You’re Working from Home Now

Working from HomeI’ve been freelancing from my home office for around eight years, and I would be reluctant to trade back. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility. On the other hand, it wasn’t an easy transition. I missed having colleagues close by and sometimes had trouble budgeting my time. For those who are working from home for the first time, here are a few tips.

The Office
Take time to set up your office right. You may want to pick up a second monitor – I find it indispensable. But also spend some time (and money if you can) on good ergonomics and a comfy chair. You’re going to be there a lot.

You will also have to learn new skills. Maybe Zoom wasn’t your best talent. It is now. And nobody from IT is coming to your home to troubleshoot your network problems. If you’re trying something new, test it before the interview/meeting. There’s nothing worse than facing technical failure while you’re trying to do something important.

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Too Much Good Stuff

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Cell Samples at Frozen Zoo

Several SANDSWA members recently visited the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in Escondido next to the Safari Park. I’d say the tour was amazing, but that would be underselling it.

We were led by Maggie Reinbold, director of Community Engagement. Maggie talks fast – we had to keep up – but there was a lot to cover: conservation genetics, reproductive sciences, population sustainability, disease investigations, plant conservation, recovery ecology, biodiversity banking.

Let’s start with the last one. We got to check out the Frozen Zoo – a comprehensive cell sample collection covering hundreds of species. We happened to pass by when the zoo team was pulling Northern White Rhinoceros cells for further study.

Continue reading “Too Much Good Stuff”

Media Training at ASA

San-DiegoThe Acoustical Society of America (ASA), part of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), held its 178th meeting at the Hotel del Coronado last week. In addition to meeting old friends, networking and presenting their research, a number of participants met for an evening media training session on December 2. The workshop sought to teach acoustic scientists best practices when pitching their work and interacting with the media. Continue reading “Media Training at ASA”

On Being Freelance

Setup
That work space looks unusually tidy

I was laid off from my communications job at Sanford Burnham in 2011, the collateral damage from a grant funding crisis. Theoretically, I could have gotten a similar position at Salk, TSRI or UC San Diego, but I was concerned the same funding issues would catch up with me. When my risk-averse wife gave her blessing, I decided to go freelance.

A number of people warned me against it, but they were all former journalists and knew it would be challenging to make a living pitching publications. I had a different model in mind: working for universities, research institutes, biotechs and nonprofits. I occasionally perform random acts of journalism, but mostly I work for organizations.

The slow economy was a concern but that may have been an advantage. Companies lay off full timers, but they still need the work done. Signs are pointing towards another economic downturn, which could really test that hypothesis.

In the Beginning
I started by calling everyone I knew who could either hire or refer me. Not really a pitch so much as just letting them know I was freelancing. I hated calling like that, but almost everyone was supportive, and I was incredibly fortunate to get a project that week. Networking is a long game – some of those calls generated business two years later – but it’s good to be lucky.

When people want advice on freelancing, I always ask what their Rolodex looks like. My experience with Sanford Burnham, and Scripps Health before that, gave me lots of contacts who knew my work. Otherwise, it’s just pure cold calling. Some people are good at that, even enjoy it. But if that’s not you, give it some thought.

I also ask what kinds of samples prospective freelancers have – prospective clients will definitely want to see your work. There’s lots of ways to create samples: blog, volunteer at a nonprofit, write random spec pieces.

The Work
My first rule is: Always show up. That means meeting deadlines, responding to calls and emails within a few hours, communicating with clients if there’s a problem and generally being transparent.

This may seem like no-brainer advice, but it’s not. There are lots of flaky freelancers. Every couple of years, I get a call from someone who has lost their writer – they have literally gone MIA – and the deadline is coming up. I always say yes, it’s a function of my hero complex.

As a consultant, my job is to solve my clients’ problem(s). That means showing them the work is in good hands. From the moment they make the assignment, I want them to feel confident they can cross it off their list.

What I’ve Learned

Dodger
Long-suffering colleague

Working at home was hard at first, but it’s grown on me over the years. Being alone means fewer distractions. As an FTE, there are always meetings, urgent email strings, birthday parties, fires to put out. Sometimes, it’s hard to get to the actual work, even if you love it.

Some people worry that being at home will present its own distractions. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I’m not the type to clean my house to avoid work.

The flexibility is wonderful. My kids were 10 and 7 when I went on my own, so I got to be there when they came home from school, or I could carve out 20 minutes for an impromptu game of street football, or take them to the orthodontist. It all worked, as long as I got my projects done on time.

Is it feast or famine? Sometimes. Being slow is frightening. Nobody likes waiting for the phone to ring. Being busy can also be scary. Sometimes multiple deadlines fall on the same day. But fear is a great motivator, and it has made me a better writer. On a professional level, that may be the best win of all.

December Updates

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Sorry for the prosaic title, things are hectic.

First, you may have noticed the groovy new SANDSWA logo. Many thanks to Sanford Burnham Prebys science writer Monica May for the concept and graphic designer Priyanka Paurana for the finished product. For her creativity, Monica won a year’s membership in SANDSWA – nice.

On January 3, SANDSWA members are getting a free Ruben H. Fleet Science Center tour, featuring CEO Steven Snyder, PhD, and marketing director Wendy Grant. Not a member? That’s easily remedied: JOIN NOW.

Happy-Hour.jpgThere was another awesome happy hour at AleSmith on December 4. We’re sad if you missed it, but there will be another one coming up in February. We’re open to location suggestions.

Want to improve your science writing chops? SANDSWA board members Heather Buschman and Tiffany Fox are teaching UC San Diego Extension’s Science Writing I, Tuesday evenings January 15 through March 12. This course changes lives. Check it out.

And finally, do you feel like SANDSWA’s blog posts have gotten a little monochrome (exhibit A)? That’s okay, you can help fix it. We are constantly looking for guest bloggers to add new ideas into the mix. Send us a note, we’re always open.