What is science writing?
Science and technology drive discovery and innovation. Science communicators to share these advances with societies around the world through print, audio, and digital communications.
Science writers come from diverse educational backgrounds. Some writers may have PhDs in molecular biology or neuroscience, while others have BAs in philosophy and english. Being a good science writer is about having the courage to ask questions and the curiosity to dig deeper into the story.
So, how do I become a science writer?
This is a question I get asked a lot, and there is no straight answer. Becoming a science writer is not like becoming a doctor. Yes, some people do attend graduate school for science writing, but others simply build their portfolio working in the field or participating in a few internships. Here’s the path I took, which included many research assistant (RA) positions:
Reach out for Informational Interviews
How do you know if you want to be a science writer, a journalist, a technical writer or a medical writer? Wait. What’s the difference between these writing styles anyways? A great way to learn more about different science writing opportunities is to reach out to people who already have those jobs. Ask for an informational interview to learn more about their career path, their job, and if its a good fit for you. You’d be surprised how many people say yes to requests like this. LinkedIn can be a good place to start a conversation.
Science Writing Master’s Programs
A master’s degree is the terminal degree for science writing (note that you can get a PhD for technical writing). There are many great programs, but some of the most popular and well-established programs are listed below:
- UC Santa Cruz Science Communication Program
- MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing
- Boston University Science and Medical Journalism Program
- Johns Hopkins MA in Science Writing
- UC San Diego Science Communication Certificate Program (not a master’s program, but its affordable and mostly/fully remote)
Start a Blog
An easy way to build your science writing portfolio is to start a blog. You can write about anything, just write. If starting your own blog sounds too taxing, you can also reach out to other bloggers to ask if you can write a “guest blog post.” This strategy can be helpful for getting your writing published on established platforms.
Science Writing Internships
Participating in a science writing internship can be a great way to build your portfolio and learn on-the-job skills. Many new writers will complete 1-4 short internships before landing their first full-time job.
Science writing internships can be hard to find. I’ve listed a few popular ones below, but another great way to find an internship is to check out the websites of media outlets and organizations you’re interested in. You can also email their press office directly to see if they’d be open to hosting an intern.
This 10-week summer program places science, engineering, and mathematics students at media organizations nationwide. Fellows use their academic training as they research, write, and report today’s headlines, sharpening their abilities to communicate complex scientific issues to the public. Fellows are provided a stipend of $8,000 for the summer as well as travel expenses to and from AAAS and their sites.
This summer program is designed for undergraduate students who are deeply committed to diversity and interested in pursuing journalism as a career. Interns spend 10 weeks working in the news room at Science magazine, covering the scientific and technological issues that shape our global community. The paid internship provides for travel to and from the internship site in Washington, DC. Living accommodations and expenses are the responsibility of the Intern. The internship runs from June to mid-August.
This program is designed to give interns the full experience of being a science communicator at a major publishing operation. Primarily, you will see how a scientific paper from the laboratory becomes a story in a major media outlet. In addition to assisting with science writing duties, the intern may help produce original marketing or social media content from pitch to distribution, developing the skills to create and analyze the success of their work. We offer an undergraduate opportunity during the summer and graduate opportunities during the fall and winter.
Interns work as full-time science writers under the guidance of Science News editors and writers. Based in Washington, D.C., Science News reports scientific findings and trends occurring worldwide. Interns generate many of their own story ideas, reporting and writing several articles per week, including news stories and longer features. Interns will receive an hourly rate of $16.
The Scientist offers three full-time (40 hours/week) internships each year. Successful applicants start writing on day one, quickly becoming integral members of our staff. Interns work from home on their own computers and must keep US East Coast business hours. As an intern, you will cover breaking news for our website, produce a variety of articles for the print magazine, help manage The Scientist’s social media presence, scan the literature for upcoming studies of interest, and proofread articles. The position pays $2,500/month and typically lasts for four months.
Join a Science Writing Association
Science writing associations are wonderful places to network, hear about new job opportunities, and learn from those with more experience in the field. Here’s a list of national and local organizations that the San Diego Science Writers Association put together, and I added a few additional organizations myself.
- The National Association of Science Writers
- South Asian Journalists Association
- National Association of Black Journalists
- Native American Journalists Association
- Asian American Journalists Association
- National Association of Hispanic Journalists
- The Association of LGBTQ Journalists
- Trans Journalist Association
- National Center on Disability and Journalism
Local Organizations to San Diego, CA: