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How to make it in science communication

Ask a group of science students about their future career plans and you’re likely to hear the phrase “I want to do something that involves my degree, but I don’t want a career in research.” It’s a common dilemma for scientists. Having spent three or four years trying to understand complicated theories, many don’t want their knowledge to go to waste.

But the desire for a job in science doesn’t always translate to life in academia. Graduates who face this problem often find themselves drawn to roles in teaching or industry, but these sectors aren’t for everyone. And for this small percentage of students it can quickly feel like that fabled “dream job” doesn’t actually exist. Luckily, there is another option available, the field of science communication.

Science communication is a broad term that covers a wide range of roles. Typical jobs can involve public outreach, journalism or publishing. Usually, when people think of a science communicator, the image of a television presenter or YouTube star is the first thing to come to mind. However, there are plenty more jobs behind the scenes in editorial, production and event planning. There are even opportunities in policy making, where science graduates can use their expertise to advise the government on important decisions. With a bit of imagination, and a degree in science, anything is possible.

Once you have made the decision to pursue a career in this field, what should your next steps be? Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. Unlike the banking industry, there aren’t many advertised internships and graduate schemes. Despite that, it may be possible to secure a few weeks’ worth of work experience by applying directly to organisations such as the BBC or various publishing houses.

Nevertheless, this lack of a formal career path does come with some advantages. As there are no set criteria, applicants are free to be flexible and it is easy to demonstrate your initiative and ability to work independently. The key is to be proactive and do things that you enjoy: start a blog, get involved in student media, set up your own YouTube channel. Develop your skills as early as possible and make sure that you grab any opportunity that comes your way.

At first the task can seem daunting, but it does get easier. When I began my journey into science writing, I was sceptical that it could ever become more than just a pipe dream but I knew that I wanted to write, so I set up my own science news blog. This gave me a platform to build my journalistic skills and I soon started writing for the Boar. Gradually, as my work got more exposure, I realised that science writing was the perfect job for me. I began freelancing for the website Biomedical Picture of the Day and sent off a flurry of work experience applications.

After a series of rejected applications, I somehow managed to secure a rare internship with the Royal Society of Chemistry, working as a science writer for the magazines Chemistry World and Education in Chemistry.

Most of my daily work centred on writing science news stories for publication in print and online. I learned how to structure a news story and gained experience interviewing scientists for quotes. Over the course of eight weeks I was given an incredible insight into the world of science journalism, from the birth of a story (how to source and pitch an idea) right through to copy-editing the final, published issue.

Beyond written journalism, I was also given the chance to get involved with the Chemistry World podcasts, both the monthly discussions and the weekly “chemistry in its element” recordings.

When I sent off the application for Chemistry World, I never thought I would get it; it was too much of a perfect job. In the end, by some crazy twist of fate, I did get it. So if you think you might be interested in science writing, I strongly encourage you to dive straight in. Even if you think it’s a long shot, or that you aren’t good enough, give it a go. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

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