This is the fourth and final post in the “science to scicomm” series, all about planning to move from scientific research to full-time science communication jobs. But I have some news! I’m planning to turn these four posts – plus additional content – into a downloadable/printable workbook within the next few months. To get a taster, one of the worksheets is included in this post. Find out below how to get it, and sign up for the monthly mailing list to stay up to date on news of the full workbook and lots of other things.
If this is the first post in this series that you’ve come across, have a look at the preceding three posts:
- Writing tips for researchers interested in science communication
- Finding science communication opportunities as a researcher
- Freelance science communication work
These posts have been gradually building up the level of science communication, so this final one is all about finding and applying for scicomm jobs.
What kind of job?
I’ve had people ask me for advice on how to find science communication jobs and my first question is always “what kind of job?”
Science communication can mean many things. Some people do it as freelance jobs, but this post is all about applying for positions working for someone else. Do you want to work for a university or research institute to arrange their public engagement activities? Do you want to be a medical writer? Or a writer for science publications? Do you want to be an in-house journal editor? Work for a scientific society?
Once you’ve figured this out, you can start doing some research to find out what the specific job titles are for your dream jobs, and where they are advertised.
What is the job called?
Lots of different places hire people in science communication jobs, but they might not always call the role “science communicator” so you need to figure out what to look for first.
First, look at websites of places you’re interested in and figure out what they call their scicomm people. Are they listed on their website as “communication” or “public engagement” or something else? Are they part of a marketing team or an editorial team at a publisher? Are they the people who run the social media accounts? If not, do those people know who the scicomm people are? Every workplace is different!
You can also have a look at the science communication section of MySciCareer to read about people in scicomm jobs, and see what their positions are called.
Once you know which kind of places hire scicomm people and what they call them, you can start looking at job ads.
Finding job ads
One of the reasons I always start by asking someone what kind of scicomm they’re interested in, is that different types of employers advertise in different places. Have a look at all of these and see if you can find ads for the kind of jobs you’re looking for:
- New Scientist jobs
- local job sites
- mailing lists
- directly on the website of your ideal employer
- Twitter, on the #scicomm hashtag
- conference exhibits (and the conference hashtag on Twitter)
Cast a very wide net at first. You’re not necessarily going to apply to the jobs you find in this first broad search, but your next step is to figure out what salary to expect, and seeing lots of advertised salaries will help.
Salaries of science communication jobs
Salaries vary wildly and some entry-level scicomm jobs do not pay well at all. It also depends a lot on the type of employer (industry, academia, or non-profit) and on the location of the job, so I recommend doing some research to find out what is “normal” in your area by looking at lots of job ads and asking around.
Salary isn’t always specified. This means that you may have to negotiate, so you need to have an idea of what you can ask for. You can ask someone with a similar job to give you a ballpark to aim for. Sometimes the employer has something in mind already, but if they’ve created a new position (lots of science communication jobs didn’t exist five year ago!) they may have no idea what to ask.
Even within one industry and country salaries vary a lot by city. Before you pack your bags and move, realise that this also means the rents are probably sky high in the places that pay the most. My London rent alone is more than some scicommers’ entire salary elsewhere in the country, and the same will probably be true for New York or San Francisco. (On the other hand, these three urban areas all have plenty of science-related jobs.)
Write your science communication CV
When I was applying for my first jobs post-PhD, I had two different versions of my CV. One version was to apply to undergraduate teaching positions. These emphasized my degree and my teaching experience and explained my research project, and had all my writing and scicomm experience as an afterthought. The other was to apply to writing and scicomm jobs, and this version of my CV only had the bare minimum of information about my research project, but provided much more details on the other things I had done, like organising conferences, and science writing jobs.
And a quick reminder to make sure your CV is entirely free of errors. It’s always embarrassing, but for communication jobs you absolutely do not want any mistakes in there! I highly recommend Grammarly, which checks grammar as well as spelling. (This is an affiliate link, which means I get a small commission if you sign up through my link.)
Here’s a fun fact: To work in scicomm, you often don’t need a PhD. If you’re currently doing a PhD, it might seem like the most important thing in the world, but you can quit today and still work in scicomm if you want to. I know several people who didn’t finish their PhD, and they’re all doing amazing in their respective science communication jobs.
So, now that you know this, you can start thinking about your CV in a different way. Clearly, your research and publications are no longer the most important thing. But what if that was all you did? First of all, try getting some additional scicomm experience, even if it’s just volunteering for a few days. Then, sit down and carefully think about your transferable skills. You can do more than you think you can!
If a PhD (and postdoc) isn’t required for some science communication jobs, is it a complete waste of time? No! You learned things as a researcher that you can apply to broader contexts. For example, if you spent several months repeating a cell biology time series measurement, you learned much more from that than just the outcome of the experiment. You had to do things at fixed times, so you had to carefully plan your work. You probably used shared equipment or machines, so you had to coordinate with team members. You worked independently and only communicated the outcomes (rather than getting your supervisor involved at every step). These are all useful skills to a potential employer.
I have created a worksheet to help you think about your research skills in a new way. It’s four pages long in total, and you can download it from Payhip. It normally costs $1, but if you use code SKILLZ18 you can download it for FREE.
Now that you know your transferable skills, you can make sure that your CV reflects your strengths, and you can better prepare for job interviews.