Science Careers: Unruly Interests Feed Many Paths

By Guest Blogger

Blugene WritingThis post was contributed by guest writer Pamela J. Hines PhD, Senior Editor at Science Magazine.

Although we only walk one path at a time, the variety of paths in life is mind-boggling. Unlike a mountain – with many routes up and only one destination – a career in the sciences is more like an intergalactic network. Which planet will you visit? Where will you stop for refreshment along the way? What ecosystem makes your heart sing with delight?

From developmental biology to developing a career

Developmental biology caught me early on: a simple egg is packed with information. I am fascinated with how developmental programs unfold, absorbing the stochasticity of molecular interactions and embedding individual diversity to get from gamete to a visibly complex - and unique - adult. My initial research directions followed that avenue with projects studying developmentally programmed regulation of DNA replication and gene transcription during vertebrate embryogenesis.

My interests, though, have proven unruly. Instead of settling down into a singular focus on molecular pathways, I found myself curious about other routes – In terms of both types and topics of work. A younger interest in being a writer kept chirping up. The evolutionary perspective brought by studies of comparative anatomy showed me that some of the most fascinating biology is found in weird and rare organisms so I found it hard to stick to vertebrates alone.  And a longstanding inclination to be a teacher was looking for an outlet.

I started asking people: why do you do what you do? How do you like it? how did you get there? Many of those people I met through AWIS (Association for Women in Science); others were visiting seminar speakers. My eye was caught by a couple of unusual job openings, although they seemed too far afield at first and I let them pass by. But I didn’t forget: what would it be like? Then I spotted an opening for being an editor at Science magazine. That one I just could not resist applying for. Not that I knew anything about being an editor - that I learned on the job.

The day-to-day work of a science editor

In my role as an editor at Science, my various interests come together as useful and productive, forming a different constellation of interests and skills than what fits for applied research. I focus in general terms on a couple of very broad topic domains, but each day brings in new and surprisingly diverse manuscripts. I work with people, nurturing networks, as much as with technical knowledge. I leverage a breadth of knowledge to put diverse aspects of bioscience into context, while at the same time working through the details of experimental design and data with authors and referees. And I am constantly teaching – often explaining a technical piece of research to others outside that specialty, who may be other scientists, or science journalists, or policy makers.

The term editor covers a wide variety of careers and jobs. At Science, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we have all sorts of different editors. Do you like science journalism? Take a look at our news editors. A fondness for visualization of science? Look at our graphics and design editors. How about condensing a week’s worth of the world’s scientific discoveries into an entertaining podcast? Look at our multimedia producer and online editor. And, the copyeditors deal with things like word choice, punctuation, and stylistic consistency. If you’ve ever doubted the importance of copy editors, the New Yorker’s “Comma Queen” shows how punctuation can be wildly funny as well as financially critical.

Those who work on the publishing side of science have professional meetings, societies, networks just as do research scientists. There we meet others in the scientific publishing world and debate issues about how to improve the scientific publishing process. There is a rich and active community of science communication professionals who are thinking about, for example, how to use new technologies to reach the right audiences and how open access affects financial models in information publication. Take a look at the blog ‘Scholarly Kitchen’ for a glimpse into the world of scholarly publishing. And see for example the Eighth International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication, where diverse approaches to peer review were discussed.

Science communication opportunities

If you are interested in the science communications world, you might consider an internship or a short program to build skills and connections. AAAS offers a summer program that gives graduate students an opportunity to work in radio, print journalism, and other media outlets (AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program). Science journalism programs at various universities range from week-long workshops to more in-depth master’s degree studies.

No matter what planet you are on at the moment, we now know there are a lot more planets to choose from. Put your skills and interests into your backpack, and step out there into the galaxy.

TL;DR: Many roads need scientists open for adventure.

Many thanks to our guest writer, Pamela J. Hines, PhD!

Pamela Hines HeadshotPamela J. Hines is a Senior Editor at Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is enjoys broad engagement through science communication with a variety of audiences. She focuses at Science on developmental neurobiology and plant sciences, viewed through the lens of development, cell, and molecular biology. Beyond that, she is also a fan of baseball, French horn, and rhubarb. Follow her on Twitter @Pam_Hines and LinkedIn.

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Topics: Science Careers, Science Career Options

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