Are you a science student, early-career researcher, faculty member, science practitioner or communications professional looking to break into the world of science communication? I regularly have folks contact me to ask my advice for how they can "get into science communication." The answer can get complicated, especially if you are asking how one moves into a position to get paid to do science communication.
But whether you want to transition into science communication as a career, or you are looking to improve the reach of your own scientific work, some of advice is the same. So here are my top 10 tips for breaking into science communication:
1. Get a Twitter. Check Out the #Scicomm Hashtag.
There's a robust community of science communicators on Twitter, and most Twitter #scicomm-ers are super helpful to boot! A majority of science bloggers and writers have a Twitter presence, as a means to network, contact sources, get story ideas and share produced content. (Every science blogger I interviewed for my dissertation work uses at least one other social networking or social media tool in conjunction with their blogging, most often Twitter.)
The #scicomm hashtag on Twitter is a great resource for articles and discussions related to science communication. Folks who often use this hashtag may also be good for you to follow, to begin embedding yourself within an active community of content producers.
I also encourage you to follow some of the many science communication rocur Twitter accounts, where various science communicators take turns tweeting about their work and interests. I highly recommend @Iamscicomm, @Iamsciart and @SciBlogHub.
2. Read. A Lot.
Read, read, read! When I first started this science blog, I couldn't get my hands on enough reading material about science writing and communication. Check out The Best American Science and Nature Writing book series to whet your appetite and to expose yourself to amazing science storytelling. Find science blogs or bloggers you like, and "study" what they do and how they translate science for various audiences. (Ed Yong's pieces at The Atlantic are simply amazing.)
I also highly recommend checking out reading lists (or taking a course or two!) from your local university's mass communication or journalism school or department. Some of the non-fiction writing out there about the history and sociology of news, media ecology, digital culture, social movements and the internet, social media, strategic communications/PR and social psychology can give you a lot of perspective about how people process science news and where you might fit into our massively complicated science information landscape today.
Finally, check out the science communication research literature! Science Communication, Public Understanding of Science (both journals by Sage) and the Journal of Science Communication are great places to start. Public Understanding of Science also has a blog!
3. Produce Content.
Read as much as you can, but then (or rather simultaneously) begin producing your own content. This content can be whatever you have time and passion for. Start a blog, guest blog for a blogging network or science magazine, create science videos for Youtube, start a science Instagram (here's a great example of blogging "from the lab"), start a podcast, create sci-art or even write poetry. But create content and get it out there, in public, where you can begin to 1) create a portfolio for yourself, 2) practice "translating" your science for a broader audience, and 3) get feedback.
Don't be too hard on yourself at first. Realistically, when you first start blogging, Instagramming or Youtubing, you probably won't have many people reading or watching! Take this opportunity to practice your writing skills, grow your multimedia repertoire and explore the subjects that you enjoy and that you can sustain in the long-term with that enjoyment. Ask for feedback and get ready. Even better, explore freelance science writing or multimedia production opportunities where you have to work with an editor - they will help vastly improve your writing structure, communication clarity and storytelling acumen. (If you are a researcher/academic, you might try your hand at writing for The Conversation).
4. Get Involved.
Get involved with science communication locally if possible. That might mean volunteering to officially "Instagram" for your science lab, writing for your school newspaper, contacting your university press office to see if you can help write a blog post or press release about research, volunteering at science outreach events e.g. at your local museum, or giving a public science talk e.g. during a local "science cafe" event. If you look around within your own or a nearby university or science organization, you'll likely find various science communication projects or events you could get involved with.
Early on in my transition from bench-top scientist to science communicator I signed up for a "I'm a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here" event (actually, I participated in the engineering version). It was a fantastic introduction to science communication. I learned how to talk to kids about my research in an accessible way! I also learned firsthand how technology inside and outside the classroom can pave meaningful paths to science and help not-yet-scientists form relationships with actual living scientists.
More great advice can be found here from Eva Amsenon about how to get involved in different types/formats of science communication.
Find other people locally and online who are interested in or actively practicing science communication, both in your field of interest and outside of it. You might start a club of graduate students interested in science communication in your department, or join weekly Twitter conversations around science communication (e.g. #sciparty). The more connections you form within the world of science communication, the easier it becomes to find resources, ask for help, get feedback and visualize a "path" into a career in #scicomm if that's what you are looking for. These connections could become future colleagues, collaborators or even employers!
6. Can't Find a #SciCommJob? Just Ask.
Interested in getting paid to do science communication? Most (or rather now that I'm thinking about it, all?!) of the science communication related positions I've held, including my current position at LSU, weren't jobs I could have applied to in the traditional sense even if I wanted to. They weren't advertised anywhere. They didn't even exist before I talked to someone who saw a place for me on their team or project. I've worked as a paid science blogger, in a science museum as a writer, in a science department as a communicator, in a university press office as a communications intern, and now as a science communications specialist for a university college, all because I either cold-emailed, tweeted out, or "asked around" among colleagues for opportunities to get involved.
If you are looking to break into paid science communication work, don't just wait for opportunities to come along to submit your resume. I encourage you budding science communicators today to seek out opportunities even where they don't exist (yet), and pave your own way. But to do this, you'll need to be consuming great #scicomm content, monitoring your social media channels and most importantly, creating valuable content publicly!
7. Focus on Broader Impacts.
Researchers often have fantastic opportunities to imagine and create their own funded science communication projects by incorporating these into grant proposals and other funded research projects. Broader Impact requirements of funding bodies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) increasingly prioritize science communication and outreach initiatives. If you are having trouble justifying time spent on science communication as a graduate student or early-career faculty member, look no further than NSF's Broader Impacts! There are also emerging funding opportunities that prioritize integrating arts and sciences and developing better evidence-based science communication practices.
8. The Successful Athlete Trains - and Listens To Her Coach!
To be great, if often (but not always) takes more than self-teaching and practice. The best athletes often have the best coaches and mentors, too. Take time to get training in science communication, and to learn from the best. That might mean pursuing a minor in mass communication as a science student, pursuing a Master's Degree in science communication, or more informally attending physical or online workshops to improve your #scicomm skills. There are also plenty of online tutorials, workshops and classes (Lynda.com!) to help you learn technical multimedia production skills (like photography or video editing) that can add steam to your science communication efforts.
Check out this curated list of science communication and outreach organizations for orgs that offer #scicomm training. Compass has a training program and offers free webinars and other resources to help scientists hone their messages and tell real science stories that cater to specific audiences. For other training and workshop opportunities, check out ComSciCon, Engage, Relate, Story Collider and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Many subject-area-specific science conferences are also now offering sessions and conference workshops on science communication, so check into that at your next science conference!
9. Have a Website. Brand Thyself.
Once you develop a reputation for communicating about a given set of science topics or bringing a particular approach to the communication of science, you might find that you get more requests over time for speaking engagements, writing opportunities, etc. related to those topics or that approach. In a digital world where the "richer get richer," at least when it comes to attention to your online content and social connections, having a strong online brand can be the difference between being an aspiring science communicator and a successful, professional one.
I highly recommend investing in a professional website where you can combine all of your science communication efforts under one roof. Try a Wordpress or Squarespace site, and if you have the means, consider investing in a custom domain name. A website can integrate your growing portfolio, a blog if you write one, your contact information and your various social media channels. Decide what you are passionate about, and from there what your mission is (e.g. mine being to bring evidence-based science communication practices to scientists and communicators alike). Let this mission color most or all of the content you produce online. By reflecting this mission in all of your online and social-media-based communications, you'll begin to develop a "brand" that others will recognize and be drawn to.
10. Be Fearless.
I might have already said this, but be fearless. Don't let your fear of having a pitch rejected, of "making a fool of myself," or getting something wrong, stop you from producing stories about science and putting them online for all to see. Getting feedback on your work at first, or even re-reading it later, may seem like death-by-a-thousand-cuts, but you'll learn so much from the practice. At some point, you just have to do, and science communication is one of those things that you get better at by doing, not by just reading about it or waiting for someone to give you an assignment.
Go forth and communicate science in all the ways you imagine possible!
Bonus: Learn to Interview!
One of the most powerful skills I learned during my first year of graduate school at the Manship School of Mass Communication was how to interview. (My first-ever interview was with a woman who survived a chemistry lab fire - I was far more nervous to interview her than she was to be interviewed. The story is breathtaking - here's a link, it's ancient so excuse the missing image files.) Even if you are a scientist and you don't anticipate having to interview others (because you can write about your own science, right?), do take time to learn and practice this invaluable skill. Not only will it help you to learn more about the interview process for yourself as an interviewee, but you probably underestimate the number of instances where good interviewing skills will serve you as a science communicator, regardless of your profession or day job.
Don't know where to start? Just contact someone you think does interesting work and ask them questions! Here are some good interview questions for scientists and interviewing practices to get you started.