This post on writing in the sciences is the first in a series focused on highlighting various “spin-off” science careers (i.e., career paths not involving the traditional research route).
Based on pure observations, many people just don’t like to write, and the ability to write well is definitely a talent. Additionally, scientists who are non-native English speakers may struggle with conveying their messages to an audience due to a language barrier. Therefore, science writers bring great value to any company or institution needing to disseminate scientific information to diverse audiences.
The field includes a number of subspecialties that all have a unique “style” of writing: medical writing, technical writing, science writing, proposal development, etc. Science writing – the art of communicating science in a journalistic-style to a non-scientific audience – holds a particular interest to me. Here are a few tips that I have gathered from science writers on entering the field and ideas for gaining more writing experience:
Write, write and write some more!
- Start a blog with focused content and consistent format;
- Volunteer at work with reports and proposal development;
- Ask your public relations office about helping with press releases;
- Push your research project to manuscript-ready level;
- Think about writing a review paper or editorial to a journal;
- Contact museums to write lessons/museum displays;
- Volunteer with a non-profit organization to help with grant writing;
- Contact local newspapers to inquire about freelance gigs.
Science Writing Internships – Many science writers have participated in at least a six-month science writing internship to gain invaluable experience and get their foot in the door at various institutions. Most internship programs require that participants have at least three professional “clips” (i.e., published news articles) to be qualified.
Science Writing Graduate Program – A large number of science writers have a background in journalism. If you are trying to cross over from a technical background to science writing then you may want to attend a science journalism program. These programs typically last 1-2 years and more information can be found through articles on Science Careers and The Open Notebook.
Certificate Programs and Coursework – If you don’t have the time or money for a formal graduate program, look for opportunities to participate in a graduate certificate program or individual classwork. I just completed a “Writing in the Sciences” course from Stanford University through Coursera.org (and it was completely free and very informative!)
Professional Organizations – You might consider joining one of these professional associations that provide resources to members on learning how to write and breaking into the field. If you are not ready to join the group, you can view articles on their websites and join email list serves or social media groups to network with members. Plus, many groups offer scholarships and host an annual conference for even more networking opportunities.
- National Association of Science Writers
- American Medical Writers Association
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
- World Federation of Science Journalists
Promote yourself – Make an online portfolio to post your resume, writing clips and services that you offer.
Informational interviews – Seek out science writers and conduct informational interviews to get professional advice on entering the field.
Online articles related to entering the field of science writing:
- How Do I Get Started in Science Writing? - by Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
- Technical Writing vs. Science Writing – by Kristina Bjoran
- Starting a Career in Science Writing – by Jim Austin and Andrew Fazekas
- 6 Tips for Getting Gigs as a Freelance Journalist - by Beth Winegarner
- How a Scientist Becomes a Freelance Science Writer – by Stephanie Chasteen
Discussion Point: What other advice do you have for aspiring science writers?