From an early age, I had a deep fascination with science and communicating it with others. But after getting a degree in communications, I felt like I was inherently disadvantaged from informing people about science.
Scouring the internet during college, I found a variety of science communicators to emulate, but they all had backgrounds in STEM. Sure, I had amazing science teachers growing up, and like every other kid my age, I loved Bill Nye the Science Guy and adored Ms. Frizzle–but all of those figures had degrees in science, while mine was in communications. Because of this lack of examples of science communicators from non-STEM disciplines in my personal history, I wondered if I could actually belong in the world of scicomm.
After reading Allison Gasparini’s article, I had an epiphany: Science communication is a new field. And as a result, there isn’t a clear, distinct path into the world of scicomm like there sometimes is for other fields.
My first internship was with a local environmental education group known as The Urban Interface, which I found by searching for opportunities to work with animals and utilize my communication skills. I translated and shared information about Texas wildlife, which I loved doing. But the job wasn’t labeled “scicomm.” In fact, I didn’t learn about science communication until late into that internship, when it was first mentioned by a guest speaker in public relations class I was taking that semester. All the same, this internship helped me gain insight into what I wanted to do in a career.
Fast forward to now. I am an intern at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, providing support for the Apollo 50th anniversary. I’ve written stories for NASA, and even started freelancing with Let’s Get Sciencey. I’ve seen myself grow so much since my first communications internship at The Urban Interface, learning how to ask deeper questions, create metaphors so readers understand the science better. In hindsight, I can see how all these little parts of my life lined up to lead me from Texas to Virginia.
To find what are seemingly elusive scicomm jobs, I recommend first considering why you want to do scicomm. Take a step back. Who do you want to communicate with? What information are you sharing? Why are you doing it? For me, I want to help share science with the public so people can become more literate, making better informed choices about the world we live in.
Know how to describe your goals
Narrowing down your goals will help you narrow down your search. When you’re looking at goals, consider how you’re going to “do” scicomm. My background in communications leads me on the path of public relations, with a concentration in writing.
Something problematic in my case is that “science public relations” isn’t really a buzzword. It’s a very particular, and with this phrasing, deceptively small, field. In reality, there are many organizations, from hospitals to universities, that need science public relations practitioners. It’s just not labeled as that. Focusing on the organizations who need science communicators, even if it isn’t labeled as such, can narrow down your search.
Recognize your talents
A second strategy is to think back to your talents and strengths. I use a different approach this way, focusing on my skills instead of the organizations as key words. For writing skills, “science writer” is a common search. I might try fields within science, like “aeronautics public relations” or “environmental journalism,” diving through different rabbit holes. I prefer this process because you can learn about new companies that are looking for candidates like you. I typically do these searches in a larger search area, like a state or the whole country.
It isn’t always easy to identify your talents. Perhaps think about your hobbies and interests. What do you enjoy in your free time? For me, I’ve always enjoyed writing. Perhaps for others it is a form of art like photography or videography. It’s not limited to art of course: comedy, public outreach, education, science policy can all communicate science; there is a variety of ways to reach audiences.
Find a community
A lot of what I’ve learned is from a supportive community on social media. By interacting with other scicomm-ers, especially those with similar interests or backgrounds, you will find people to learn from. Professional relationships like these, even via social media, can be helpful.
The scicomm community will share job opportunities, advice, resources, and experiences that can help shape your goals and prepare you for a career in science communication. Recently I vented in frustration about a lack of opportunities in STEM for the communication-trained, and I found a number of peers via Twitter, where I learned from their shared experiences. I learned more about environmental interpretations, extension programs through Land Grant universities, and some useful online job boards.
Of course, it’s not limited to online communities. There are organizations across the nation including the National Association of Science Writers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Local chapters can offer unique experience and support. Sometimes you can find them in local universities or in large cities. While you explore your keywords, you might find an interesting organization that can help you pursue your goals.
There isn’t one path
I don’t claim to be a complete expert on how to find your dream scicomm job—I only know some tricks of the trade. Scicomm is new, but growing. Your experience will be different than mine. In my conversations on Twitter, someone said they typically found more jobs for people with media backgrounds than science backgrounds. The more I learn about people’s different experiences in scicomm, the more I understand that there truly isn’t a single path to reach your goal. And that’s scary.
But it’s also exciting. With patience and perseverance, I truly believe anyone who is interested in scicomm can find a place in the community. It takes a unique person to translate science to the public, but without those skilled individuals, we wouldn’t be where we are today.