Breaking from the usual format for the “Career Highlights” section of our blog, which mainly features interviews with seminar speakers from outside academia, today I come to you with some plain old career advice.
While there are many career paths to follow after graduation, one in particular is growing at a pretty fast rate. That field is science writing. Don’t know what it is? Well look no further, my friend. Welcome to Science Writing 101.
What is science writing?
If you couldn’t guess from the name, science writing is well, writing about science. More specifically, it’s about disseminating scientific research to the world. Science writers are responsible for translating newly published research into something that the general public can understand. Science writers don’t simply “dumb things down”; rather their job is to convey scientific research in a way that doesn’t use scientific jargon.
While science writing is closely related to medical writing, the two fields are NOT the same. In fact, medical/scientific writers write for a completely different audience. Typically, medical writers are responsible for research articles, grant proposals, regulatory documents, and patient education pamphlets. If such things interest you more, I highly recommend checking out the American Medical Writer’s Association (AMWA) website.
What kind of jobs do science writers fulfill?
There are two main routes one can take to become a science writer. The first way is through freelance work. Websites, newspapers, and other media outlets (like Popular Science and Scientific American) are always looking for freelance science writers to compose interesting stories for them. This is the most popular route that people take. However, some people simply write entire books for a living. However you do it, the greatest appeal to freelancing is of course the flexibility. You can work as much or as little as you want, whenever you want, from wherever you want.
For those who like more job security and the benefits of working for a company (e.g. medical, dental, vision, and 401K), then they should look for jobs as staff writers. Types of companies that have science writing staff include major publishers (e.g. Science, Nature, Cell) and research universities like Penn State. Such enterprises are always looking for science writers to compose press releases, maintain blogs, and perform scientific outreach.
How do I get started?
The best way to break into science writing is to of course, start writing. A great way of doing this is to start your own blog (I can attest to that). If you’re still a student, you can contribute to local student publications and/or find an internship at your University’s news office. If you want to dive straight into the deep end, you can even send your best writing samples to magazines or online news outlets for publishing consideration. These articles can be about anything really, as long as they’re well-written. Finally, there are some freelancing websites you can sign-up for that help connect writers to the employers that need them. One such site is Upwork.com.
If science writing sounds like your life’s calling, then the first resource you should check out is the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). While you can pay your way in as a student, professionals will need to submit writing samples and obtain personal references to become a member. Even if you don’t go for membership, there’s a lot of good free resources to check out too. A similar group calls themselves the “Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW).
If you’re on LinkedIn, then check out the group “Science Writers“. This is a great place to seek advice about science writing, and a good place to show off your skills too.
Finally, there are plenty of sites that offer all sorts of advice for newcomers to the science writing industry. Simply googling “Science Writing Resources” will direct to a few. To help you get started here’s one of them.