an e-newsletter for students and alumni of saint michael's biology department

Donna Bozzone Explores Causes of Cancer
By Declan McCabe, assistant professor of biology

Recently, one of our biology professors, Donna Bozzone, ventured into a new professional direction: writing science books for high school students.  She has just published two books, Causes of Cancer and Cancer Genetics, in the series Biology of Cancer published by Chelsea House Publishers.  She is also the consulting editor for the series.  Donna sat down with fellow professor Declan McCabe for an “interview” of sorts to share something about her experiences in this area: 

What was the impetus for writing these books?

Several things pushed me in this direction.  First, I have always wanted to write for a younger audience.  I think that a great deal of the time, biology is presented in a manner that is not very exciting and I wanted to reach a younger set of readers to do my little part to convince them that this is not so.  Also, I decided to get started now because I realized that when the time comes for me to retire (a long time from now), I had better have something intellectually engaging to do or I would drive everyone, especially my husband, crazy.  I decided to try my hand at writing a book and to my surprise, I was published with my first effort.

How long did the entire process take?

Well, it depends on how you mark the time.  I have been reading about biology since I was a student, so I would have to say that my insights and expertise have been built over 30 years.  As for the specific research for these books, the actual writing, and the publication process took around two years.

What about your training prepared you for this project?

Because the books are about cancer, my background as a developmental and cell biologist were essential.  Cancer is, after all, a disease of uncontrolled cell proliferation.  It involves a breakdown in the normally balanced society of cells that make up our bodies.  Both developmental and cell biology address these issues.  As well, my experience teaching was also instrumental in helping me to learn effective ways to explain difficult concepts, in what I hope is an interesting way.

What about your position as a professor as Saint Michael’s College has facilitated this sort of scholarship?

Saint Michael’s is a terrific place to work because everyone is so supportive of whatever direction one’s scholarship might take them.  I am trained as a research scientist originally, but over the course of my career I have migrated into areas in which the connections between my scholarship, students and education were more seamless.  I am not sure that I could have done this at many other schools.  In addition, I think that teaching at Saint Michael’s gave me tremendous credibility with my publisher regarding me doing the writing and editing projects in the first place.

After your experience writing these books, how might you advise a Saint Michael’s biology major or graduate interested in embarking on a career in scientific writing?  What can they do to prepare and how can they get their foot in the door?

Read everything.  Love reading—if you don’t, you can‘t write well. Be interested in everything.  And write, write, write.  There are ways to break in.  For example, I did not start with books.  I wrote teaching materials for a half-dozen laboratory kits marketed by Carolina Biological Supply Company as well as entries for their online newsletter (Carolina Tips).  As a result, I was able to submit writing samples to Chelsea House when I did the proposal for the Biology of Cancer books.  I would encourage anyone interested in this type of work to hone your wring skills and to get published anywhere and as often as possible. Try your local newspaper to start.  Once someone sees that you can do it, opportunities will come your way.

What is the audience/market for this book, and do you think that seeing the college’s name on the cover will attract some of the readership in our direction as future students?

The Biology of Cancer series is targeted for high school students and designed for the school and library market.  It is a happy circumstance that not only is my name on the cover of all of the books in the series (my two because I am author, and the rest because I am the consulting editor) but Saint Michael’s is on all of these covers too.  I hope that this will get the names of our college to more high school students and teachers.  Maybe some will come our way!

Finally, what’s next?  Are there more books in the series?  Are you embarking on other writing projects?

As for what is next, there are three things.  First, I am under contract to write another book, Leukemia, for the Biology of Cancer series.  I am supposed to have it completed by the middle of August, 2008.  Second, I will continue to edit the series and I anticipate several titles coming my way for this purpose.  Finally, Doug Green and I have submitted a proposal to Oxford University Press for new non-majors biology textbook.  Maybe the outcome of this effort will be revealed in a later Biology Matters!

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