How do you break into scicomm? This is a question I get A LOT, so I wanted to summarize a few things that might be helpful. It’s important to remember that not all paths are the same, and that what worked for me may not work for others. Additionally, there are lots of different types and flavors of scicomm, from science policy to scientific storytelling, and they require different skills, knowledge, and experience, so what’s needed and required may vary between subfields. Simply put, though: When it comes to getting jobs in research, we need educational credentials; for jobs in science communication, we need to demonstrate experience. All that being said, here are some very general things that you can do to set yourself up for success in science communication.
- Get training
Communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced. Take advantage of communication courses or workshops offered by your university or scientific society (for instance, AGU Sharing Science). There are also incredible free resources online (check out the bottom of this page) that you can use to learn recommended practices and improve your communication skills.
- Read the literature
Science communication is a field of study as well as a community of practice. It draws on theories from sociology, psychology, education and more, so it’s important to understand the field of science communication in addition to the science that you want to communicate. Be sure to read and study the seminal literature, just like you would when beginning a research project.
3. Make a website
People that communicate science need to be visible. Creating a personal website is a way to increase your visibility, showcase your skills, improve your legitimacy and have a “clearinghouse” for your work.
- Write a blog
This could be part of your website or a separate site. The idea is to showcase your work and let potential employers see your writing style, the types of science you cover, and the scope and breadth of your work. This is also a great way to get practice writing about science for different audiences and is a tried and true method for honing your scicomm skills. It’s also a valuable form of science communication in its own right!
- Get your writing into the world
Your blog doesn’t have to be the only way you share your work. Writing Op-Eds, joining writing communities like Massive Science, or writing for other outlets like The Xylom can be important tools for getting your work (and your name) out into the world. Some organizations like Temblor even have “externships” to help to get you started. Plus, if you have someone else editing your work, you’ll learn to be a better writer.
- Speak your science
Writing isn’t the only form of scicomm, obviously. Make sure your presentation skills are on point! Be sure to follow recommended practices like avoiding or defining jargon, being aware of body language, speaking clearly, and considering your audience when making your presentation. Also, the more you practice public speaking the better speaker you will become! So practice, practice, practice!! Organizations like Story Collider and Skype A Scientist are good ways to get practice speaking in front of different types of audiences.
- Work at a museum or other informal learning space
Working or volunteering at a museum or in any other formal or informal educational context will hone your skills communicating with a non-expert public, often of multiple generations and widely varied backgrounds. These opportunities also give you real-time feedback (if you’re paying attention!) to what works and where you lose people. You will learn a lot about landing a message or concept–which is the foundation of any medium of communication.
8. Engage on social media
Social media can be a critical component of science communication, so having strong social media skills on multiple platforms is important. Additionally, social media is a way to make a name for yourself as a communicator and is an important networking tool. Many of the opportunities that have come my way have been the result of connections made on Twitter! For information on social media for scientists watch my video.
- Utilize your scientific societies
Many scientific societies provide opportunities for improving science communication skills through workshops, community events and publications. For instance, AGU has their “Sharing Science” program that provides lots of resources for scicomm as well as a science communication and advocacy program called “Voices for Science”. Science communication sessions are becoming more common at scientific meetings; seek them out, and attend talks and posters! Also, Science Talk is a fairly new conference just for science communication. Which brings us to our next point…
- Join communities of practice and network
There are lots of people working in the scicomm space, some professionally and some personally, and this creates opportunities for engagement. The more people that you get to know that are working in science communication the more likely you are to hear about or be recommended for opportunities when they arrive. Find people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc., and at conferences!
Here are some helpful links to get you started.
- American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
AAAS Communication Toolkit
- American Geophysical Union (AGU)
- American Geosciences Institute (AGI)
Visiting Geoscientists: An Outreach Guide for Geoscience Professionals
- University of British Columbia
UBC’s Science Writing Resources for Learning (SwWRL)
- Skype a Scientist
Practice presentation skills while connecting with classrooms
- The Xylom
Tell your personal science stories
- NPR Scicommers
Join an online community, hone your scicomm skills
- Massive Science
Train to write about science for a public audience–and publish your work
- AAAS Mass Media Fellowship
Gain experience working at publication
Many thanks to Beth Bartel and Adam Pascale for their contributions and editing!