Annie Murphy Paul

A Profile by Deanna Ferrante Something Not So Obvious
In a recent blog post on her website, Annie Murphy Paul condoned a common response written by readers after reviewing her articles: “That’s so obvious!” Just click on the light bulb to visit Annie Murphy Paul’s Every potential science writer knows that their official website! subject has confounded the human race since its very existence and is anything but apparent. As Paul points out, it takes years of scientists’ observations, hypothesizes, and experiments before anything can be considered “obvious.” But Paul doesn’t let the criticism get to her. In fact, she has used the negative attitudes of her naysayers to fuel her desire to continue to learn more about the world around her. There are few science writers as diverse and wellregarded as Annie Murphy Paul. She has worked as a freelancer, editor, columnist, author, and book reviewer. Her work has been published by, The New York Times, and, as well as by many other established publications. She has authored two award-winning books, The Cult of Personality and Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, and has a third set for release later this year. All of this work didn’t occur overnight. Paul was once an inexperienced writer fresh out of college, Image © with only a few published pieces proudly showcasing her byline. But she grasped every opportunity handed to her, and used each new experience to learn new skills that would eventually lead her to the successful career she enjoys today.


Her Origins Story
Annie Murphy Paul began her career as a writer when she was a student at the small, private, all-girls high school Agnes Irwin located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She worked as an editor on her school’s newspaper and yearbook and discovered her passion for writing.

That’s what I’m Talking About Check out this TED talk Paul did about what infants learn before they’re even born: murphy_paul_what_we_learn_befor e_we_re_born.html

2 When she graduated, she attended Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, majoring in American Studies. She never lost her hunger for knowledge, to put pen to paper, to discover new things. She studied abroad in London, but missed the excitement that came with her frenzied academic life back home. As she put it, “Life at Yale is insane, it’s messy, it’s chaotic—and it’s all over much too quickly.” But, even after graduating in 1995, she didn’t cut ties with her alma mater. She worked as an associate editor for the Yale Alumni Magazine, engaging readers with her anecdotes from her time at the university. She even went back to the school professionally as a lecturer later on in her career.

Building Her Career
After spending two years working at the Yale Alumni Magazine, Annie Murphy Paul landed a job as a news editor at the popular magazine Psychology Today. After a year, she was promoted to a senior editor position, before moving on to the same position at More Magazine, a publication catered exclusively to women.

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She worked as a columnist for Shape, a fitness magazine, before going back to school. She attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and received a Journalism M.S. in the Mid-Career Program in 2006. The Writing Process As a science writer and a mother, Paul became interested in the concept explaining how prenatal experiences can shape the rest of our lives when she began to read research about it in the academic journals she follows. As she was studying it, she became pregnant with her second son, which only spurred her investigation into the emerging field called “fetal origins”. You can hear more about Origins and Paul’s inspiration for the book in her interview with Dr. Oz, from The Dr. Oz Show: s/interview-annie-murphy-paul She published her first book, The Cult of Personality, in 2004. The book provides an in-depth analysis on personality testing, and how it has become biased and mismanaged. The New York Times Book Review awarded it “Editor’s Choice.” Her second book, Origins, published in 2009, showcases research on how learning begins as early as conception, highlighting how infants learn and develop during the nine months they are in the womb. The book was listed by The New York Public Library as one of the “Best Books of 2010,” and as one of the most “Notable Books of 2010” by The New York Times Book Review. Throughout her career, Paul has worked as a freelance writer and contributor for many publications. Her work has been featured in a plethora of different magazines and websites. She currently works as a learning columnist for,,,,, and Like any good journalist, Paul is always looking to learn

3 something new. This passion for learning, for uncovering the secrets of the brainpower we use each day, has been the primary influence driving her throughout the many years she has spent as a writer. Now she has carved out her own niche in the science of learning and human intelligence, and has plans to continue doing so, as her next book Brilliant: The New Science of Smart hits bookshelves in April 2014. If there is one thing young writers can take from the abundance of experience Annie Murphy Paul possesses, it is this: don’t be afraid to branch out. Discover new avenues of your own interests; look down roads and around corners you’ve never explored before. You might find a whole new array of opportunities you never even dreamed of.

“She provides a balanced, commonsense view of an emerging field of uncertain science.” - Jerome Groopman, reviewer for The New York Times Book Review.

How To Be Brilliant
Annie Murphy Paul’s blog, The Brilliant Blog, delights readers every day with new updates in the learning sciences. She carefully combs through the latest research studies and findings, and explains them carefully so that everyone can read her articles and come away with a good grasp of the material. Like Paul, young science writers must do the research, put in the time, and make an effort to help others understand the complexities of the natural world. And they can do it in a number of different ways, from working with a magazine to posting on a weekly blog. Stay Connected: Just click on the text to stay updated on any new posts by Annie Murphy Paul!  Follow @anniemurphypaul on Twitter  Follow Annie Murphy Paul on Facebook  Sign up for the Paul’s weekly newsletter, The Brilliant Report, which can be found on her website: There is still so much we don’t understand. Science writers and researchers are still trying to unravel the mysteries of nature in a fascinating and never-ending quest to dig up the truth in the unknown.

Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss once said that “the science of nature far exceeds the human imagination,” an idea Paul finds extraordinary. She encourages potential science writers and readers, or anyone with an open mind, to escape the trap that comes with stating the “obviousness” after a new scientific discovery. Instead, she says that going forward we should look at scientific discoveries with thrilling wonder, switching out our “That’s so obvious!” with a “That’s so amazing!”


"Annie Murphy Paul." Annie Murphy Paul. Out:think Group, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <>. "Annie Murphy Paul." Yale University English Department. Yale University, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014. <>. Groopman, Jerome. "Birth Pangs." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 2 Oct. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. "Interview: Annie Murphy Paul." The Dr. Oz Show. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. <>. Murphy Paul, Annie . "Carry me back to old New Haven (Mar. 1994)." Yale Alumni Magazine. Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., 1 Mar. 1994. Web. 19 Feb. 2014. *I wasn’t sure if we needed a bibliography, so I included it. I’m sorry if it’s a hassle.

The Rhetorical Situation

5 Subject: Annie Murphy Paul and how her career as a science writer can help those looking to break into the industry. Occasion: As a journalism major, I’m interested in learning about columnists and writers who have managed to find a niche in which they excel. Even though Paul is a science writer, she has plenty of experience in magazine journalism that could help inexperienced writers looking to find help in establishing themselves in the industry. There are so many new studies and findings to report on in the sciences, so examining Paul could provide insight into how a writer can go about researching and reviewing findings and making them available for the general public to consume and learn from. Audience: Future journalists or science writers looking to find out how to break into the industry. College-educated students or recent graduates who are trying to find a place in an industry where not only the material is changing, with new scientific discoveries occurring every day, but also where the medium is changing, switching from a printbased consumer market to one dominated by digital media and technology. Assumptions: - Broad knowledge about publishing in general, such as the types of publications available (magazines, journals, etc.) - A basic knowledge of how writers research for stories, such as interviewing sources, going through public records, reading reports, etc. - While they do not need to know Annie Murphy Paul specifically, they should be acquainted with the work of other science writers or journalists Purpose: I want the reader to become informed about how one writer, Annie Murphy Paul, was able to break into a challenging industry. This profile will shed light on how her experiences throughout her academic life have shaped her career and provide an example that readers can follow on how they can market their own writing to become established writers as well. After completing this report the reader will know more about how an established writer in the field of science is able to gain such a respectable reputation and recognize the steps he or she will have to undergo in order to become just as successful. Constraints: As I’m only a freshman, my personal knowledge of journalism and science writing isn’t as vast as some sources. I don’t have any experience in science writing at all, and thus, I can lend very little ethos to the report through my own, personal knowledge of the subject. I will have to rely on other sources and their reviews, thoughts, and knowledge of the industry and of Annie Murphy Paul’s writing in order to craft my profile. The length of the profile is also a constraint, as I will have to convey Annie Murphy Paul’s entire career in just 800 to 1,500 words.

6 The profile format itself can be a constraint, as it is difficult to know what type of information about the writer to include. I will have to take great care in selecting which pieces of information are valuable and relevant enough to include. There must also be an authoritative, professional tone to the profile, so I will have be careful when choosing the type of diction and data I include to ensure I engage my readers in an interesting, but not overtly casual, way.

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