Are you passionate about science but not keen on a career ‘at the bench’? If you are a great communicator, then science communication might be worth considering. This post outlines what it is, gives an overview of the range of jobs and potential employers and links to further resources.
What is it?
Science communication is a broad and evolving field. Traditionally, science communication was the realm of scientists themselves or specialised science journalists (i.e. reporting on scientific developments for media outlets). Whilst both of these are still part of the sector, it is growing increasingly diverse. One of the big drivers in this growth has been increased interest, both from policy-makers and the scientific community, in increasing public engagement with science.
Essentially it concerns communicating scientific developments and activity to the wider public, and/or enthusing others about the value of science. This will generally mean communicating technical information in a way that a non-specialist can understand. The driver for the communication could be any number of reasons and is likely to vary depending on intended audience. For example, it might be championing the research’s value (to policy makers or potential funding partners for example), to marketing a new product, to encouraging children to continue to study science, to helping the public understand complex scientific information and what it means for them.
What and where are the jobs?
As the sector grows, so the range of jobs is diversifying, now encompassing a broad range of potential activities. Written communications are still a key focus, with online media now being fundamental to this. Other activities or roles might be more concerned with events, such as science festivals, outreach or educational activities aimed at children and young people, to lobbying policy-makers, to marketing or PR.
Jobs can be found with potentially any organisation which is involved in, or concerned with, science. This could be universities, learned or Royal societies, research councils, private or public organisations involved in research and development, media – including broadcasters, publishers (journals, magazines, trade publications), science festivals, museums, charities (particularly medical or health related charities), specialist science communication agencies, governmental departments concerned with science and many more. Jo Brodie compiled an excellent – and extensive – list of places where science communicators might work which you can find here.
What qualifications do I need?
A background in science is a distinct advantage and it will obviously help if this is in a related field. For example, a life sciences background if applying for a role related to life sciences, although this isn’t necessarily essential. Many people enter the field after further study but this is not essential.
There are options to undertake further study in science communication, either in the form of a Masters or short courses. Neither of these are essential however and often relevant experience will be more valuable than further study. For careers in science journalism, specific journalism training might be particularly beneficial.
What skills or experience do I need?
This will vary depending on the nature of the job, but the fundamentals are the ability to communicate effectively, an interest in science and, more often than not, some relevant experience. The good news is that there are many opportunities to develop relevant experience whilst still at university (see below).
As online and digital media are now ubiquitous methods of communication, experience or skills in digital media are increasingly sought-after. For example, experience or understanding of social media platforms (particularly Twitter), photo or video editing software etc. will be particularly useful.
Ways to develop experience
- University union media groups or societies
- Engagement or outreach activities within your school/ faculty
- Science festivals – there is a list of UK science festivals here such as the Leeds Festival of Science
- Students into schools
- Opportunities with West Yorkshire STEM
- Science writing competitions
- Internships with relevant organisations – See Jo Brodie’s list for some ideas or explore professional bodies and learned societies (see ‘Further Resources’ section below), which often list opportunities.
- Start your own blog
- British Science Association – is a charity which aims to make science a fundamental part of culture and society. It organises various events, including an annual science communication conference and lots more.
- Association of British Science Writers – are an association of science writers, journalists, broadcasters and communications professionals. Provides information and advice on getting into this career, as well as job listings, membership directory and more.
- BIG – STEM communicators network
- STEMPRA – Network for science communications and PR
- psci-com mailing list – provides a discussion forum for matters relating to public communication and engagement with science.
- Scicommjobs – is a blog by Jo Brodie where she posts job adverts in science communication. Focused mainly on London, but also includes lots of other useful links and information.
- Professional bodies and Learned Societies – see this post for ways to identify relevant ones
- Sense about Science – aims to help the public make sense of science
- ASDC – the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres
- Twitter – Various hashtags are used to discuss science communication and jobs; #scicomm and #scicommjobs are both widely used
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