Science journalist Robin George Andrews remembers first seeing a volcano—albeit an imaginary one—in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The ominous Death Mountain had sentient lava and monsters prowling its hollowed-out insides.
“It was all very fantastical,” Andrews said, and as a 10-year-old growing up in the United Kingdom, Death Mountain set him on a quest to visit real-life volcanoes around the world as a scientist. Now Andrews writes about volcanoes for National Geographic, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and other publications.
Andrews started out on a typical academic track. After earning strong grades in high school and encouragement from geography teachers, he attended a special program at Imperial College London. The program allows secondary students to earn a master’s degree in geology in just 4 years, bypassing a bachelor’s degree.
His next stop, after a year of rest, took Andrews to the volcano-ridden islands of New Zealand, where he studied at the University of Otago for his Ph.D. and helped create laboratory experiments that modeled volcanic eruptions. Although his work took him around the world, living in a quiet university town left the highly extroverted Andrews feeling isolated. Academia was losing its sheen too: Chasing funding frustrated him, and he didn’t like the prospect of leaving friends and family every few years for new posts.
Andrews started writing blog posts for Nature’s Scitable, the Earth Touch News Network, Discover, and Forbes—and found he actually preferred telling stories of science to doing it.
Andrews didn’t know any journalists, let alone science journalists, but after he graduated, he emailed an editor he admired at Gizmodo and scored a gig writing articles for her. From there, he cold-pitched National Geographic, Scientific American, and the New York Times, landing articles in publications he thought would take years to break into. “I put so much work into getting to that point,” Andrews said, bypassing sleep for almost a year and a half to build his reputation as “the New York Times volcano guy.” His own stubbornness and the emotional support from his partner and parents helped him make the jump from science to journalism.
Now Andrews freelances full-time and writes for a dozen publications. “Most science journalists have a beat of some sort, and my beat is generally things that explode in space or on Earth.” His first book, Super Volcanoes: What They Reveal About Earth and the Worlds Beyond, comes out this November. In it, readers can learn about strange volcanoes across the cosmos, like Tharsis on Mars, which tipped the entire planet 20 degrees. “To me, it sounds like magic sorcery”—or perhaps something out of a video game, he said.
—Jenessa Duncombe (@jrdscience), Staff Writer