Scientific communication

Do you enjoy sharing or explaining science with different audiences? Do you want to stay at the cutting edge of science without working at the bench? If so, working in scientific communication could be right for you. Some roles focus on increasing public engagement whereas others have a more commercial, client led focus.

Science writing and media

Science writing roles involve writing about science for a specific audience. It may be working as a:

  • science journalist where you’d have a broad view of science and share this with a general audience.
  • science publisher where you are involved with the editing and commissioning of scientific books, journals and periodicals.
  • technical writer where you’d write with precision to a ‘house style’.
  • medical writer where your medical-based subject knowledge enables you to take research data and produce reports, posters, presentations or marketing material. Medical writers often have a PhD, although entry is sometimes possible via editing roles. Medical writers may specialise in specific areas of research.
  • science communicator, where you engage the public in science-related topics such as astrophysics (Jodrell Bank) or microbiology (Society for General Microbiology) usually working on behalf of a museum, learned society or research organisation such as a University.

Although some science writers work on a freelance basis, others may work for science communication agencies – these are businesses where you will often work in project teams, to meet tight commercial deadlines. In some agencies, as well as writing, you may also have “account management” responsibilities. An account manager maintains the company's existing relationships with a client or group of clients, so that they will continue using the company for business. As a freelancer, this will be a normal of your job (find out more about self-employment).

More information:

Science Policy

Many people enter science policy after a first establishing a scientific career, often academics who advise government in their spare time.

Entry routes for graduates include the Civil Service Fast Stream which recruits science graduates into their science and engineering programmes. Graduate scientists are also recruited by government departments or national agencies such as DEFRA, Environment Agency, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) offer three-month fellowships for research-council sponsored PhDs.

Public engagement

As well as teaching, there are opportunities in museums and with learned societies like the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Getting in and getting experience

Experience of writing for a variety of audiences outside of an academic setting is the key to getting on in science writing. It demonstrates to employers that you have enthusiasm for and commitment to science writing as a career. This might be in print publications but also online or on social media platforms. You may have already gained relevant experience as a student if you have done any of the following:

  • setting up and/or writing for a blog (wordpress is free)
  • writing for the University newspaper or other publication
  • getting involved in writing publicity materials for a charity event
  • entering writing competitions - check learned society websites.

For more commercial roles, relevant work experience, particularly an industrial placement year, will make your application stand out. Some Schools of science at Manchester offer students the opportunity to undertake a business-based placement year. If lab work really isn’t for you this could be an option, though a year working in a lab would be beneficial too.

Some organisations also offer summer placements or internships (e.g. marketing and sales roles in pharmaceutical and FMCG companies). Look for these jobs on CareerConnect and attend careers fairs.

There are specialist masters courses for those wanting to work in science communication, some focused on journalism, others on publishing and increasingly those offering training in digital media. Research courses carefully to ensure they will equip you for your chosen career area, look for links to industry and ask about the destination of previous graduates.

  • Any experience where you are practicing your communication skills will be useful. This includes course presentations, projects (e.g. e-learning projects, student societies (promoting them and/or if in relevant areas), volunteering (fundraising = persuasion, creating promotional materials or maintaining websites/social media accounts, participation in public engagement events).
  • Look out for local opportunities organised by the University, museums, zoos or the city council seeking to engage children or the public in science.

Vacancies and further information

There are clusters of science communication agencies in the North West, around previous and existing pharmaceutical sites (Macclesfield, Alderley Edge) and towards the city centre. Many have recruited Manchester graduates and advertise vacancies on CareerConnect. They include McCann Health, Havas Lynx, Blueprint Partnership and Ashfield Healthcare. Go directly to company websites to see if vacancies are live or if they accept speculative applications.