“Spin-off” Science Career Series: Writing in the Sciences


This post on writing in the sciences is the first in a series focused on highlighting various “spin-off” science careers (i.e., career paths not involving the traditional research route).

Based on pure observation, many people just don’t like to write, and the ability to write well is definitely a talent. Additionally, scientists who are non-native English speakers may struggle with conveying their messages to an audience due to a language barrier. Therefore, science writers bring great value to any company or institution needing to disseminate scientific information to diverse audiences.

The field includes a number of sub-specialties that all have a unique “style” of writing: medical writing, technical writing, science writing, proposal development, etc. Science writing, as the art of communicating science in a journalistic-style to a non-scientific audience, holds a particular interest to me. Here are a few tips that I have gathered from science writers on entering the field and ideas for gaining more writing experience:

Write, write and write some more!

  1. Start a blog with focused content and consistent format;
  2. Volunteer at work with reports and proposal development;
  3. Ask your public relations office about helping with press releases;
  4. Push your research project to manuscript-ready level;
  5. Think about writing a review paper or editorial to a journal;
  6. Contact museums to write lessons/museum displays;
  7. Volunteer with a non-profit organization to help with grant writing;
  8. Contact local newspapers to inquire about freelance gigs.

Science Writing Internships – Many science writers have participated in at least a six-month science writing internship to gain invaluable experience and get their foot in the door at various institutions. Most internship programs require that participants have at least three professional “clips” (i.e., published news articles) to be qualified.

Science Writing Graduate Program – A large number of science writers have a background in journalism. If you are trying to cross over from a technical background to science writing then you may want to attend a science journalism program. These programs typically last 1-2 years and more information can be found through articles on Science Careers and The Open Notebook.

Certificate Programs and Coursework – If you don’t have the time or money for a formal graduate program, look for opportunities to participate in a graduate certificate program or individual classwork. I just completed a “Writing in the Sciences” course from Stanford University through Coursera.org (and it was completely free and very informative!)

Professional Organizations – You might consider joining one of these professional associations that provide resources to members on learning how to write and breaking into the field. If you are not ready to join the group, you can view articles on their websites and join email list serves or social media groups to network with members. Plus, many groups offer scholarships and host an annual conference for even more networking opportunities.

  1. National Association of Science Writers
  2. American Medical Writers Association
  3. American Association for the Advancement of Science
  4. Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
  5. World Federation of Science Journalists  

Promote yourself – Make an online portfolio to post your resume, writing clips and services that you offer.

Informational interviews – Seek out science writers and conduct informational interviews to get professional advice on entering the field.

Online articles related to entering the field of science writing:

  1. How Do I Get Started in Science Writing? – by Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
  2. Technical Writing vs. Science Writing – by Kristina Bjoran
  3. Starting a Career in Science Writing – by Jim Austin and Andrew Fazekas
  4. 6 Tips for Getting Gigs as a Freelance Journalist – by Beth Winegarner
  5. How a Scientist Becomes a Freelance Science Writer – by Stephanie Chasteen

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Discussion Point: What other advice do you have for aspiring science writers?

11 thoughts on ““Spin-off” Science Career Series: Writing in the Sciences

  1. Eve Sprunt says:

    I agree that scientists benefit tremendously if they can write well. The greatest benefits are promoting their own work and ideas. From an employment perspective, the ability to write is a big advantage for a scientist, but continuing to work as a technical professional is usually more more financially lucrative career than switching to scientific writing. Unfortunately, many great writers are not well compensated.

      • Eve Sprunt says:

        A great way is to be an unpaid contributor to industry publications. Many publications are eager to get editorial material at no cost. If you are very open to having your work edited, they will teach you a lot about writing styles that are easy to read. Also, being an editorialist can help you build your reputation beyond the limits of your employment.

  2. Ana DePina says:

    Donna, I found your article very informative! It was great to see advice that I’ve received from different people all in one place. I’ve been interested in science writing for quite some time, but have not been able to follow-up by taking courses and applying to internships.

    Eve, do you have any advice on finding specific ‘industry publications’ that might be looking for volunteer writers/editors? Thanks!!

    • Eve Sprunt says:

      “Trade publications” are often in greater need to free material than professional society publications. Check out what trade publications exist in your field.

      Eve

      • Ana Depina says:

        Thanks for all the advice! This may not be the case for others, but I have found it difficult to find sources to write for, even as a volunteer writer. Other science writers have also told me to start a blog, which I have yet to do. My hesitation has been topic/focus of the blog, how to make people aware of it, etc. Any advice on starting a blog? Thanks again!!

  3. Donna Kridelbaugh, MS says:

    @Ana-A science writer gave me the best advice: pick a focused theme/topic, post regularly and try to keep post entries to 400 words or less. However, I might not be the best person to give advice on blogging (as I wish I had more time to write and follow my own advice!) Basically, a blog is really for your own personal satisfaction to have fun with writing (and get practice along the way), so pick a subject area that you enjoy. Also, you can look through other people’s blogs to get ideas on layout/design. I would also refer you to “The Book Designer” blog by Joel Friedlander who I think gives some useful advice on blogging: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/12/foundation-posts/

    Let me know if you start a blog, so I can follow it (which is a great way to make people aware of your blog by getting other bloggers to make reference or to promote it.) Other ideas on promotion include adding the blog url to your email signature line and business card, adding new blog post announcements to social media groups and telling your friends/colleagues about your new blog. Hope this information helps!

  4. Ana DePina says:

    Donna-Thank you so much for all the advice!! Time is a big factor for me as well, trying to balance work and family responsibilities is always a challenge. I will follow-up on your advice, should I get a blog up and going, I’ll be sure to let you know. As far as I’m concerned, you are a professional blogger, I find your posts very helpful! I look forward to many more!!

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