On Friday, I was invited by a friend at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington to give a talk to an undergraduate colloquium about Science Writing/Blogging and how students might be able to pursue it as a potential career path. As part of the talk, I was asked to share details about my personal experience (how I got to where I am thus far, how to use social media in a professional context, how I figure out what to write about, how I developed my "beat," etc.) and to give some information to those who might be considering blogging or science communication as a potential career path.
I decided to share the full set of slides here, both for those who might be interested in viewing them and for those who might be developing similar talks and are interested in using them as a possible resource.
You can find the complete set of slides for my talk, titled "Outside the Ivory Tower: Science Writing, Social Media, and Non-Painful Networking," here at SlideShare (full link: https://www.slideshare.net/melanietannenbaum/outside-the-ivory-tower-science-writing-social-media-and-nonpainful-networking).
As a summary, I hit on the following main points:
- There is no "one way" to pursue anything, be it a non-academic path, science writing, science blogging, or science communication. I'm talking about my specific path, trajectory, and advice, but I can only speak for myself.
- There are many good reasons to blog, and many reasons why people might do it. The first step is to figure out why you are interested in blogging. For the public? For yourself? To improve public science literacy? To create a public portfolio for your own writing? To share ideas with colleagues in your field? Taking a little bit of time at the beginning of your path to figure out why you are blogging, what your motivations are, and who your intended audience is will help you immensely when charting your path.
- Don't worry about making your first post (or few) perfect. Very few are! Try experimenting with different styles and mediums. You don't even have to write. I provide a few examples of science communicators who have excelled at "non-writing" formats (like photography, videos, comics...)
- When it comes to finding a "beat," I recommend finding something that is specific enough that you can become the "go to" person on that topic, but general enough that you aren't placing too many limits on what you can write about should the inspiration strike. I chose "Psych and Pop Culture" because I know that I can sort of tweak "Pop Culture" to mean many different things that tend to inspire me to write (including current events, politics, TV shows, etc.)
- I also recommend keeping an eye out for what people might be looking for, and trying to fill that role if you feel that you can. For example, I set out really trying to give myself a "Psych & Pop Culture/Current Events" beat, and I think I've succeeded in doing that (based on what others have told me). However, I also noticed along the way that there were a lot of conversations happening around my SciComm world about the "Sci of SciComm" and how we can use empirical data to help improve science communication. Given my knowledge of the persuasion literature, I jumped on this as soon as I could -- and I've been building a reputation among some colleagues as someone who knows about the "science of science communication and persuasion." I hadn't come into this field expecting to fill that role, but I took advantage of the opportunity when it arose -- and I think it's greatly paid off and opened a lot of doors for me. So if you see a need opening up that you think you can fill, I highly recommend jumping on it.
- When it comes to social media and what it's "acceptable" to share in a professional context, a lot of opinions differ. Some people will tell you that you should keep everything very professional and never tweet or blog about anything personal. I tend to think it's OK to be a little more personal in what you send out, and I talk about that a bit, especially considering recent movements like "This Is What A Scientist Looks Like" aimed at "humanizing" science and science communicators. But again - opinions vary, and I definitely wouldn't take my opinion as the final word.
- Finally, my last point is about networking. Networking has become a bit of a "dirty word," as people associate it with fakeness, small talk, and inauthenticity. But if that is how you're networking, then you're not actually doing it well -- and it probably won't help you. I spent the last portion of my talk really trying to hammer in the point that in many fields -- but especially in this one -- most of the opportunities that come your way will happen because of who you know. Be friendly. Go to the bar with your colleagues at the conference. Get to know the other people in your cohort, or the other newbies at the conference, or the other people who write about the same things that you do. The more people you know, and the more they like you, the more your name will come up for jobs, opportunities, and talks. That's just the way it is. And you don't have to be incredibly extroverted -- many people in my world are quite introverted, and really need quiet, alone time to recharge their batteries. But you do need to be able to talk to people at least some of the time, and you do need to be generally friendly and likeable when you do so. So go out and split some nachos with new friends!
I hope that these slides can be helpful for you -- again, whether you are interested in going through them as a viewer, or as someone in this field looking to design a similar talk or share similar types of information.
Finally, I specifically thank several sources at the end of the talk, but I would like to call special attention to these acknowledgments here, as well. My entire talk would have been nothing without these sources -- seriously. Nothing. I mean that. I was able to speak about my own personal experiences, but for much of the other information, I truly had to rely on outside help that others graciously shared with me.
So, in particular, I'd like to cite and thank:
- Bora Zivkovic, in particular for his post titled How To Break Into Science Writing Using Your Blog And Social Media
- Eva Amsen, for the slides from her talk titled You're All Different -- Creating Your Own Career
- Bethany Brookshire AKA SciCurious AKA The Scicurous Brain, for this massive pile of links and resources, in particular her post on networking and on starting a science blog
- Catherine de Lange, on how to get a job in science communication
I also received help and resources from colleagues that did not directly make it into the talk, but I'd like to share those links here as well:
- Your PhD, What Next? -- A site with a ton of links and information for those with PhDs looking to leave academia (via David Manly).
- Ninja Communications -- A site with information and videos about Ninja Science Communications Workshops, designed for young scientists hoping to break into SciComm (via Chris Mooney).
- UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) Science Network -- In particular, you can check here for relevant Fall workshops related to science communication (via Carina Barnett-Loro).
Also, thank you to Russ Creech for the lovely photo of the SciAmBlogs group, which is shown in the slides and is also the featured image for this post. :)
If you have any other links or resources, please feel free to leave them in the comments. It would be great if this post could become a general repository for some of this information, in addition to the hosting page for my specific slides from this talk.