places that God has placed me in. And then more women are going to realize that hey, she’s writing about science and she’s a woman. That’s cool. I can do that too.”
Words of advice to aspiring writers
For aspiring writers hoping to work at the intersection of faith and science, Ana offers words of advice from her own experiences. “The thing that has helped me the most is becoming comfortable with asking a lot of questions and not feeling like you have to have all the answers.” That’s one of the things she loves most about her job. She says it allows her to “be a perpetual nerd, reading and writing all day, every day, and be amazed about all the things God has done.” She also loves being able to share this with others and invite the church to experience the beauty and awe of God’s creation, because she says that “when we learn about the world, we learn about the God who made the world.”
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