On Becoming a Science Writer

Operating_a_Computer_Keyboard_MOD_45158109People sometimes ask me what I did to become a science writer. It was a circuitous path, but it’s worth noting that my degrees are in history and creative writing. I had to get the science knowledge through other means.

I make this point because it’s not an exclusive field. In some ways, I’m disadvantaged because I have to figure out things I might have learned in undergrad biochem. On the other hand, it becomes a voyage of discovery for me, much like my readers. Now that I know the science better, I have to occasionally check myself because I’ve started using jargon my audience might not understand.

For those who are interested in becoming science writers, from English majors to MD, PhDs, the first requirement is wanting to do it. I love my job, but I still have days when I really don’t want to write at all. It’s not writer’s block (that’s an entirely different post), it’s just work malaise.

My underlying desire to communicate science gets me through. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel tepid about it. I’d probably have a different career by now.

The second step is writing. At some point, or even many points, people will ask to see your writing samples. You can write a blog (be sure to publish consistently, people notice), do some volunteer writing for your favorite scientific nonprofit, get an internship. Find a way to get the words out.

Take a class or two. UCSD offers an entire science communication program. Some of these classes are taught by SANDSWA board members Heather Buschman and Tiffany Fox, as well as scicomm guru, Lynne Friedmann.

Network like crazy. The San Diego Biotech Network holds periodic events. CG Life is hosting their annual Unwind party on August 9. Other possible resources are PRSA, HCC and IABC.

Also, by the way, SANDSWA is having its first happy hour on July 11 at Farmer & The Seahorse on Torrey Pines Mesa. You should come. We’ll chat more.

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