After receiving a biology degree from Cornell University in 1988, Rich was a feckless graduate student in biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania before discovering his true calling as a science writer. He earned a science communication degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, then interned at The Washington Post and Science before joining Science as a staff writer in 1991.

Rich's other true calling is globetrotting. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Russia from 1995–96 and in Kazakhstan from 2004–05. In a brief return to Science's headquarters in Washington, D.C., he launched Science's daily news service, ScienceNOW. He spent 4 years as European news editor in Science's office in Cambridge, U.K., during which he also served as Visiting Writer in Science at the University of Cambridge, and 5 years as Asia news editor in Beijing. Rich has won several awards for articles that have appeared in Science, Discover, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. He is also the author of Mammoth: The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant and an avid squash player.