Over the years, we’ve added dozens of influential brands to the Red Ventures portfolio, including The Points Guy, Bankrate, Lonely Planet, and more. Together, our brands help people make some of life’s most important decisions — and behind the scenes, our team of creatives, analysts, business leaders and technologists bring those brands to life.
One of those behind-the-scenes RVers is Jackson Ryan – a Science Editor for CNET. According to his CNET.com contributor bio, “he has the best job in the world, telling stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge.” From spending a month aboard a research vessel headed to Antarctica, to winning Australia’s most prestigious science journalism award, we wanted to learn more about Jackon’s role and how he got started (and — as his bio used to mention — why Harrison Ford hates him??). Check out his story below!
Tell us about how you got started in science. What drew you to your studies, and what led you to get a PhD?
JR: Oh wow, well we could go all the way back to 10th grade. I don’t know what you call that in the US. Sophomore maybe? Anyway, my grade 10 biology teacher took the class out to the beach one day to collect animals in buckets. Crabs, shells, the odd fish. He explained, maybe unintentionally, the process of doing science. Observation, research, etc. and I just really liked that. My best friend also was really into it and we both kind of egged each other on to do science degrees in university. I went into medical science, he went into general science. The course I completed was fine, though I absolutely hated chemistry. When I finished and went into a job I just realized I wasn’t really… enjoying it? I wanted to research things. I wanted to keep learning. So I went back and did an honors degree, even though my GPA was terrible. I had the backing of a great mentor and I ended up with first class honors — and that made me continue into my PhD, where I looked at how vitamin D affects the three different types of bone cells!
TL;DR: A great teacher set me on my course. And a few other teachers really backed me in high school. So did my parents. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who do that!
Tell us about how you got started in writing. Did you always know you wanted to be a science editor?
JR: Absolutely not. I was reading a ton of science journalism during my PhD and just felt like it was a bridge too far at that point in my life. But I was fairly certain I wanted to write in some capacity and was doing blogs about video games on the side. This led to an opportunity under Mark Serrels (legend, CNET culture guru and “papa” to the Australian CNET team) at the Gizmodo, Lifehacker and Kotaku brands. In that space, I was writing lots of life tips and whatnot, but my PhD wasn’t being put to great use. When the CNET job came up, I leapt at it knowing Mark would back me to go into science writing and pursue the thing I was reading all the time in my PhD — and I could put the PhD to use, too.
Look, it was the best decision I ever made (even if it meant giving up my job at Disney (more on that later)) but my mum STILL wonders when I am going to go back to academia and science (mum: it’s not happening, I’m sorry).
As a science editor, you’ve dug into a lot of incredible topics – including your voyage aboard the RSV Nuyina. How did that opportunity arise, and what was your reaction when you found out you’d be joining the crew?
JR: The opportunity was a long time coming. I had applied to the Antarctic Program’s media callout, which allows journalists to travel to Antarctica on short stints every year, back in 2020. Of course, the pandemic completely ruined that. I applied again the next year, knowing the RSV Nuyina would be heading south for the first time. My pitch was to board the Nuyina to write about its tech, and CNET is the perfect place for that. The opportunity was only supposed to be for a week, and we were never meant to even get to Antarctica. Plans changed and I was lucky enough to still be considered. Once I passed the medical, it was all systems go. I was extremely excited, of course! Like… a million people have ever been to Antarctica, maybe two million at most. It’s wild to think about and, in hindsight, I maybe didn’t even appreciate it as much as I do now.
What’s one thing you learned during that experience?
JR: The world is very big and the Southern Ocean is very… empty. I have a really great appreciation for the size of the Earth and the importance of the ocean, I think. I’m definitely not the type of person to go on a cruise, so this was my first real voyage across water. I still find it hard to put into words just how profoundly it changed my concept of travel and time.
If you could write about another once-in-a-lifetime experience, what would you try?
JR: I’d love to end up on the other side of the world. There are so many more danger signs in the Arctic, when it comes to climate change, and I think those stories are being told but they could be told much better! It also provides a fascinating parallel and one that includes the indigenous voices of people from the Arctic and how their lives are being upended. I would also, absolutely-sh*tting-myself, get on a rocket to space. I don’t think that opportunity will come any time soon.
You won a lot of prestigious journalism awards this year. What makes these prizes meaningful to you? Is there any particular award from this lineup that means the most to you?
JR: I think the awards show two things. One: I’m given the space and opportunity to write powerful pieces of journalism at CNET and two: I work really bloody hard to make them the best pieces of journalism I can. They’re meaningful in that way. But really, the story always comes first and so, truly, I believe these awards reward the scientists and researchers I meet along the way. I am really nothing without them giving their time and energy to talk with me.
That said, the Eureka Prize for Science Journalism really means everything to me. In Australia, those awards are dubbed the “Science Oscars”. It’s a pretty big deal. I’ve been a finalist for it three times and missed out three times so to finally break through was just relieving. I also believe it’s a wonderful platform to showcase the talents of science journalists in Australia and I’m extremely grateful the Australian Museum has continued to support that award for many years. We need more of those.
(Editor’s note: Check out Jackson’s Twitter video about being nominated for a Eureka a fourth time here, and his video about winning here. Quality content.)
Now that you’ve been named “The Best of The Best,” what’s next for you?
JR: I hardly look at it like that! It’s maybe a bit gauche but scrawled on my whiteboard in blue pen is the sentence “We could change the world.” It’s actually a line from one of my favourite songs (Anberlin — “Change the World”) but it’s also just a reminder that what I do is important. So what’s next is what’s come before: Write the best stories I possibly can. Maybe one day I’d like to write a novel or do some real, real long-form work.
If you could share one piece of advice with writers early in their careers, what would you offer?
JR: Read. Read a lot. Read lots of different things, especially in the kind of area you want to get into. I have always read a lot of great science journalism and science writing and taken little bits and pieces I like from them and left the things I don’t. Reading has really helped hone my style. I think emo music really helped hone my style, too, but that’s really not a good tip here.
So… Why does Harrison Ford hate you?
JR: Great question! This is kind of playful but also true. Long story short: I used to work as host for the Disney Channel in Australia (a whole other thing). My first big assignment was to interview Harrison Ford on the red carpet at a Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere in Sydney, Australia. We were told that we would get two minutes to ask a question OR two questions.
Harrison rolled up to my spot on the carpet and I asked a very kid-friendly question. He answered fairly but briefly. My second question was about his legacy as Han and he basically blanked me and walked off instead. That was my mandated second question!!!!!! The logical conclusion: He hates me.
Although most RVers don’t take voyages to Antarctica as part of their work travels (they typically prefer temperate climates), they’re all doing really incredible stuff. In fact, we got the inside scoop on another cool project from the CNET team right here – check it out!