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I'm currently working on my PhD in applied physics and would like to get a sense for what the typical career path and background looks like for science writers. Although I love working as a scientist, there are a wide range of topics that I am interested in exploring besides my narrow research interests. I am also keen on having a flexible job that will allow me to live in several different parts of the world and work on my own schedule.

With that being said, is it common for one to transition from science PhD to science writer? How would somebody like me compete with others who have graduated from journalism school? Are there many jobs available in this field, where are some good places to start searching? Long term job prospects?

Thanks

  • This link takes you to a page of articles written by a woman (friend of mine) who left the PhD program in geobiology to become a science writer. You can get a feel for the sorts of things she wrote for SciAm. Don't know how livable it is though. I think she took some courses in journalism, not sure. She writes grants at WashU St. Louis now. scientificamerican.com/author/crystal-gammon My advice is to finish the PhD. Are you 3rd or 4th year now? That's the roughest patch. But the degree opens teaching opportunities which is a good fallback even for those of us who dislike teaching. – DPT Sep 22 '17 at 1:37
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I think the only issue here is that you need to make sure you have some solid writing background as well. It's great that you are getting your PhD in applied physics. But if you would like to do writing, then make sure you get some journalism or communications experience as well. Also, there is nothing wrong with having a PhD and then writing. You can do whatever you want with your life and time. It is common for science writers to have first had work with science, whatever that may mean, before they transitioned into writing. So really don't worry. Just see if you can hunt down the job prospects for this, and get some writing experience.

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I think it's going to be tricky without an established background in a scientific field. At the entry level of journalism, you'll be competing against people who want to write - and are trained to write - about the village fair or Mrs. Jones' cat (or similar). Papers and media outlets are going to look for experience in the field before assigning someone the role of science correspondent, and freelance work is as likely to be judged on your background as your writing talent (it's not right, but it happens).

It's definitely worth looking at people who have done similar things, and the work they've done in science before writing about science. You can't go wrong starting with someone like Ben Goldacre, though his family connections - which I'm guessing isn't something you could arrange at this point - won't have hurt.

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