Aviva Hope Rutkin ’12 studied neuroscience before earning a master’s in science writing from MIT. She started her career as a science reporter, covering mostly technology and health research. Over time, she’s gradually been drawn to what’s called “computer-assisted reporting.” Today, she’s an engineer on the news automation team at Bloomberg News, writing computer programs that turn datasets into human-readable stories in real time. To read an April 2020 alumni spotlight interview with Aviva about her reporting on COVID-19, click here.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
I’ve never felt completely finished with a story. There are always things that you want to change. You’re constantly worried that you missed an important detail or got something wrong. But it’s so gratifying when your story finally ends up in front of readers. I also love finding different ways to deliver the news. Sadly, this is a precarious time for the media industry, but it’s also a time for incredible experimentation. Every day, journalists are reporting and sharing information in creative and smart new formats.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
The data journalist Mona Chalabi. The artist Jenny Odell. Rachel Aviv at The New Yorker. The work done at ProPublica. My friends and family. Stories of adventure and nature, like Robert Sapolsky’s “A Primate’s Memoir” and David Grann’s “The White Darkness.” More fiction than I could ever list here.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
Embrace failure. I can remember many times that I stopped myself from trying something, because I expected defeat or I feared rejection. But many of my best college experiences only happened because I decided to take the plunge and try enrolling in a Mandarin class or joining the rugby team or applying for an EMT license. I wasn’t great at many of the things I tried, but I was always glad that I had done them. A few years ago, someone advised me to set a “rejection goal.” The idea is that you pitch as many stories and apply to as many opportunities as interest you, and you try to rack up 10, 50, 100 rejections. It was fantastic advice. I definitely hit my rejection goal. But I also opened up career opportunities that I might have never received otherwise. You need to say “yes” to yourself – or, at the very least, not be the first person to tell yourself “no.”
What was your most formative experience at Union?
Introduction to computer science with Chris Fernandes (CS 106). This was a required class for my major. I expected to hate it and I put it off for several semesters. But I didn’t hate it. Instead, I ended up taking another CS class and then another; and then I did summer research for another CS professor, Kristina Striegnitz; and then I did my undergraduate thesis with her, too. Today, programming is a huge part of my job. Without CS 106, I would not be where I am today.