Main image: New Scientist correspondent Alice Klein by the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii.
Science needs your help, and not just in research and development! The public perception of science depends on science communicators, who raise awareness and bridge the gap between scientists and the general public. If you love discussing and sharing the latest scientific breakthroughs, science communication could be the perfect career choice.
Science communications is a broad discipline which involves explaining and promoting diverse science-related topics to non-experts. The jobs are equally varied: science communicators may be journalists, media personalities or work in science outreach, and they don’t necessarily have to be scientists themselves.
Science journalism and science writing
Alice Klein’s work as an investigative reporter has taken her all around the world, from climbing a dormant volcano with underground ice formations in Hawaii to visiting a wildlife sanctuary for critically endangered star tortoises in Myanmar. As the Australasian correspondent for iconic international science magazine New Scientist, Alice reports on the latest science news and research advancements.
Alice, who has a PhD in chemistry in the field of cancer drugs, was drafting her thesis when she realised that she enjoyed the writing process more than lab work – the polar opposite of many of her colleagues!
She started her own science blog while working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney. What began as a hobby led to a career as a science journalist, first for the medical magazine Australian Doctor, and then for New Scientist. Alice’s job involves tracking down exciting science stories and interviewing the experts, as well as some enviable site visits. As a trained scientist herself, Alice has the skills to wade through scientific papers and present the findings to a general audience.
“Communicating science is so important because it makes complex scientific papers accessible to everyone,” says Alice. She is also acutely aware that progress in research is often slow and therefore avoids hyping up initial discoveries: “I’m careful not to fall into the trap of jumping on early results just to produce a flashy headline.”
As a science journalist, you could work for science magazines, online publications, broadcasting corporations or as a freelance writer. Science journalism comes under the broader category of science writing, which refers to scientific articles in business, trade and professional publications and specialist journals. Science writers could work in industry on technical communications, in professional publishing for journals such as Nature or in outreach centres for universities or research organisations such as the CSIRO and ANSTO.
Science journalists and writers don’t necessarily have to be scientists themselves, they just have to be excellent communicators and fact-checkers with a flair for engaging with their audience. In his recent book The Knowledge Wars, Nobel prize-winning researcher Peter Doherty writes that “science in the public space needs much more help from professional storytellers”. In other words, science needs great writers to break down stereotypes and increase public interest.
If you love writing articles which get people excited about science, consider starting a blog or approaching a science publications company such as Refraction Media or your university’s Science Outreach office for work experience.
Science in the media
When you think of famous scientists, often the first ones to come to mind are presenters of TV, radio or live science shows. Three hugely popular scientists who are also presenters and authors (who all happen to be physicists) are University of Manchester professor Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson (Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York) and our very own Karl Kruszelnicki.
If you fancy being the next Dr Karl, you could start by volunteering as an MC at events such as the Sydney Science Festival or Pint of Science, or at a science centre like Questacon. You could even apply for a role at a science production company, such as Genepool productions (Alice worked as a researcher for their science documentary series Tales of the Unexpected).
Leigh Nicholson presenting at Skepticon Australia, a Think Inc. event.
Leigh Nicholson, a molecular biology PhD student at the University of Sydney, has written science articles for SBS and The Conversation, and regularly takes part in events such as the live streaming of podcast Life vs Science and science comedy show BAHFest (she was the 2016 winner). “Using comedy definitely opens up a lot of opportunities for science communications and can help make some topics accessible,” says Leigh.
In this era of “alternative facts”, communicating scientific research to the general public is essential to break down misinformation and ignorance. “Scientists have copped a battering in the press in recent times over the climate change debate,” says Alice. Alice believes that effective science communication is essential “to get people back on the scientists’ side”. Successful communication between scientists and the general public means a more educated population and more effective public policies, the first steps towards making headway on global issues.
– Larissa Fedunik
Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman
Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.