This post originally featured in The Careers Group blog, Develop Your Career.
So you have heard about this sector called “science communication” and you are thinking this might be the place for you to earn your rent money. You are probably someone with a science degree (or two), but don’t want to work in a lab. However you still love science, want to stay connected with it and want to tell other people about it. (But don’t want to be a teacher). How and where do you start?
First, remember there are two words in science communication, and if you have science from your degree, communication is going to form the main part of your job so you must like and be good at it, in some shape or form. Deciding which channel you like to communicate in might help you get started in navigating the wide variety of jobs that fall under the “science communication” umbrella (join mailing-list psci-com for examples):
- Is writing your best strength? Then you might want to go into science writing, journalism, publishing, medical writing, etc.
- Or you might like communicating live with lots of people and are good at organisation – then science events or conferences might be the area for you.
- Visual communicator? Science exhibitions, website management, science image libraries might then be the way to go.
- Verbal communication only? Science radio and podcasts.
And so on. However do bear in mind that you will probably have to use other communication styles besides the main one in your role, so being a communication multi-tasker is best!
This leads me neatly onto what kind of experience you need to get a job in science communication. Well, there are three main routes which you should combine as much as you can – skills, portfolio and volunteering:
In terms of skills, basically you want to get evidence that you are good at your chosen form(s) of communication – if you are going down the science journalism route anything that requires good writing skills is good, whatever the sector. If you are planning to work in science events, any work experience that has required you to build relationships with people or be a good organiser would be evidence. Radio? Any verbal communication experience – and of course audio editing software knowledge. Exhibitions? Any role that requires you to think of physical layouts or visual appearance. It is unlikely that the first work experiences that you do to get work in science communication will actually be in science communication. You need to start with building your skills.
Another tool is a science communication portfolio. You need to collect examples of how you have communicated science – writing a science blog is a common way to start, but you could also have science drawing, tools you used in science tutoring, science graphics you created, science meet-ups you organised. All this then goes onto a website – which will also give you much-valued website content management skills, besides being your portfolio.
Finally – volunteering. Although it is possible to go straight from no work experience in science communication to a paid role it is very unusual. In the UK you are fortunate that you can get paid science communication jobs – it a lot of other countries most science communication roles are carried out as an unpaid side responsibility of a bigger job. But even in the UK, the usual way to get your first bit of work experience in this sector is volunteering. This doesn’t mean one year of unpaid work though – but rather a few days of helping out at a science festival here or there, a month’s volunteering at a science gallery or museum, contributing a few guest articles for a science publication and so forth. This will also help you make those crucial connections in the field that might help you get your first paid job.
So what are you waiting for – start communicating science!
Careers Consultant, Careers and Enterprise Centre