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In this episode of the podcast, we interview Dr. Eva Amsen from shareyoursci.com, easternblot.net, and evaamsen.com about building a career in science communication. This conversation is the first of a two-part discussion with Eva on science communication and research.
Eva is a UK-based science writer and communicator. She has a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Toronto here in Canada. She has over a decade of experience working in science communication roles for academic publishers and research groups, and more recently has moved full-time into the world of freelance science writing, working for groups like Forbes and Bitesize Bio and a variety of other organizations online. She has also written a guidebook called From Science to SciComm, a guide for scientists interested in a science communication career.
Eva was always interested in science communication but didn’t know how to get started.
When she was doing her PhD, she volunteered with an organization called Let’s Talk Science, which takes graduate students into high schools, girl scout groups, and the general community to talk about science. In 2005, she became one of the first science bloggers.
“At that time, there were so few that we all knew each other,” she recalled. “In 2007, I went to a science blogging conference in North Carolina where I think there were maybe a hundred people at most. It was a group where you could get to know people.”
The conference attendees included professional science communicators. They made a living talking about science, without having to do research. That was when Eva saw that this was a career option for her.
“I liked science,” she said, “but I had to stand in a research lab all day. It was tedious and repetitive and frustrating.”
This was also around the time that she started freelancing. She was offered a guest post and the blog editor, who also edited a magazine, said, “Actually, do you want to write this for money for the real magazine rather than for this blog?”
Eva started doing a little bit of freelance writing on the side and tried to go full-time freelance after graduation.
At the time, she wasn’t successful. Today, it’s different.
“Once I found a full-time job for a publisher in the UK doing science community management and science communication, it’s all I’ve been doing for the past decade for a number of different places, and it all started with my science blog.”
Eva said that all of the chapters of her guidebook, From Science to SciComm, also exist as blog posts.
“It’s so funny because it means that everything except the worksheets at the end is essentially free online, but people still buy the workbook because it’s coherent and it’s easier to find things.”
She had been giving a lot of career talks, after which people would approach her and say, “How can I get your job? This sounds fun. You get to visit us at our university but you don’t have to do research.”
Eva realized that she could explain how she did it, but the journey would be different.
The people who had approached her weren’t starting a blog during the early 2000s. She collected information about different science communication opportunities, such as giving talks and writing, along with how to get started and who could help newcomers. Then she wrote a series of blog posts that eventually became the guidebook.
“I got the idea from one of my former employers,” she admitted. She was writing blog posts for them, and her boss suggested that she compile them into a white paper that could be distributed at conferences or downloaded from the company website.
At the time, Eva thought it was strange that people would want to provide their email address and download the white paper from the website when they could get the blog posts without providing their contact information.
“I thought, “Well, if people want to give their email address to a company in exchange for this, then maybe they want to give an independent person money.” And they did.”
Eva said that different opportunities are available for those seeking a career in science communication.
One site, The Conversation, is particularly interested in hearing from academics. You can’t write for them unless you’re an academic, and those articles are licensed under a creative commons license. Once you’ve written for them, that article often appears in other places as well.
“I come across these articles all the time when I’m looking up scientific information,” Eva said.
“Some of them are comedy, some of them are more informational. Those are helpful in getting people to think about their speaking style and presentation style. They are basically good practice for anyone who wants to do anything either on stage or teaching or video or something like that.”
Today, Eva freelances full-time.
She is a contributor at Forbes, editor at Bitesize Bio, and writes for regular clients. She also supports researchers through her site, Share Your Sci and, through a client, helps researchers prepare blog posts about their work.
Half of her week is being spent doing work for clients and the other half is spent completing various applications for new freelance positions and other things that might lead to future work.
She advised aspiring science writers to create a portfolio. “With a regular job interview, they ask you for references from your previous job. In freelance writing, they often want to see the work you’ve already done. So building that up is important.”
“Remember that if you’re interested in science communication, there are so many different types of it. Do a little bit of research and try to find out what the different communication jobs and roles are.”
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