In high school, Lindsey Carmichael decided to become a forensic specialist after being hooked by a true crime novel that outlined the first criminal case to ever use DNA profiling. Focused on her goal, she applied to the University of Alberta to study DNA fingerprinting techniques in wildlife species, earning an honors degree in genetics.
Years later, six months into her doctoral research on wolves and arctic foxes, she realized she had missed the mark.
"Enjoying the experience of learning and being open to where that experience could take you is really important.”
Academia, it dawned on her, was not in fact her most fundamental, enduring passion—it was writing. “I really, really missed it,” she says. “I was just not meant to be in a lab all day.”
Carmichael’s PhD thesis allowed her to crank out 50,000 words in six weeks—a process she relished—but the mundane nature of her lab work stifled her creativity and fueled her impulse to share stories.
So she began to lead a double life: after spending the
day doing research in her lab, Carmichael hunkered down
at home to write short stories and novels. On a whim,
she enrolled in a children’s writing course through correspondence.
Carmichael learned that demand was high for
writers who could produce quality non-fiction literature
for kids—her first clue that her science expertise could be
used for more fulfilling pursuits.
After completing her thesis in 2006, which won the
prestigious Governor General’s Medal, Carmichael opted
for a new day job: working retail at a bookstore. Acknowledging
with a laugh, the self-described over-achiever says,
“That’s not an easy thing to explain to people.”
While her peers wondered when she would find a
“real job,” Carmichael sold her first science article to
Highlights for Children magazine in 2008. She eventually
approached an educational publisher and pitched
her credentials, and a project soon came up that
matched her expertise.
In 2011, Carmichael signed her first book contract.
“The first time I held it [the book], it took me about
an hour to catch my breath,” Carmichael says. “I was
looking at this thing and thinking: this is absolutely
gorgeous, I can’t believe I made this.”
Four years later, that thrill has yet to wear off
for Carmichael, who has to date authored 15 science
books for children. Her topics range from deciphering
communication between foxes to the development
of forensic science. She says new ideas abound all the
time. “I love the research. I love that sense of discovery
that’s involved in digging into a new topic. It’s something
new every day.”
Carmichael also works part-time as a science specialist
at Saint Mary’s University’s Writing Centre in
Halifax, where she hosts in-class workshops and works
one-on-one with students on their writing. She’s
discovered that many science students dread communicating
research to readers.
“A lot of people seem to want to go into science
because they don’t like writing, and they think they
won’t have to do it,” she says. “To me, communication is
absolutely essential in every field, especially in science.
Sharing our results and our research is arguably the
most important stage of
the scientific method. We not only have to be
able to do that work, but
we have to be able to tell
people what we found.”
Nowadays, Carmichael can’t help but pinch herself,
having finally managed to blend her two passions in
a fulfilling career. Her ambition has only grown, with
plans underway to write her first fantasy novel for
It’s children, though, who Carmichael seems to
have especially charmed. Just ask the mom who
recently messaged the author about her son reading
Carmichael’s book at bedtime. “She said that her son
turned the light back on so that he could read just one
more page,” Carmichael says. “That is the best thing I
have ever heard in my life.”
Even in the early days, when she began to doubt
her career path, Carmichael felt strongly about investing
in her studies “If you are interested in the subject,
it’s worth studying, even if you’re not sure what you’re
going to do with it,” she says. “Enjoying the experience
of learning and being open to where that experience
could take you is really important.”
Lindsey Carmichael has been shortlisted for the prestigious 2014 Lane Anderson Award for her book Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild.