How to get experience in Science Communication

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How you go about getting experience in Science Communication depends entirely on what background you come from. I have found it remarkably easy to get experience, and if you are willing to give up your time then you can get that experience too.

About 18 months ago, after finishing my PhD and a 6 month postdoc I decided to take some time out to get myself some science communication experience, I was very lucky in that I had some financial support, though I did do some lecturing and waitressing in my ‘spare’ time!

I wanted to share my experiences and give some suggestions of other routes you might go down to find your way into this field. Having spoken to people who work across the sector, there are no direct routes, no particularly easy rides, you need to work hard, and make yourself available as much as you possibly can.

Prior to January 2009 (the end of my postdoctoral research career and effectively the beginning of my science communication career), I had been involved in a few science communication activities.  I had helped out at science festivals in Aberdeen and St Andrews during my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, I took part in a local scheme in Aberdeen to encourage local science students into local schools to share their experiences, I had volunteered in other schools’ activities (at this point in my career I thought I wanted to be a teacher!) and helped run various outreach activities offered by the School of Biology External Relations Committee at the University of St Andrews.  So at this defining moment in January 2009 I wanted to make myself available for as many science communication activities as I possibly could, here is a (short) list of the things I got up to:

The Science Festivals

  • Cheltenham Science Festival Runner (2009-2010)
  • Edinburgh International Science Festival 2009
  • Fife Science Festival (Magnifi-science) 2009
  • St Andrews University Science Festival

Other activities

I ran activities for my local cub groups (via a neighbour), I offered free science workshops at a local museum, I volunteered for Lab in a Lorry (having no physics experience at all!), I offered my services for chemistry science outreach activities in St Andrews, I went rockpooling with children at the beach in St Andrews, I helped at a Biodiversity event and a ‘Women in STEM event’ in Dundee Science Centre, basically if anyone asked for help I said yes, and if they didn’t ask I was sure to offer!  On a couple of my ‘voluntary activities’ I even managed to get paid due to my help and enthusiasm!

I am not writing this as a look at me, look what I have done piece, more as a look at your situation and look at where you can get experience for your own career. People I have met in the field who have started out recently, just like me, have been involved with science busking activities, Famelab, other science festivals, environmental groups, girl guides, café scientifique, they have worked in museums, science centres, universities, for charities, environmental groups research organizations, pharmaceutical companies etc etc etc!!  There are so many opportunities out there and if you want to do it then you will find a way! 

I am happy to say I found a job that I love, and I know that it was these diverse experiences that helped get me there. BIG offer a demo competition at the BIG event, there is Famelab, Researchers in Residence and STEMNET Science and Engineering Ambassadors scheme which can all help you get on your way. Many learned societies and funding bodies offer grants for people who have good ideas for science outreach; just finding out what it is that you really want to do is the main thing, then all you need to do is get the experience - and of course the funding - that gets you in the front door. Good luck!

Useful links

Funding or schemes that could help you on your way:
Most science festivals and events are desperate for volunteers, it’s a great opportunity to enhance your CV and you can make as much or as little of it as you so wish!

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Written by Vicki Symington

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