4 Tips To Help You Start A Career in Science Communication
Do you enjoy learning, discussing, and explaining scientific research more than you enjoy conducting it? Then you're likely a good fit for a science communication job.
The question is though, what does a job in SciComm look like? Communication is such an integral part of research that Science Communication (SciComm) has become a field in its own right and not only is it growing, it is evolving.
If you search the topic, you may notice that although some job titles cleanly fit the label (e.g. public information officer, medical writer, or science journalist), most jobs fall under a variety of job categories while still listing responsibilities that fit the science communication label. The good news is that there are plenty of job opportunities out there for every interest and skill you may have. The bad news is that it can be challenging (at first) to find said job.
If there isn't a particular job category for this field, how do you job search? Which are the critical skills you need to succeed in this field? Are there minimum qualifications? Where do you find science communications jobs? How do you get started? How does success even look like in this field? With this in mind, the S2BN network held "The Art of Science Communication", a panel discussion event that brought together around 20 students and faculty members for an intimate panel discussion with 3 professionals in the field of science communications.
We had the pleasure to host guest panelists:
- Katie Wright, senior manager of Research Communications at the Canadian Cancer Society
- Diana Kryski, medical illustrator and founder of Kryski Biomedia
- Kelly Blair Matuk, coordinator of Research Activities and Communications at Queen's University
(Fun fact: both Katie and Kelly are proud Queen's alumni!)
After a stimulating Q&A session, they joined us for a casual networking reception where students had the chance to have one-on-one discussions with them and ask more specific questions. If you happened to miss the event, here are the TOP 4 TIPS that will help you get started in finding a job in the field of science communication:
1. Find a role model and email them
This goes into the "how does success even look like" question. Finding someone who's "been there, done that" makes the end goal more concrete. Also, by looking at their path, you get a better idea of what steps you need to take to get there.
Find someone you admire and look at their LinkedIn profile, follow them on Twitter, and email them. Yes, email them! This was a critical point covered by all our speakers. The fastest way to get accurate and updated information on a particular industry is to reach out to current professionals who can provide you with relevant industry terms, advice, and point you to the right resources.
Cold emails are a thing and you should start sending them. A simple email asking them a few specific questions, or saying something like "I'm interested in becoming a medical writer and I'm a fan of your work. It would be great to get some advice from an expert in the field. Would it be possible to invite you for coffee and ask you a few questions?", can go a long way. Many of your cold emails will remain unanswered, but there are plenty of people who are approachable and willing to share their insights with you.
More importantly, you have nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is that they either ignore your email or tell you that they can’t help you. The potential benefits though, include receiving real advice from an expert and getting to meet them in person. Seriously, what are you waiting for?
2. Start building a portfolio early
Many SciComm jobs will require that you have a portfolio to showcase your skills. Even for those jobs that don't necessarily ask for one, having a online portfolio is a powerful tool to make yourself visible and easily showcase your skills. You'll need to get creative and find as many opportunities as you can to apply these skills.
If you want to be a writer or an illustrator, you will need to show samples of your work. Become a writer for the local magazine or newspaper, volunteer to write articles for a website, help your colleagues with their conference posters in exchange for a LinkedIn recommendation, or ask a professor to let you do the images for their next scientific publication. Through this process, you'll also be gaining a ton of experience that will just improve your writing skills in the long run.
Finally, create an online portfolio that you can easily show to a potential employer. A simple online search for "online portfolio" will yield dozens of websites and tools for creating your personal online portfolio.
3. Join a relevant society or network
The best way to stay updated with the developments in your field and to increase your network is to find a society or a community in your field of interest where you can meet like-minded people and exchange ideas. Not only will this help you stay motivated, it will likely be your number one source of professional growth.
Within Canada, the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) and the Canadian chapter of the American Medical Writer's Association (AMWA) are good places to start. They have numerous resources for early and professional writers, and they hold events and conferences as well.
You can also join a LinkedIn group, a forum, an international society, or a local university club. The point is, get involved and stay motivated.
4. Stay open to opportunities
So, it turns out that it is indeed difficult to do a simple broad search for jobs, as they don't fall under a specific name. This is both intimidating but really exciting. This means that Science communication is broader than you think, so you can use it as an opportunity to find and pursue whichever path you enjoy most.
Take our guest panelists as an example.
- Diana Kryski dedicates her time to the creation of engaging and accurate scientific visuals, and not only does she have her own biomedical illustration company, she also has an online art shop.
- Katie Wright is in charge of translating science for a wide audience that ranges from other scientists and nonprofit organizations, to news outlets and even social media.
- At Queen's University, Kelly Blair Matuk handles all kinds of internal and external communications, writing faculty award nominations one day, and editing a letter for a Nobel laureate the next day.
In conclusion, there's a path out there for everyone, you just need to find it.
We would like to extend our special thanks to the panelists for volunteering their time to make this event possible. We would also like to acknowledge the gracious support provided by Xiaoling Song (M.Sc. 1997) for this event.
To stay updated on our upcoming events, follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@S2BNetwork).