Science communication: 9 Strategies to Get Your Foot in the Door

By Guest Blogger

plasmid addgene logoThis post was contributed by guest blogger Sarah Schmidt, a Marie Curie Fellow at The Sainsbury Laboratory.

Are you a science student or early career researcher looking to break into science communication? Everybody goes about this in their own way. The career paths into science communication are as varied as the field itself. Among other things, science communication comprises broadcasting, science writing, and certain aspects of art and education. If you suspect that science communication might be for you, don’t wait. Start communicating now. These 9 strategies will get you started: 

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1) Twitter – Get your voice out there

Here’s one thing you can do today: Sign up for a Twitter account. Check out the hashtag #scicomm and start following science communication societies like @BritSciAssoc, @AAAS, @Stempra and science blogs like @WIRED Science. Don’t be scared to engage with them. Comment on their activities and participate in discussions. Get your voice out there. Use Twitter to promote your other science communication activities, e.g. tweet it when you publish a new blog post, and live tweet from conferences.

Find more tips on using social media as a scientist here.

2) Public engagement - Participate in science festivals and outreach

If you are comfortable talking in public, volunteer at science festivals. Or engage with non-scientists in an unusual setting: Discuss your latest research in a local pub at a Pint of Science event. Or get on stage for a Science Slam – a sort of competitive TED talk – to win the audience’s applause with your performance. When your institute opens its doors to the public, for example at an anniversary or for Girls’ Day, offer guided tours to show people where the lab magic is happening.

3) Volunteer – Step into science education

Do you aim to reach young people? Try networking with your local education community. Get involved in education advocacy non-profits like Phipps Conservatory or the Brilliant Club and share your knowledge at local schools. Or work as a guide in local museums, zoos or botanical gardens. You can also work or volunteer for a science communication organisation like Building with Biology. Local environmental groups, charities and NGOs are often looking for outreach volunteers as well.

4) Blog - Hone your writing skills

Take the DIY approach and start a blog. Stellar talents like Ed Yong jumpstarted their science writing career by blogging. Writing a blog is not only a great form of scientific outreach, it also helps you to hone your writing skills and make a name for yourself. Pick a topic that is close to your heart, set up a blog using a site like WordPress and start writing. Grow your audience by advertising your blog on social media and by engaging with other science bloggers.

If you don’t have time to maintain your own blog, you can probably write for your institute’s blog. The Wellcome Trust blog or the John Innes Student Voice are two examples. Many blogs like Plant Science today, Soapbox Science (hosted by Nature), and Addgene are open to guest contributions.

If you decide to start your own blog, check out these two excellent articles:

5) Get creative – Bring your knacks into play

Perhaps writing just isn’t your cup of tea, and you are more of an audio or visual person. Why don’t you record a podcast or put some effort into making a video? Use your unique talent to communicate science. You can draw live sketches at conferences like @ATJCagan or create agar art with colorful microbes? Try your hand at photography and participate in a science photo competition. Or nominate yourself as an educator for a short, animated TED-Ed lesson.

6) Network – Mingle with pros

Where do you meet like-minded science communicators? Attend the annual flagship meetings of AAAS, WCSJ or ECSJ. These meeting are THE opportunity to grow your network. Get to know and get known by editors and others whose careers are in advance of yours, but also get inspired and meet peers. Join societies like National Science Writers Association, EUSJA or ABSW for helpful tips and job offers. If you live in the UK, join the SciComm mailing list.

7) Internships – Learn on the job

Nothing prepares you better than learning on the job. Try to get an internship at a magazine or newspaper (here’s a partial list). A great opportunity is the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, which places science students for 10 busy weeks at media outlets like National Public Radio, WIRED, Scientific American or National Geographic. Similarly, media fellowships from the British Science Association allow you to spend two to six weeks working at media outlets such as the Guardian, BBC Breakfast or the Londonist. BBC provides a peak into their day-to-day business with popular work experiences of 3-10 days. And the Society of Experimental Biology offers press internships to cover their annual meetings.

8) Training – Get a formal education

Some people get into science communication by taking a media or journalism course. Courses can help you gain work experience and build your network, but don’t expect them to be the “be-all-and-end-all”. You can, for example, get an MSc Science Communication or MSc Science Media Production at Imperial College London. Similarly, the University of Cardiff offers an MSc in Science, Media and Communication. In the US, UC Santa Cruz, MIT, UW Madison, and Boston University offer science communication programs. Others, like Northwestern University or UC Berkeley have journalism graduate schools where you may take a science track.

If you don’t want to commit time and money to a full-time graduate course, UWE Bristol offers an intensive 4-day Masterclass in science communication. The National Co-Ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) provides on-site courses in public engagement for institutions and the Royal Society gives training in media skills, writing about your research and residential communication. If science journalism is the path you want to follow, check out the distance learning courses at the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) or the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. If you choose to teach yourself, check out MIT’s OpenCourseware for course materials and assignments. 

9) Citizen science projects

Lastly, if you'd like to directly involve the public in your research projects, you can set up a citizen science project. Answering the big science questions around climate change, biodiversity, or genomes requires lots of data. Get your community involved in sampling or bioinformatics analysis or upload your data to Zooniverse. The Natural History Museum has downloadable resources to enable you to set up your own citizen science project.

Science communication opens doors

Getting involved in science communication has been the most rewarding step I have taken in my career. The moment, I got active with it, new doors started opening up. My current job as a Marie Curie Fellow is a direct consequence of a blog that I started writing three years ago on a field trip in Indonesia. Since then, I have tried many things: photography, making videos, presenting in pubs and at science festivals. Science communication is my way of living out my creative side. My newest, exciting endeavor is starting to write a book. 

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Many thanks to our guest blogger, Sarah Schmidt!

Sarah Schmidt Headshot-01.pngSarah Schmidt is engineering resistance against Fusarium wilt disease in bananas as a Marie Curie Fellow at The Sainsbury Laboratory. She is passionate about science communications and loves talking about science, nature, agriculture and bananas. You can follow her on Twitter @BananarootsBlog.


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Topics: Science Careers, Science Communication, Professional Development

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