Written By: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.
During my PhD I was the person that my lab colleagues went to when they needed help with their presentations.
I just had a knack for them.
And I loved helping other people with their presentations – almost as much as I loved giving my own presentations.
It was just so much fun for me to talk about the science our lab was working on.
I would spend hours making the slides and thinking of the best story that I could tell with the data.
It was my favorite part of research.
Then one day I was asked to participate in writing a book chapter.
I wasn’t sure if I would be any good at writing a book chapter since I had never done it before.
But as I started doing research for the chapter, I realized I had stumbled upon something great.
One evening, my dining table covered with papers and notes as I typed away on the computer, I realized that this is what I loved doing.
I loved to learn about science and then to find the best way to present that information to others.
I enjoyed communicating science more than actually doing the science.
It was a great ah-ha moment and gave direction to my job search.
Why Science Communication Is a Great Career For PhDs
The dissemination of scientific knowledge and innovation is paramount to our society.
But sadly, many scientists struggle to communicate their research effectively, and many popular media sources are known to report science incorrectly.
A recent publication in PNAS states that 59% of Fox’s assertions are mostly or all false and that 27% of CNN’s assertions are mostly or all fake.
In such a climate, where consumers are constantly trying to filter out ‘fake news,’ your expertise as a PhD makes you a great candidate for science communication.
As a PhD, you can read and understand technical documents.
You have been trained to see the weaknesses in an argument and to present the full story showing all the data.
You can see through fake news and use your PhD background to bring real and scientifically proven stories to the public.
The example above focuses on science journalism, but this attention to detail that you have as a PhD, is essential to other forms of science communication.
Your expertise allows you to bridge the gap between a technical scientist and the business professionals in a boardroom.
Or to write clear and compelling continuing education materials for doctors, where presenting scientifically sound information is so important.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for ‘technical writers,’ which includes the various forms of science communication, will increase by 11% over a decade, which is faster than the average.
If you enjoy writing, speaking, or communicating science in any way, then you should definitely explore the variety of science communication careers available to you.
5 Exciting Science Communication Careers For PhDs
All of the major tech, biopharma, or medical companies need science communicators.
All of the major news outlets need science communicators.
All museums and education institutions need science communicators.
There are many ways that you can use your STEM PhD and your passion for writing in an industry career.
Here are 5 science communication careers for PhDs who enjoy talking and writing about science…
1. Medical writer.
Medical writing is any type of written communication involving topics with medical applications.
There are a few different areas within the medical field that medical writing is applied.
These areas include writing materials for clinicians and doctors to read, writing regulatory documents, and writing for a consumer audience.
A background in a STEM field, especially a science field, is well-suited to each of these categories of medical writing.
However, it is not always a requirement as the ability to research well is one of the most important skills a medical writer can have — and as a PhD from any discipline, you are a highly skilled researcher.
As a medical writer, you will often have to write about topics that you know very little about, and the researching skills you learned as a PhD are essential.
Even if you are a very good writer, you will be more successful if you have deep technical knowledge and familiarity with terms used in the specific industry.
So to prepare yourself, try to gain as much knowledge as possible about the life science industry and the specific industry within life science that you are targeting.
Often those trying to establish themselves as medical writers acquire this experience by first working in another role within the life science industry or by working as a freelancer to gain skill.
As the title suggests, the main people employing medical writers are those companies with ties to medicine, such as pharmaceutical or medical device companies, clinical research organizations (CROs) and specialized medical education or publishing organizations.
2. Science journalist.
From Scientific American to I F*cking Love Science, science journalism takes many forms.
But the bottom line is that these science communication organizations take scientific innovations and put them into a format that non-scientist and non-experts will understand and enjoy.
This is different from technical writing.
Technical writing needs to clearly communicate an idea, but scientific journalism needs to do that plus be enjoyable to read.
Also, with science journalism you will be writing on a variety of topics, depending on what new developments have happened.
If you write for a larger science news outlet you will likely be assigned topics and may also have the opportunity to pitch ideas to the editor.
So, being able to learn about a new topic quickly and confidently is key to this position.
It’s your job to take a technical topic and make it both understandable and engaging for the reader.
If, during your PhD or postdoc, you enjoyed telling your non-science friends and family about your research or about new developments in your field, this could be a great position for you.
You can look for positions with almost all news outlets and with more specific science-focused news outlets.
It’s also a great idea to start a blog and consistently flex your writing muscles to demonstrate to employers that you have what it takes to be a great science journalist.
3. Scientific journal editor.
Every PhD knows the importance of publishing in academia.
Being a scientific editor allows you to facilitate the communication of scientific advances while continuing to learn new concepts.
As a scientific editor, one of your main goals will be to ensure that this system runs as fairly and efficiently as possible.
This means building positive relationships with authors and reviewers all around the world.
The biggest bonus here is being able to read the latest research before it’s published.
To a scientist, this is like seeing a sneak preview of the latest blockbuster movie before it’s in theaters.
Editors must be able to read, digest, and discuss scientific literature across all scientific fields.
The good news here is that you can transition from any research background into a scientific editing position.
But, you will have to ravenously learn about other scientific fields.
You may also commission new content, attend meetings to keep on top of publishing trends, as well as attend scientific conferences to attract new authors.
Your overall goal as a scientific editor is to offer the widest possible dissemination of published research.
These efforts will all be part of a larger business strategy to keep the journal relevant and impactful.
This strategy in business terms is called marketing, and you will be responsible for it as a scientific editor.
You will also be asked to write articles about topical pieces of research, which can be a welcome addition to your regular reading and editing of manuscripts.
4. Content marketing writer.
Content marketing is a huge field.
In general, content marketing is a marketing strategy that involves publishing relevant, high quality and consistent information that will attract your target audience.
Writing good content for a content marketing strategy involves many facets, from fully understanding the audience you want to reach to knowing the right keywords to use in your articles, so that search engines will recognize your content and show it to interested readers.
All brands (big and small) use content marketing.
They have a strategy to publish blogs or social media posts that attract their ideal customer.
Even big Biotech and Biopharma companies have a content marketing strategy.
Go to the website of any large player in the life sciences and they will have a blog section on their website where they publish material they think their ideal customer wants to read.
As a content marketing writer, you would be producing this content.
So, depending on the company that you work for, the topics you write about would vary.
For example, you could work for a chemical supply company and perhaps they know their customers are concerned about chemical storage.
They might have you write a blog with the best methods for ensuring that a lab is storing their chemicals properly.
This is just one small example.
All industries hire content marketing writers, so just decide what type of company you would like to work for, and set up some informational interviews to learn more about that company’s content marketing strategy.
5. Science education or outreach.
You might think that the only way to teach science is in a classroom or a lab.
You don’t have to be a formal teacher at a university or high school to be a science educator.
Science outreach is a form of science education that goes beyond the classroom.
A science outreach educator is involved in the development of science curriculum, planning events, managing other science educators, and teaching science.
Many of the companies that you might work for as a science educator or outreach professional are non-profits.
Museums are one of the largest contributors in the informal science education sector.
But, there are many, many others as well.
From small companies enhancing the local community with science events and fun classroom science, to large companies that can organize large events and perform science shows in front of massive audiences.
As a STEM PhD, there is room for you to grow into the higher levels of management within these companies.
You have the STEM background needed to understand the science, and if you are passionate about bringing science education to others, this could be a great career path for you.
Science and medical communication is a growing field and is a great option for PhDs looking to leave academia but maintain a connection to science. If you enjoy writing or speaking about science, take some time to explore the communication career options available to you, such as medical writer, science journalist, scientific journal editor, content marketing writer, and science education or outreach professional.
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