A Day in the Life of Alexandra Witze

Alexandra Witze is a correspondent for Nature and Science News magazines, focusing on the earth and planetary sciences. With her husband, Jeff Kanipe, she is the author of Island on Fire (Pegasus Books, 2015), about the extraordinary 1783 eruption of the Icelandic volcano Laki. Follow her on Twitter @alexwitze.

On a geology field trip to Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland.

Witze on a geology field trip to Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Iceland.

What I’m working on:

Usually a combination of news and features for Nature, sprinkled occasionally with a feature for Science News. I was on staff with them before joining Nature as a retained correspondent, so I still do about four features for them a year. Every once in a while I’ll take on another client—I was excited last year to write a piece for Air & Space, since my grandfather Claude Witze was an aviation writer decades ago, for places like Aviation Week and Air Force magazines.

Jeff and I at NASA's site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, hoping to see the penultimate shuttle launch in April 2011. (We never did; it scrubbed.) Between our heads you can just make out the shuttle stacked for launch on its tower.

Jeff Kanipe and Witze at NASA’s site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, hoping to see the penultimate shuttle launch in April 2011. Witze says, “We never did; it scrubbed. Between our heads you can just make out the shuttle stacked for launch on its tower.”

Where I work:

In my basement office in Boulder, Colorado. Jeff, along with his drums and guitars, has the big basement room, while I have the smaller room with the better view. It looks across ponderosa pines in the foothills of the Rockies, with plenty of wildlife. The other day I watched a fox hunt and kill a mouse in the snow. In the summer there is at least one mule-deer doe that likes to lie in the shade by the corner of the window, less than four feet from me.

It sounds nice but it can be pretty freaking cold in winter at 7,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. So I always have a space heater under the desk. Sometimes, at night, we do research for Jeff’s book series with the 11-inch Celestron telescope we have installed on a pier in the back yard. But did I mention how cold it can get?

Daily routine:

Wake up. Grab iPad. Check email. Roll out of bed and respond to any emergencies.

Other than that I try to stick to an 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. workday. My husband makes sure we break for lunch every day at noon. Really, we are creatures of habit. I go running a couple of mornings a week, just to get out of the house and see other human beings.

All a reporter needs to cover a planetary flyby, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

All a reporter needs to cover a planetary flyby, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Most productive part of my day:

Mid-morning, after the first email cleanout. I don’t use Freedom or any of those tools; I just close email and other distractions and start to write.

Most essential ritual or habit:

A mug of British-style tea, with milk. I worked too long for Nature not to have that rub off on me.

Mobile device:

iPhone 5, whose memory is rapidly filling up with kitten videos.

Computer:

A 13-inch MacBook with Retina display, plus an additional Dell monitor.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools:

I’ve started using Toggl recently to track my time, which has revealed the inordinate amount of time I spend on the vaguely defined “work email.” I use Evernote to gather string for future story ideas, and Papers to manage PDF references. Todoist to manage deadlines.

IMG_3416Also the “do not disturb” sign on my office door, which I nicked from a hotel room in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Iceland, while working on the Laki book.

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Twitter. See here for some of the reasons I love Twitter. And hey, I got that Air & Space assignment through a Twitter connection.

Also the kittens. They are named Castor and Pollux, which everyone thinks we came up with because of the constellation theme, but they came from the rescue place with those names.

My reading habits:

I review science books for The Dallas Morning News, so I’m often working my way through one of those—most recently The Last Volcano by John Dvorak, which is about the volcanologist Thomas Jaggar and his work to establish the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at Kilauea. Other times I mostly read history or other non-fiction. I recently enjoyed Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, about the Chilean mine rescue.

Sleep schedule:

I’m pretty regularly out by 10:30 p.m., and up around 6:00. Although my primary editors are in Washington, DC, I often have to be able to respond to issues coming from the Nature mother ship on London schedules.

I used to run Nature's Washington DC bureau. Here at the White House before a press conference.

At the White House before a press conference, while working as head of Nature‘s bureau in Washington, DC.

 

Editors’ note: Alexandra Witze is on TON‘s board of directors.

Eyjafjallajökull photo by Jeff Kanipe. Other photos courtesy of Alexandra Witze.

 

 

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