In 2011, I applied to my first volunteer SciComm gig. I pitched a blog to what was then Nature magazine’s blogging network. It was to be called “From The Lab Bench” and be all about discovering the science in fiction and film.
From there, I never looked back. I went on to get a PhD in mass communication with a focus on social media and science communication. But while I enjoyed the learning and research of the PhD program, I couldn’t have survived the PhD without finding ways to continue practicing SciComm! I practiced in the form of personal science blogging, science photography, science outreach events, and paid writing opportunities with my university PR office and local science museums.
Most of these opportunities – and many of my full-time SciComm jobs to this date! – weren’t formal opportunities that I applied for in a traditional way. I remember scheduling coffee dates with any science communicators I found locally while I was in my PhD program, and asking if I could help them with any writing or communication needs. Miraculously, most of the time this worked out in one way or another. I was incredibly lucky to jump from one SciComm opportunity to the next by word of mouth. I stepped into several custom-made positions because of how quickly science communication was growing and evolving as a field – and because I had nothing to lose by reaching out and asking. And the explosion of social media has only made this kind of stumbling path into SciComm more common.
But that doesn’t mean that getting a SciComm job is easy, especially if you aren’t sure how to get started and where to look. Where do you find SciComm jobs? How do you prepare for them considering how many different formats and industries science communication spans? And how do you gain the experience needed for your first SciComm job, especially if employers are all looking for prior published work?
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a number of amazing candidates for a science writing position at Lifeology! Many of the candidates were accomplished science writers even though they had little formal SciComm job experience – they had practiced their art in other ways, such as writing for their school newspapers or blogging and podcasting on the side. I thought I’d share here some of the things that, at least for me, made candidates’ applications stand out!
So here are 11 “Do’s” for getting a SciComm Job!
1. Be consistently active with your social media, starting now!
Social media are fantastic venues to display and practice your SciComm skills NOW, regardless of how much or how little job experience you have in this field. You can micro-blog about your science or a science topic you love on Twitter or Instagram, for example, and practice putting your science into more understandable and interesting language.
Not only can you practice your science writing and visual communication skills on social media, but by doing so, you’ll also grow a network! This network will include peers who begin to know you as the person in their network who is super passionate about science communication! That also means that when they see a job posting that perfectly fits you, they’ll tag you! You can also learn a great deal from other science communicators on social media.
2. Make SciComm friends.
For the same reason as above, SciComm friends are invaluable to your career prospects as well as your happiness and fulfillment in this field! By making friends and getting to know other science communicators, you’ll be expanding your network of potential employers. Collaborating with other science communicators (who might specialize in a different format) is also an amazing way to learn, push your comfort zone and create more impactful content.
I’ve made most of my SciComm friends online, through social media (check out #scicomm and follow folks that way!). But just like any genuine friendships, these connections are about giving more than you take. Be there for others, provide constructive feedback and celebrate their successes as much as your own. You never know who might be in an opportunity to stand up for you or recommend you to another employer in the future.
Join the Lifeology Slack community to meet and make new SciComm friends today.
3. Learn the basics of marketing and strategic communications.
You might be surprised by the number of science communication jobs that take on other job titles. Communications, writing, development, marketing, education, design, project management… these are just some of the words that can describe positions that involve science communication in industry. But in nearly all of these positions, you would benefit from knowing the basics of marketing and strategic communications. These basics include having clear communications goals, knowing your audience, developing key messages and having a process for how you’ll learn from your audience to refine your messages.
Displaying knowledge of strategic communications will likely help you in any SciComm job you apply for. How will you let your audience and mission/goals guide the messages you create and the SciComm format and mediums you choose as you create content in this job?
Learn more – check out Marketing for Scientists.
4. Find opportunities to do SciComm in varied formats.
If you are like me, you have one SciComm format in particular that calls to you. For me, that is writing. But I also have experienced the benefits of having skills for multiple formats, including photography, video editing, radio scripting, and poetry writing. Thanks to creating many Lifeology courses, I also now have a sixth sense for writing scripts for a narrative deck of flashcards… so specific!
When looking for science writers for Lifeology, I look for people who have experience writing for varied formats – narrative journalism, comic writing, social media creation, poetry, video. Writing Lifeology courses will be something new for most writers who work with us, so it’s a plus if they’ve practiced writing in lots of different formats!
You never know what new format you’ll be asked to communicate science in for your next SciComm job. So, take opportunities to push the limits of your writing and SciComm comfort zone. Create content for different mediums and formats, even if you don’t get paid to do so or even if you don’t publish your efforts publicly. Doing so will make you a better writer/SciCommer anyway. And your experiences will help you get all different kinds of SciComm jobs!
5. Be selective with your portfolio samples.
Experience creating SciComm content in a variety of formats doesn’t mean that you should link to all of it in the same order for every job. Consider the format, potential audiences and goals of the content you may be creating for the job you are applying for. Provide samples that show your ability to create relevant content.
For example, if you are applying to a job where you will be communicating science for kids or broad audiences, your list of SciComm samples probably shouldn’t lead with research papers or articles you’ve written in magazines for scientists. That letter you wrote to your middle school science pen pal, even if it wasn’t formally published, may be a much better and more useful writing sample than that Nature magazine editorial!
That being said, you can still point employers to where they can see your SciComm work in all of its varieties, such as a personal website or other curated list of all of your published writing.
6. Customize your resume/CV for the job.
This tip isn’t limited to applying to SciComm jobs! Taking the extra time to customize your resume or CV for each job you apply to is worth it! Feature the experiences most likely to be relevant to your responsibilities in this new role.
In my own role as a hiring manager for SciComm jobs, I’ve been meticulous in fully reading over most applicants’ resumes and CVs. But when an applicant hasn’t submitted a cover letter and I pull up their CV to see a dense forest of text with limited white space that goes on for pages… you probably get where I’m going with this. I might have given up and moved to another candidate’s application, even if there were hidden gems of talent and experience in that forest of text.
A nicely designed 1-2 page resume, on the other hand, can actually do the job better than a dense 7-page CV. But a short resume also means… you can’t include everything! This means you’ll need to tailor what specific work experiences and writing samples you include in that resume. It really shows that you did your homework and you are very interested in this job if you tailor your resume contents to the responsibilities and criteria of the job.
7. Write a cover letter.
Cover letters are often hidden gems and can really make a candidate stand out. Even if the online job application does not ask for a cover letter, submit one anyway! If you can, address the hiring manager personally. Take the time in your cover letter to not just talk about why you would be great for this position, but also talk about why this job interests you and how your passions, interests and experiences align with the mission of the company/employer!
As a science communicator, you are also in a unique position because your cover letter is the first writing sample that the hiring manager will see! Take advantage of this opportunity to communicate some science and tell a story!
8. Tell stories.
The ability to tell compelling personal stories and science stories will help you in any SciComm job that you apply for. Start practicing now! Take opportunities to practice narrative SciComm.
Tell stories on your public social media sites. Tell a story in your cover letter. Interviewing? Tell stories of SciComm experiences you’ve had! Tell stories of challenges you’ve faced in your SciComm work and what you learned from them. Storytelling should be the theme of your job application and all of the materials you submit – because stories are the most impactful forms of communication we have.
9. Turn negatives into positives.
Many budding SciCommers have asked me how to apply for science communication jobs when they don’t have any published clips or they lack relevant experiences. As with anything, try to turn these negatives into positives in your job application and interviews.
For example, you could turn a negative or rather a “lack of a positive” (limited experience doing X) turned into a positive (hidden talent or hobby that shows you can do X!) during a job interview. Maybe you haven’t managed social media for a scientific organization… but you maintain a personal Instagram where you create Nail SciArt! So you include a link to your Nail SciArt Instagram account in your resume. And you find a time during your interview to talk about what sharing this talent on social media has taught you about what engaging science social media content looks like, and how you could apply this knowledge in your new role. (This is a true story from our LifeOmic Science Communications Manager Luisa!).
Maybe you’ve created compelling social media content that has nothing to do with science. So talk about that during your job interview! Verbalize your excitement and willingness to learn. Address any lack of experience by providing examples of how you have perhaps hidden talents or hobbies that can stand in for formal experience!
From personal experience, as both someone applying for and someone hiring for SciComm jobs in the past, I can tell you that this will go a long way.
10. Share your passions.
Don’t be afraid to talk about issues, goals or other SciComm things you are passionate about during your job interview! Even if these passions don’t seem to directly relate to the SciComm job at hand, sharing can help you stand out as a candidate. It can also help you determine whether your potential employer is passionate about the same things you are… or not. Remember, you are interviewing them, too!
11. Amplify diverse voices.
This should start now if you aren’t already doing it. Authentically and humbly seek out opportunities to amplify the voices of minorities and marginalized groups in your SciComm work and on your social media. As a science writer, make sure that your sources are diverse and that your content is inclusive. Take every opportunity to learn and improve. Talk about why diversity and inclusion are important to you and how you’ll put these values into action in your new role. Show that this isn’t just talk – your work should reflect these values. This is one of the most important things I look for from SciComm candidates, personally.
Have more questions about applying for SciComm jobs? Let us know at Lifeology@lifeomic.com!