Default headshot image

Brenna Maloney

Science Communication Fellow
Managing Editor, Explorer magazine
National Geographic Society

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

I’m the managing editor for National Geographic’s Explorer magazine, which makes me an informal educator to nearly one million elementary school students worldwide every month. I write and edit stories for our magazine that align with teaching standards (Common Core, NGSS, or C3 Framework Standards) for life science, Earth science, and physical science stories. Our articles tackle complex issues, like climate change; or follow an explorer on an expedition; or explain life cycles of interesting animals. While they are nonfiction articles, they are written to read like fiction—to be engaging and interesting to our young readers.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I grew up in a landlocked state in the Midwest. I didn’t live on a farm, but everyone in the community did some sort of farm work at one time or another. Dad said manual labor would build character. By the time I was in high school, both of us agreed that I had built more than enough “character” and didn’t need to detassel any more corn. I liked the words. I liked the questions. I liked knowing how things worked. I followed my older sister into journalism because that was a career that enabled me to pursue all of those things in earnest. It was a career that would allow me to learn about my whole life.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I’ve had some incredible mentors during my life and still do. But my parents’ influence has probably been the strongest. We always had a library card. There was never a limit on books. Our home was lined with bookshelves, filled with thousands and thousands of books. No subject was off-limits. No book was deemed “too hard.” Dinner time conversations were rich and varied and informed and sometimes absurd. My parents were “lifetime learners” before that was a thing. Because they were curious about the world, we were curious about the world.

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

With this kind of work, you really become a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. You’re challenged on a continual basis to have a strong enough understanding of a subject that you can explain it or teach it to someone else. This flexes your brain a lot. You also become a temporary expert in weird things. I know a little too much about monotremes right now because of a story we’re working on. Who knew platypuses don’t have stomachs?

What other jobs led to your current career?

Before coming to the National Geographic Society, I had a long career as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post. The Post was an idyllic place to work—such great minds there. Everyone brought their A-game to work every single day. We all had the same goal—to make what was happening in the world clear and understandable to our readers.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts in Public and Corporate Communication, Butler University, 1991; Masters in Journalism, Michigan State University, 1993; beekeeping, 2019; Adult and Infant CPR, Basic First Aid, 2020

What are your hobbies?

I’m a mom to two teenage boys, which keeps me pretty busy. My younger son and I do tae kwon do together. (Fear not! I am more of a danger to myself than to others.) My older son and I are beekeepers together. I’m also a potter. And I write books on the side.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

Well now, I did have an elaborate plan to smuggle myself on board as a stowaway, but then they offered me a legitimate fellowship, so that plan was no longer necessary. This came as a huge relief to me, as the crew would probably have chucked me overboard once they found me. I originally heard about the Ocean Exploration Trust's program through colleagues at National Geographic. After hearing Bob Ballard speak a number of times at the Society and being so taken with his enthusiasm and drive, I applied for the Science Communication Fellowship.

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Aw geez. Find someone who knows what they are doing to give you good advice! So much of my “career” has been accidental—me saying yes to things when maybe that wasn’t the best idea…like that time I “toured” the D.C. sewer…or climbed into the statue on top of the U.S. Capitol to see how her repairs were going…or that whole thing with the sick opossum that one time. The only advice I could safely give is to keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities. Work hard. Every day. Be curious. And say no to any tours of the sewers. I mean, really. I shouldn’t have to tell you that, should I? Have some sense.