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C areers in Science Writing. Nick Zagorski , PhD Science Writer American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. What is Science Writing?. The “art” of making science accessible and interesting to non-experts. Chimps Trade Meat for the Chance of Sex. The Progression of Science.

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c areers in science writing

Careers in Science Writing

Nick Zagorski, PhD

Science Writer

American Society for Biochemistry

and Molecular Biology

what is science writing
What is Science Writing?

The “art” of making science accessible and interesting to non-experts

Chimps Trade Meat for

the Chance of Sex

the progression of science
The Progression of Science

Lethargus is a C. elegans sleep-like state

David M. Raizen, John E. Zimmerman, Matthew H. Maycock, Uyen D. Ta, Young-jai You, Meera V. Sundaram & Allan I. Pack,

Nature 451, 569–572 (2008)

  • The “Raw” Science
  • The source material: research, award, milestone, personal story

Promotional Writing

  • Press releases and announcements put out by universities, journals, societies, etc.
  • Used as a means of generating both scientific awareness and "brand recognition”
  • Generally plain, direct, and fact-filled

PHILADELPHIA – Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine report in this week’s advanced online edition of Nature that the roundworm C. elegans, a staple of laboratory research, may be key in unlocking one of the central biological mysteries: why we sleep.

Education & Entertainment

  • Stories and news bits found in magazines, journal “front matter,” web pages
  • Generally more creative and free-flowing
  • Used to entertain and inform readers

A man coming off his night shift gets into his car. He knows it's the most dangerous part of his day, a time when his body aches for sleep.

the life of an asbmb writer
The Life of an ASBMB Writer
  • Help promote the Society and its journals (JBC, JLR, MCP), by:
  • Writing and distributing short press tips on interesting journal articles, award announcements, or other member news
  • Assisting media or University PIOs with queries
  • Looking at new outlets to distribute ASBMB news to wider audience
  • Also work on other Journal operations:
  • Writing short summaries for JBC “Papers of the Week”
  • Assisting researchers in preparing special articles like minireviews, thematic series, etc.
  • Contribute stories to our monthly member magazine ASBMB Today, such as:
  • biographies of some of our members
  • topical Q&As with prominent researchers
  • in-depth profiles of research centers across the country
  • meeting or conference recaps
  • Also involved in some editorial processes, such as:
  • Helping propose and select cover images
  • Assisting in editorial planning (future issue content, etc.)
  • Suggesting ideas to add, enhance, or revise content
the life of an asbmb writer con t
The Life of an ASBMB Writer, con’t
  • What do I do in the course of my duties?
  • Continually communicate with various people in the science community (professors, post-docs, students, etc.) about science-related topics
  • Read a lot of journal articles
  • Attend scientific conferences
  • Conduct “Internet Research”
  • Of course, lots of writing, re-writing, and re-re-writing
      • Seem Familiar…?
science writing not so alternative
Science Writing…Not so Alternative?
  • Communicating science - scientists do it all the time
  • Writing and revising grants and research articles
  • Preparing presentations for lab meeting
  • Preparing and discussing posters at meetings
  • Talking about the direction of your project to your committee, colleagues, or collaborators. 

Next to the actual experiments and results, reading, writing, listening and talking about those results is the most time-consuming and essential part of any investigator’s career

science writing the good the bad
Science Writing: The Good, the Bad…
  • Pros
  • A career where you can still remain on
  • the leading edge of science, but also
  • see the forest for the trees.
  • Publication immortality and the thrill of
  • the “byline”
  • It’s generally a “casual” career.
  • Good travel opportunities
  • A degree of freedom and independence
  • And a chance to achieve mainstream fame
  • Cons
  • Not one of the most financially rewarding career options, at least at first
  • Carpal tunnel, eye strain, other discomforts of constant typing.
  • Dealing with criticism –on many fronts
and the uncertain
…and the Uncertain
  • The world of science writing is currently undergoing a significant transition
  • --from communications to communications 2.0
  • The traditional model of science writing is disappearing
  • Science reporters, university PIOs, even scientists are shifting
  • (sometimes reluctantly) to “new media” to get the
  • message across.
  • Blogging
  • RSS Feeds/ e-News
  • Podcasts/ Video
  • Social Networking (Facebook, Twitter)
  • Open Access/Instant Publication
  • What this means:
  • as you plan a career in science writing, understand the need to communicate
  • through diverse media
  • it does not mean that science writing careers are dying. While some old jobs
  • are dying, new ones are emerging.

Raw Science





a brief look ahead
A Brief Look Ahead

Advancing Your Career in Science Communications:

Masthead Progression – From writer to editor

Progression of length – from short articles to feature stories to books

Progression of format – from the pages to the “waves”

Progression of Fields – cut the ‘science’ from ‘science writer’

the science writer self test
The Science Writer Self-Test

How much do you enjoy the writing and presentation aspects of your research?

Are you genuinely excited about speaking or having a poster at an upcoming conference?

Do you look forward to writing the Discussion portion of your papers?

Do you enjoy writing grants, relishing the challenge of presenting your work as the most important thing going on in biomedical research today?

How are your communication skills outside the lab?

Do you find it easy to explain your work to friends and family?

Do you contribute to (or even host) blogs, science or otherwise?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, then science writing may be right for you.

taking the plunge
Taking the Plunge
  • Master’s Programs in Science Writing/Journalism
  • typically 1-2 years, seminar style, writing intensive
  • Johns Hopkins, MIT, UC-Santa Cruz three of the more noted ones, but dozens of graduate programs across the country
  • Pros: help provide seamless transition, networking web
  • Cons: more school?
  • 2.Science writing internships/fellowships
  • typically 3-6 months, paid (usually), hands-on training
  • offered by many journals, magazines, science societies, government agencies
  • Pros: great way to test out science writing w/o commitment
  • Cons: time too short?
  • 3. Jump right into the job search
  • Pros: start building career and earning power
  • Cons: competitive job market
the catch 22 of the clips
The Catch-22 of the Clips

Whatever choice you may ultimately pursue, all of them are fraught with the same obstacle to aspiring science writers:

published writing samples

Your degrees, skill set, and cover letter all look great, but like any creative field, your portfolio is key to getting that offer/interview

There are plenty of opportunities for freelance writing, but this field is just as competitive (if not more) than the job market. And this field tends to favor established writers.

So, how do you get writing samples as a full-time student/post-doc?

how to get a foot in the door
How to Get a Foot in the Door
  • Campus Connections Can Culminate in Clips
  • Your lab, department, other programs… lots of exciting science going on, lots of potential story ideas to uncover. Peruse the bulletin boards, go to lectures, talk with friends.
  • If you happen to smell out a good story? Consider University publications
  • University communications/media office
  • Student newspaper
  • Local city papers
  • Consider other opportunities as well:
  • In the class: take some introductory journalism courses
  • In the lab: ask your mentor about writing/co-writing a review article.
  • If all else fails, use a scientific paper you wrote or a portion of your thesis –good writing crosses boundaries
how to get another foot in the door
How to Get Another Foot in the Door
  • Become a communicator, not just a writer
  • -science writing jobs are becoming multi-faceted; develop or enhance skills in other media
  • Photography
  • Web Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Audio/Video
  • Try it on your own, or take a class... again, make use of the campus
  • connection
  • If you can, put these talents to use so potential employers can see them
  • Re-design your lab webpage
  • Work on a personal webpage or blog
don t forget to network
Don’t Forget to Network
  • Science Communications is very much a career where Who you know is just as important as What you know.
  • Start embedding yourself into the memories of potential contacts and colleagues
  • Invited speakers at career workshops and seminars
  • “Meet” the Press
  • Get to know your University Media Team
  • “Cold call” people for advice
  • Join scientific societies, join campus groups
  • And don’t forget the scientists!
in the meantime nurture
In the meantime, Nurture
  • Offer to help write/edit your lab’s papers
  • Take some writing classes –even if just for fun
  • get those thoughts out there – contribute to science blogs and forums
  • Crosswords – keep that writer’s mind sharp & expand your vocabulary

Read, watch, listen science – absorb & react

Some possibilities:

Charles Darwin – On the Origin of Species Brian Greene – The Elegant Universe

James Watson – The Double Helix DavaSobel – Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter

Paul de Kruif – Microbe Hunters Michael Pollan – The Botany of Desire, Omnivore’s Dilemma

New York Times Science Section NPR: Science Friday and All Things Considered

‘Front Matter’ of Science and Nature An Inconvenient Truth

Best American Science Writing SeriesDiscovery Network: Both TV and Web

some faqs
Some FAQs
  • I’m an early-mid stage graduate student who really thinks science writing is the way to go. So, do I even need to stick around to finish my PhD?
  • I’m interested in learning more about freelancing to build my clips portfolio or as a possible career path. Any suggestions?
  • I love science writing, but I love being a scientist too; which path is better?
helpful links
Helpful Links

General Resources/Career Advice:

Science Careers http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/(advanced search  exact phrase science writing)

Bio Career Center http://www.biocareercenter.com/index.html

ASBMB www.asbmb.org(Careers & Education menu  Career Development)

National Association of Science Writers (NASW) www.nasw.org

Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) http://casw.org/

(also regional science writing groups: DC, Philly, San Diego, Northern California, Northwest)

Seminar on science writing and the “new media: http://www.eurekalert.org/seminar/2008/video.php


http://www.journalism.wisc.edu/dsc/index.html(Fairly robust directory of science writing grad programs)

If you want to take a direct plunge to film: http://naturefilm.montana.edu/index.php

AAAS Mass Media Fellowship: http://www.aaas.org/programs/education/MassMedia/

Other AAAS internships: http://www.aaas.org/careercenter/internships/

Nature: http://www.nature.com/npg_/work/internship.html

Science News: http://www.sciencenews.org/view/page/id/32647/title/Internships

NPR: http://www.npr.org/about/jobs/intern/index.html(specifically the “Science Desk” internship)

The Jackson Lab: http://education.jax.org/science_writer.html

National Cancer Institute: https://hcip.nci.nih.gov/

SLAC National Accelerator: http://www-group.slac.stanford.edu/com/science_writing_internship.htm


http://www.journalismjobs.com/(geared to all media jobs, but can specify for science & health)

one last helpful link
One last Helpful Link: