Bijal Trivedi wins first Sharon Begley Award for Science Reporting

Photo by Chad Cohen

Bijal P. Trivedi (@BijalPTrivedi), senior editor for science at National Geographic, is the inaugural winner of the Sharon Begley Award for Science Reporting.

The award was established last year by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing to recognize and support reporting and writing that embodies the high standards exemplified by the science journalist Sharon Begley (1956–2021). The winner receives a $20,000 grant to support a significant reporting project.

Author of the 2020 book Breath from Salt: A Deadly Genetic Disease, a New Era in Science, and the Patients and Families Who Changed Medicine Forever, tracing the century-long scientific quest to understand and treat cystic fibrosis, Trivedi has worked as a science writer and editor since 1998. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Science, Nature, Scientific American, Wired, The Chronicle of Higher Education, New Scientist, and The Economist as well as National Geographic and other publications. She has edited the writing of many scientists—including Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health—and currently leads National Geographic’s COVID-19, biomedical, and health coverage.

Trivedi was selected from a competitive field of mid-career science journalists hailing from five countries and working in media including online, print, video, and audio. Two additional journalists whose work rose to the top were selected as finalists: John D. Sutter (@jdsutter), a Salt Lake City-based documentary filmmaker who was a writer, producer, columnist and investigative reporter for CNN; and California-based freelance science journalist Emily Willingham (@ejwillingham), whose most recent book is The Tailored Brain.

“Awarding this first-ever Sharon Begley Award was not an easy task, due to the competitiveness of the applications,” said Alan Boyle, CASW past president and co-chair of the judging panel. “But I think the fact that so many science journalists are following in Sharon’s footsteps should give us hope about the future of our profession—and about the prestige of the prize that’s now making its debut.”

Bijal Trivedi

The judges called Trivedi a “terrific writer” and praised her work as deeply reported, compelling, “absolutely lovely,” and full of “real humans, scenes, deep science.”

In recommending her for the award, National Geographic Executive Editor for Science Victoria Jaggard described Trivedi as “an exceptional journalist with keen news sense, impeccable attention to accuracy and clarity, and a deep commitment to supporting her team and mentoring the next generation of science writers,” and further praised her “insistence on character-driven narratives filled with richly sourced scientific evidence.”

Dan Fagin, director of the Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) at New York University, said Trivedi “personifies so many of Sharon’s greatest qualities as a journalist and human, including a deep empathy for those who lack power, a healthy skepticism of grandiose claims, and an absolute refusal to sacrifice accuracy in the drive to tell engaging stories about science and medicine.”

Trivedi, who completed the SHERP master’s program in 1998, was a student in the first journalism class Fagin taught at NYU. From the start, he said, her work has been characterized by “a certain fierceness, an insistence on doing ten interviews in hopes of finding one good one or visiting five field sites in search of one perfect in-person anecdote…. Cutting corners is anathema to her.”

Trivedi completed a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at Oberlin College, worked as a research technician, and earned a master’s degree in molecular, cell, and developmental biology from UCLA before turning to science reporting and editing. She began her journalism career as a staff writer for the Genome News Network, then joined the National Geographic News Service as a staff writer and editor in 2001.

She left National Geographic in 2004 and returned in 2021 after several other stints, including as science and technology editor for The Conversation U.S., a nonprofit newsroom that specializes in writing by academics. Beth Daley, executive editor and general manager of The Conversation U.S., wrote that Trivedi “embodies Sharon’s sharpness, eye for excellence, storytelling and utter love of science and its importance in everyday life.”

Among Trivedi’s previous awards are the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award (2006), the Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award (2005), and the NIH Plain Language Award (2009). Her Scientific American piece “The Wipeout Gene” was selected for the 2012 edition of Best American Science and Nature Writing, and Breath from Salt made the longlist for the 2021 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The book was also included in Bill Gates’ 2020 list “5 Good Books for a Lousy Year.”

Trivedi plans to use the award grant to support the extensive international reporting needed to develop a long-form article and book on the global challenge of sickle cell anemia. Winners of the award are provided access to project mentoring, and magazine journalist and educator Linda Villarosa, author most recently of Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation, will serve as Trivedi’s mentor.

The Sharon Begley Award

The Sharon Begley Award was created by CASW in 2021 in collaboration with Sharon Begley’s husband, Ned Groth, a scientist, author, and environmental health consultant. It is supported by a dedicated fund established in Begley’s honor and made up of 239 private donations totaling approximately $835,000 to date. The first award will be formally presented and the launch of the award celebrated on Oct. 22 during the ScienceWriters2022 conference in Memphis, TN.

At the time of her death in January 2021, Sharon Begley—a science journalist of unflinching dedication, skill, moral clarity, and commitment to mentoring—was the senior science writer at STAT, the Boston Globe’s health and medicine news site, covering genetics, cancer, neuroscience, and other fields of basic biomedical research. Her work was recognized posthumously when she was named a 2021 Pulitzer Prize finalist along with two STAT colleagues for early reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among Begley’s many other awards was CASW’s Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. STAT has also honored her by creating the Sharon Begley Science Reporting Fellowship.

Begley was previously the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters, The Wall Street Journal‘s first science columnist, and the long-time science editor at Newsweek. She joined Newsweek upon her graduation from Yale University. In nearly 30 years at the newsweekly, she served as science columnist and editor and as a contributing writer at the magazine. Her column for The Wall Street Journal ran from 2002 to 2007, when Newsweek recruited her back, and from 2012 to 2015 she was the senior health and science correspondent at Reuters.

The jury for the first Sharon Begley Science Reporting Award was co-chaired by Boyle, a longtime online journalist focusing on space and physical sciences, and Betsy Mason, a freelance science journalist and CASW board secretary. Judges were Laura Beil, freelance health and science journalist and podcaster and winner of CASW’s Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting; Eric Boodman, a reporter at STAT who won CASW’s Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award; Alicia Chang, deputy editor for health and science at The Associated Press and adjunct assistant professor at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism; Thomas Lin, founder and editor-in-chief of Quanta and a former CASW board member; Seth Mnookin, author and director of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing; and Debbie Ponchner, a Costa Rica-based science journalist and CASW board member who is an associate editor at Knowable. Jonathan Woods, supervising producer for video at Time, served as a video adviser for the judging panel.