ABOVE: danielle gerhard

Danielle Gerhard, an assistant editor at The Scientist, started her scientific journey exploring the most complex organ, the brain. She spent more than a decade studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms that orchestrate our responses to stress. Nowadays, the same love of learning that drove her to pursue neuroscience research fuels her writing on topics ranging from the brain to bioengineered bugs for treating cancer.

In scientific papers, groundbreaking discoveries are curated to be succinct and organized, but the journey to get there is full of surprises, failures, and perseverance with which every scientist can connect.

 —Danielle Gerhard, The Scientist

Q | What is your scientific background?

As an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee, I planned to pursue a career in clinical psychology. When I enrolled in a required neuroscience class, I quickly fell in love with the subject, and jumped into the deep sea of neurotransmitters, receptors, and cells that shape our behavior and store our dearest memories. I saw the potential of neuroscience research for developing treatments for mental health disorders. This led me to pursue a PhD in behavioral neuroscience at Yale University, where I explored how stress, depression, and novel antidepressants remodel the brain. I continued my scientific career as a postdoctoral researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine to examine the effects of stress on adolescent brain development.

Q | How did you transition into science writing?

While I was a graduate student, I joined the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, a PubMed-indexed, peer-reviewed journal edited by graduate and medical students. In that role, I read exciting research from all areas of biology and medicine. This inspired me to seek out an internship with BioTechniques News, where I learned to develop short, science news stories. While I was a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, I continued crafting science stories as a freelance writer for Drug Discovery News. By the end of my postdoctoral years, I was ready for a new challenge and decided to transition to full-time science writing, joining The Scientist in 2023.

          Danielle hiking around the Appalachian Mountains.
While in the US, Danielle can also be found hiking around the Appalachian Mountains.
danielle gerhard

Q | What is your favorite story that you’ve written for The Scientist?

For our December 2023 print issue, I wrote about how scientists study placental development to understand the causes of preeclampsia. The story takes the reader on a journey through the stages of placental development, and along the way, highlights recent advancements in modeling the placenta in a dish. Although the placenta plays a critical role in parental and fetal health, I admittedly knew very little about the organ that ushered me into the world, so I was excited to jump into the literature. While the causes of preeclampsia continue to elude scientists, I was surprised to discover how little we know about healthy placental development. I am excited to follow up on this story in the coming years to update our readers on what these new models reveal about our least understood organ.

Q | How do you choose your story topics?

I am drawn to stories that find missing links, uncover novel mechanisms, or harness the power of biological systems to develop novel therapies. There is no single route to arriving at an interesting story. 

Sometimes ideas come from scouring a journal’s table of contents, the nuggets of information in conference talks, or simply following up on a curious tangent in an interview.

Q | What’s your favorite part of being a science writer?

          Image of ancient castle ruins in Wales
On a recent trip to Wales, Danielle hiked through the ruins of a 13th century castle. For miles, sheep speckled the verdant valleys.
danielle gerhard

It’s a tie. I’m a philomath and researching new topics is part and parcel of the job. However, I also enjoy speaking to the scientists behind the science. In scientific papers, groundbreaking discoveries are curated to be succinct and organized, but the journey to get there is full of surprises, failures, and perseverance with which every scientist can connect.

| What do you like to do outside of work?

I spend a lot of my time exploring the UK’s extensive network of public footpaths, knitting wonky sweaters, watching soccer, and baking to indulge my insatiable sweet tooth. I also enjoy reading most genres, and I love anything written by Ursula Le Guin. 

Connect with Danielle on Twitter and LinkedIn