Name: Sheena Faherty
Job Title: Science Writer
E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Company: Duke University/National Institutes of Health
Basic job description: As a PhD student who was interested in making the switch from research to science writing, I spent much of my time practicing writing for different audiences: grant writing for other scientists who may or may not be in my field; blogging for the Duke Research Blog and Duke Medicine blog--geared towards the lay public interested in science and health news at Duke; and guest blogging for Scientific American--an outlet targeting the general public with a strong interest in science. Starting in April, I will be working as a science writer/editor for the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH. My job will be to provide content like blog posts and press releases for genome.gov, to relay the NIH funded genomic research advancements through social media campaigns and to use other non-traditional science communication techniques like infographics and YouTube videos. The job is pretty 9-5 and doesn't require travel.
What were your graduate studies in? What aspects of your graduate training do you feel have made you more successful in your position? I got my PhD in Biology with a focus on genomics and physiology. Certainly, writing for different audiences have lead to the breath of writing styles that I've mastered. But also independence, time management skills and being creative with science and how to explain it.
What was your career path after leaving graduate school? The summer before I graduated, I did an AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, where I was placed at The Philadelphia Inquirer's Health and Science desk. I was a reporting intern. That gave me the clout needed to transition into a writing field. I also did an internship at the Duke Medicine News Office in my 5th year as a grad student and did blogging for different outlets in my free time. I will not be doing a post-doc. A post-doc is not required (nor is a Ph.D., or MS, or any degree in journalism. All you need are clips and experience!)
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What are your favorite aspects of your job? Beating writer's block! We all have it. Even seasoned professionals. Also, switching from very jargon-y, sometimes dry academic-speak to writing for popular science outlets. It requires a complete overhaul of your thought process and how you formulate written pieces. My favorite parts of the job are learning about all the new and exciting research that is happening. Usually, science writers are at the front lines of breaking research news! Negative aspects... hmmmm... some of the more journalistic careers are not that lucrative and are certainly not stable in today's media market. However, being a science writer at an organization, like NIH or any academic institution, can be a very stable job with lots of opportunities for advancement.
Do you have any other useful advice for graduate students interested in your field that hasn't been covered yet?
Other related fields (both stemming from "science writing"): science journalism (for a media outlet) and public information officer (for a academic, non-profit, governmental agency).
Skills: Clips!! Get lots of clips! Experience in other forms of media like data viz, photography, podcasts, or videography are very helpful, too.
Salary range: journalism: 40-70K, public information officer: 65-100K