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Science journalism career

  1. Jan 12, 2013 #1
    I'm considering trying to be a science journalist, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Currently I self study physics (I'm still at the beginner level), I'm going to do a practical physics experiment at a local college which I'm preparing for, and I love reading and watching about all things science related, especially physics.

    I could decide to go and do a science degree but this is impractical because I'm simply not good at exams or studying with deadlines, I'm also not good at thinking outside the box, which means I'm no good at answering questions or solving things. But if I go to university I'd definitely have access to papers/journals that I don't have now, and facilities too. So how would I go about getting the benefits of uni outside of uni?

    And how would I go about building a career in science journalism? I'm not currently in school I'm 20 and live at home with parents and I'm in the UK. I don't have a-levels, only GCSEs

    Thanks
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2013 #2
    If you want to be a science journalist, I would say that at least some formal education in science would be indispensable. The main issue mainstream journalism covering scientific topics is that the vast majority of those who attempt to write about science have no idea what they're talking about—and it shows. Self-study can be fine for your own understanding, but if you want to act as a reliable intermediary between the scientific academia and the rest of the world, I think you need at least some first hand experience in the scientific academia. Just watching or reading popular science presentations isn't going to give you the background to do this. Most effective popular writers about science I know of have at least some science-based education.

    I can, however, understand the reluctance to commit to a full degree in a subject you only intend to remain on the fringes of. Maybe you could do some distance courses through the Open University while you do other things relevant to becoming a journalist? They seem to have a good prospectus for physics and astronomy. I think you should at least start more broadly and ask yourself, "How would I go about building a career in journalism?"—which, unfortunately, most on this site won't be equipped to answer. Science journalism is very niche field, and you will likely need to acquire some experience in the journalism world at large to gain access to it. So, I would suggest you start by finding out how one finds entry level journalism work in the UK and make that a primary goal, while doing the local college work and perhaps the distance education thing on the side.

    One thing that is very much in your favour is that if you can get into the journalism field and acquire a reasonable level of scientific literacy, I think you will find many scientists eager to help you extend your knowledge. The sorry state of most popular science journalism is a sore point for a lot of researchers, and I think that if people see you are genuinely interested in understanding the nuances of their work in order to help communicate it to others—rather than just another hack looking for a sensational headline to a quick-and-easy article that will miss most of the point—they will be enthusiastic to work with you.
     
  4. Jan 12, 2013 #3
    Thanks very much for your advice

    I see. The problem with getting first hand experience in academia is that I'm just not cut out for it, even if I do a distance learning course with the OU, I will fail almost certainly. For example, I failed a-levels even after retaking them, because I can't study properly, even after telling myself 'I'll actually study this time', I will always find myself the night before the exam, reading concepts from a textbook which are completely new to me. And to be honest right now I have a few a-level exams I entered myself in for this month, I tell myself 'I'm going to study, do past papers, do questions', what have I done? A few hours of work since September, I still found myself shuffling quickly through past papers the night before

    So the solution to this problem is to do courses in my own time, for example I'm following through courses on MIT opencourseware, so I'm getting almost all of what uni students get, not just popular science presentations

    You're right about focusing on journalism in general and getting experience, I'll work on that
     
  5. Jan 12, 2013 #4

    Choppy

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    I strongly feel we need more scientific journalism in the world and would encourage anyone who's interested in such a career to try it out.

    1. Start writing now.
    To my knowledge this isn't a credential-based profession. Anyone can do it. Why not start a blog that focuses on recent advances in science and technology? Or you could write a series of articles and submit them to your local paper. Some small newspapers will take just about anything. You may not get paid at first, but you'll build up experience.

    2. Learn to write well.
    There are many ways to go about this that are not limited to just taking a course. This goes hand in hand with the first point. Once you're getting regular feedback from an editor your skills will improve. Listen to feedback from all people who read your work. Practice writing well all the time.

    Even when texting.

    Even when posting on internet forums.

    3. Learn about science.
    It's great that you're trying to study stuff on you own. Everyone should. But if you really want to get into scientific journalism, it will help you immensely to be able to read the articles directly when they are published in journals and this usualy requires at minimum a degre in the specific field - not always - but often.
     
  6. Jan 13, 2013 #5
    Thanks for your advice

    Yeah, I'll start writing now and do a few projects. Being able to write well will hopefully come from a few years of good practice and some feedback. Getting a degree would be ideal but I'm no good at studying for exams or coursework, my concentration only allows for a few hours a month, and none at all if I'm stressed by a deadline (only exam deadlines, I do well with other deadlines like writing ones), I'll avoid work until a few hours before an exam, while everyone else has studied for a couple of months. So I wouldn't be able to get on a course, let alone pass it. I have friends who go to uni who could help me have access to journals, and I'm doing the next best thing of going through textbooks/lecture notes/question papers/whatnot that students go through, at my own pace
     
  7. Jan 13, 2013 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    This is a very, very competitive field. Many organizations who have traditionally hired science journalists have asked themselves "why should we pay money for what bloggers do for free?" A lot of what paying work there is is freelance. And while Choppy is right that this is not a "credential-based profession", with one exception (who is 68 years old) everyone I know in the field has at least a masters degree and many have doctorates. I suspect that this is partly because employers can afford to be fussy, and partly because the more scientific background the writer has, the better a story he or she can write.

    Finally, if you aren't good with deadlines, I can say without reservation that journalism is not for you. Deadlines are deadlines there, not just suggestions.
     
  8. Jan 13, 2013 #7
    I'm alright with deadlines as long as they don't involve studying, I can do other things like write/draw to a strict deadline regularly

    Ah, that's a shame then, I guess it's not something I can do

    Thanks for the help
     
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