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Finding a Path in Science Communication (with Tips from Professionals!)


TL;DR: The world of science communication (scicomm) offers countless career opportunities, spanning from science reporting to freelance illustration and beyond. In this article, we explore four distinct scicomm fields, sharing valuable insights from industry professionals regarding their career journeys and offering practical tips for aspiring individuals.


Why I chose this topic: I enjoyed learning about different scicomm fields during the SciTalk 2023 conference. This beyond article aims to summarize scicomm specializations including content, education, etc. Additionally, I wanted to reach out to professionals to gain insider insight on their journey to a professional scicomm career.

 

Are you interested in pursuing a science communication (scicomm) career but don't know what it entails? Or, have you started working in scicomm but are unsure how to grow your career? In this Beyond the Research article, we dig deeper into some various paths in scicomm and hear from professionals about their fields: Rachel Kline, a project manager; JoAnna Wendel, a media relations specialist; Cassidy Swanston, an outreach coordinator; and Dr. Bruce Lewenstein, an scicomm professor.


1. Management


Science communication management involves strategic planning, organization and coordination of science-related projects. Similar to general project management, people who are interested in managing multiple projects and events would enjoy science communication management.


Rachel Kline is a Program Associate at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). Her main project, Engaging Scientists with Faith Communities aims to provide evidence based resources and support for scientists to develop skills in creating religiously-inclusive science engagement. Her role as a Program Associate is, in her words, to “develop and moderate public events, run and maintain our workshop, interview people and publish profiles, work on our pilot study.”


Rachel Kline finds that one of the best benefits of her position is that she gets to interact with many people, including colleagues and conference attendees, and she is always learning. One of the challenges she notes is that some of her projects are “not easily scalable to huge populations, because a message that resonates with one group or community does not necessarily work for every group or community.”


2. Content Development


In recent years, content development has grown as a career alongside the emergence of new social media apps and platforms. Scicomm content creation can range in media from video, infographics, written word, and more. For Cassidy Swanston, an Outreach Content Creator at Actua, her work takes her around the world. Her main duties include creating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs targeted towards youth in Canada, developing content for remote communities, and training instructor teams.


Cassidy Swanston found out about her current position from a former colleague and says that the most appealing part of her job is “the creativity it requires.” She suggests that anyone interested in a science content development job should participate in professional development in STEM pedagogy. For example, she recommends that, “if you are a student and have the opportunity to teach youth STEM through workshops, summer camps, or another medium, that would be a great way to get really relevant experience.”


3. External Relations


External relations specialists build strong relationships with partner groups to promote the work conducted at their organization. In science external relations, they focus on sharing and disseminating scientific research and work from their institution to the public, industry, and other relevant parties.


JoAnna Wendel is a media relations specialist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where she builds relationships with journalists and scientists to help connect them for news reporting. Her goals are to make scientists feel comfortable speaking to the media and to find reputable, credible, and ethical journalists to convey the science to broader audiences. She enjoys coaching scientists through their interviews and helping scientists share their research. However, media relations specialists must represent their organization, so there is less freedom to explore different writing styles or creative communication.


4. Academia


Research in science communication explores the multifaceted aspects of conveying scientific information to various audiences. The research conducted in this field is integral to enhancing the practice of science communication and ensuring that complex scientific concepts are effectively conveyed to the public.


Dr. Bruce Lewenstein is a Professor in the Department of Communications at Cornell University. About 35 years ago, he was at a History of Science Society meeting and saw a hand-written notice that Cornell University would be hiring a position that involves teaching both science journalism and history of science – so he applied! Currently, he describes his professor role as a blend of teaching, research, and outreach in public communication of science and technology.


Dr. Lewenstein considers himself to be extremely privileged to “get paid to read, think, try things (research), and talk about it with others (including teaching).” On a day-to-day basis, he works with undergraduate and graduate students and considers it to be the best part of the position. However, the least appealing part of his position is grading students’ work. His advice to those searching for an academic position is “to be flexible: [d]o some good research, but also keep up your science communication skills – both so you can freelance, and so you can teach those practical skills.”


Takeaway


Regardless of the different fields, the common career advice from all four scicomm professionals was to find a job that ignites a passion in you. Also, networking with others through joining organizations such as the National Association of Science Writers, attending workshops or conferences, reaching out to more experienced scicommers to chat about their career journey, and applying to internships will help early career scicommers advance their career.


A special thank you to JoAnna Wendel, Rachel Kline, Dr. Bruce Lewenstein and Cassidy Swanston for taking the time to share their insight and valuable experiences.


Edited by: Sarah Ferguson and Kay McCallum

Cover image credit: qimono from Pixabay.com

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