A science writer could...
|Travel with an Antarctic research team to observe their work and write a book about their discoveries.||Interview an astronomer, on a popular science radio show, about the discovery of a new Earth-like planet.|
|Help publish a website showing kids how to do fun science projects in their own kitchens.||Write a newspaper article explaining how scientists are working on a new class of cancer-fighting drugs.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Have you ever tried to read a scientific or technical article in a professional journal? They can be hard to decipher because they are full of technical terminology. But have you ever read a science article in a magazine that was geared for your age or for the general public? These tend to be a lot easier to read and more interesting because they have been written by a science writer. A science writer can take a complex subject and write a concise article in language that is easy for non-scientists to understand. Science writers can work on several different kinds of projects, like scientific bulletins, advertising, and articles for science magazines, but ultimately their job is to make science interesting and fun for general audiences.|
|Key Requirements||Imagination, creativity, the ability to communicate effectively with scientists and non-scientists, verbal and written communication skills, self-motivation, organization and time-management skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, computer science, communications classes|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Because science writers use the computer for the majority of their work, they must learn a variety of computer software, including word processing, graphics, audio, video, and animation software. In fact, taking classes in photography and developing photography skills is a plus.
Science writers interested in improving their skills can sign up for internships and workshops offered by professional societies and science magazines. They might also attend scientific conferences and professional meetings in order to make contacts, learn about advances in the field, and keep their technical skills up to date.
After gaining experience, science writers may take employment as editors and review the work of other science writers.
Education and Training
The minimum degree required for this career is a bachelor's degree in science or engineering. Many science writers find that taking college classes in writing and journalism can be helpful. Some universities also have degree programs in science writing or science journalism. While a degree in science writing is not necessary, many employers find it attractive.
Science writers and editors must be able to express ideas clearly and logically and should love to write. Creativity, curiosity, a broad range of knowledge, self-motivation, and perseverance also are valuable. Science writers and editors must demonstrate good judgment and a strong sense of ethics in deciding what material to publish. Editors also need tact and the ability to guide and encourage others in their work.
Nature of the Work
In this video, Elinor Bartle, a science journalist and information officer at the University of Bergen in Norway, talks about her role as bridge between scientists and the public.
Of the many kinds of specialized writers, the science writer has a unique responsibility to the reader. Unlike the sportswriter, for example, whose reader already knows, often in extraordinary detail, the rules of the game and who the players are, science writers frequently introduce readers to a new "game" with every article. (Imagine if sportswriters had to assume that readers had little knowledge of football every time they wrote about the latest NFL game.) Science writers also have a sometimes difficult job of teasing out details and anecdotes to produce an attention-grabbing article, video, or radio segment that will draw casual readers or viewers into a topic they might not at first care much about.
Science writers must first understand the science, often the toughest part of the job. Then they must write the article—frequently in only an hour—translating it accurately into a form that is both interesting and intelligible to novices. Good science writers do their best to report accurately, but they always keep in mind what they think will interest the public—which may not be what the scientist thinks should interest the public.
Good science writers read constantly—newspapers, books, reports, journals, and Internet news groups. They attend conventions of scientific societies, where important news is often announced. They interview many scientists for stories. A science writer may travel to far-flung locales to observe sensitive ecosystems, watch the Space Shuttle blast off, visit a nuclear accelerator, or just visit their local science and technology museum. However, they are also responsible for the routine of regular checking with sources at laboratories, factories, hospitals, universities, and government agencies.
The majority of science writers are not newspaper reporters. Some work on staffs of national magazines and Internet news services. Others write for special-interest medical and scientific publications. Many are freelancers, reporting and writing for a variety of media. And some work in broadcast media, ranging from network radio and television news programs to science-documentary production companies.
Science writers may work in comfortable, private offices or in noisy rooms filled with the sound of keyboards and computer printers as well as the voices of other writers tracking down information over the telephone. They may be required to sit for long periods of time. Because they must be precise and highly accurate, their search for information sometimes requires travel to diverse workplaces, such as factories, offices, or laboratories. Still, many science writers have to make do with telephone interviews, the library, and the Internet.
For some science writers, the typical workweek runs 35 to 40 hours. However, they occasionally may work overtime to meet deadlines. Those who prepare morning or weekend publications and broadcasts often work some nights and weekends. Freelance writers generally work more flexible hours, but their schedules must conform to the needs of the client. Deadlines and erratic work hours, often part of the daily routine for these jobs, may cause stress, fatigue, or burnout.
Changes in technology and electronic communications also affect science writers' work environments. For example, laptops allow them to work from home or while on the road. Writers and editors who use computers for extended periods may experience back pain, eyestrain, fatigue, or repetitive stress injury.
On the Job
- Act as the chief conduit of information between scientists and the public.
- Convey research findings for scientific or medical professions and organize information for advertising or public relations needs.
- Work with researchers on technical subjects to prepare written interpretations of data and other information for a general readership.
- Travel to meetings and conferences to make contacts and learn about cutting-edge science topics.
- Provide weekly news reports and other content for an institution's website.
- Write scientific proposal grants.
- Consult editorial staff.
- Proofread articles written by other science writers.
- Perform fact checks.
- Evaluate research results of scientific studies.
Companies That Hire Science Writers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
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- Council for the Advancement of Science Writing
- National Association of Science Writers
- University of California, Santa Cruz Science Communication Program
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Science Education. (n.d.). Meet a real science writer. LifeWorks®. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from science.education.nih.gov/lifeworks.nsf/Interviews/Alisa+Machalek
- Birch, K. (2010, June 4). Cogito conversation: professional science writers. cogito.org. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from www.cogito.org/Interviews/InterviewsDetail.aspx?ContentID=17955
- HitLand Lydstudio. (2008, June 9). On being a science journalist. YouTube. Retrieved October 11, 2010, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Thhxm8J2q6s&feature=related
- American Chemical Society. (2010). Science writers. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from portal.acs.org:80/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=1188&content_id=CTP_003402&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=ce6e2cb1-c815-4173-b03b-ba984831cdbd
- Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. (n.d.). A guide to careers in science writing. Retrieved October 13, 2010, from casw.org/casw/guide-careers-science-writing
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