The Transition to Sci Comm

I’ve attended three conferences in the past year where I’ve been trying to pay attention to the science communication/science writing tracks.

I went to the AAAS meeting and wrote about my experiences there.

Then I attended the National Association of Science Writers meeting in late October – or rather, part of it as I had a friend’s wedding to attend ahead of time.

Last weekend, I attended Sci Comm Camp and reflected about some of the things I got out of the experience on Quiet Branches.

I’m not sure I really captured the experiences in either of my write ups and I wonder if any of my writing is reaching an audience at all.

I know I write mostly for myself still and that’s fine because I do still enjoy it most of the time. However, it feels like I’ve plateaued and am not growing.

I’ve at least networked with some science writers/editors and my primary reaction is: I really like the people I’ve met. I like hearing the stories, I still love the idea of being part of the world of communicating science, even if I’m still at the beginning of my efforts to really dig in.

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Me sitting by the Pacific Ocean 11/19/16 at Sci Comm Camp thinking about Sci Comm & where I might fit.

Of course, a lot of the science communicators I know are really good at what they do. I hope I’m still able to grow to get a lot better than I feel I am. I think I need to get better at writing and at least get better at one other medium to tell stories besides writing.

My favorite thing to do so far is dig into history and tell stories of scientists past and even people who were impacted by science. I’m not sure how valued that is, but it is fun to learn about what people used to do and how it has changed over time.

I’ve tried to maintain writing content online all year and even broaden my writing in other places as well. I’ve started editing for a few places as well. I’m moving in the direction of doing writing/editing as a career and feel like a shift is happening, though by burning my candle at both ends, it feels like all I’ve done is exhaust myself.

I analogized actually making a career transition recently to getting through the Berlin Wall – before it came down in 1989, to be clear.

And I’m not sure what lowers the barrier. Perfectionism? Intertia? Anxiety? The feeling I’m stepping into a void?

I’ve gotten used to rejection. I know I’m probably not the greatest science writer in the world currently, but I am working on it. Despite starting later than most would down this path.

Perhaps that is what feels hard. I’m having to change course in mid-adulthood when most people seems to be more settled down than I am.

I heard this Sally Herships BBC ‘As Many Leaves’ story this morning about a sudden transition she went through; her husband just leaving without notice or explanation and documenting the year afterward. My situation isn’t similar though I feel like the transition in career I’m making is going to be that stark. That I just don’t know how to deal outside of where I am now.

I’m at a bit of a low point just now, but I am going to keep going. Keep working to be efficient, better, more organized, and as ready as I can be for what’s next.

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Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

4 thoughts on “The Transition to Sci Comm”

  1. Don’t get down! I for one read your blog and I’m sure many others do as well. Science writing is absolutely a talent – and yet I’m increasingly thinking it’s not so much the writing itself that makes the good science Communicator, but rather the ability to relate to people, to recognize a story, to leave out the boring bits, to understand a science project and see the essence of what makes it interesting, to immediately recognize when a science story has broad appeal, and to be able to tell a killer story. The quality of the writing itself isn’t so important as those things, as long as it’s readable and clear. As far as “making it” as a science writer – it’s partly about knowing people, partly about jumping on opportunities, and a lot about flexibility and an open mind. Not everyone can or should be a science journalist or prolific popsci writer like Ed Yong or other writers at NatGeo and Popular Science. Science communication including university science Comm / PR happens in often more discreet ways but no less impactful. Science communication comes in many modes via many platforms and in many different fields of communication from journalism to PR to education and outreach to policy etc. Take heart that your efforts even maintaining a science blog for an extended period of time, whether your audience grows quickly or much more slowly (like mine) the efforts WILL pay off but potentially not in the ways you would expect.

    1. Thanks Paige. And yes, I am tending to agree with you. I think telling stories on the blog is useful as an archive too; maybe not appreciated straight away, but much later on down the road. And I read your blog too. Have learned a lot about Scicomm from those that study it, do it, live it, breathe it. On this post I’ve actually gotten a lot of really good responses, so that was unanticipated. Publishing it was hard, and I worried it was too long, too abstract, too much to pack into one place (& it may be all those things as well as good). Thanks again, and I’m not giving up. Just taking a breather to reflect on where my curiosity and ability to spot and pull together stories will improve. An informal rule I try to follow on my blog is never just writing about one study; put it into at least the light of one other bit of work. OK, stopping now. Thanks for your excellent comment!

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