How to Become a Science Writer: Career Guide
To become a science writer, you need to begin by determining if this career is a good fit for you. Are you interested in a career that allows you to explore advancements in science?
Are you able to handle the occasional frustrations of a career in modern journalism, such as tight deadlines and travel? Do you have a flare for writing and communication?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions, a career as a science writer is probably a good fit for you.
Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a science writer. We've also included helpful information for a science writer career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!
Educational Requirements to Become a Science Writer
In order to become a science writer, you must have an educational background that allows you to understand scientific terms, principles, concepts and methods, while also providing you with skills in journalism and writing.
For this reason, if you want to become a science writer, you should major in journalism or science, and take courses that complement the other; that is, if you are a journalism major you should take science courses, and if you are a science major you should take journalism courses.
Employers typically expect candidates who have relevant bachelor’s degree, and may give preference to applicants with a master’s degree. For example, at some national research institutions, preference is given to PIO applicants with master’s degrees.
Depending on who the employer is, a college or university degree may not be necessary to get a job, although this is typically only if you have a great deal of industry experience, and can prove your skill set and qualifications on your resume.
Science Writer Job Description
A science writer researches, writes and edits scientific news articles and features, scientific journals, trade publications and professional publications. Science writers must be able to understand complex scientific information, theories and practices in addition to possessing strong writing skills.
Science writers must be able to write about scientific topics in a concise and articulate manner that can be easily understood by readers who may not be experts in the subject. Many science writers prepare works for the general public; while others write for professional audiences, such as scientists, physicians and engineers.
Science Writer Job Duties
• Produce articles for publication both in print and online
• Produce articles with an agreed upon style and within a strict time frame
• Conduct interviews with scientists and academics from various fields
• Establish a network of industry experts
• Attend academic and press conferences
• Read and research specialized publications such as company reports, scientific papers, newspapers, magazines and journals
• Liaise with colleagues in order to determine article or publication content
Qualifications and Attributes Needed to Become a Science Writer
It takes more than education and a job opportunity to truly succeed as a science writer; you also need to have a certain skills set, as well as a set of personality traits in order to do your job effectively.
• A keen interest in science and scientific discovery
• Excellent communication skills using a variety of mediums, such as graphics, video, text and audio
• Must be able to adapt to the utilization of new technologies
• Must be interested in lifelong learning in the field of science
• Must be able to meet the needs of the audience; both in content and presentation
• Must be able to cope with frustrations such as short deadlines and frequent travel
• Must have a methodical approach to compiling information
• Must be very persistent, objective, creative and resourceful
Who Hires Science Writers?
Science writers can be hired by a wide variety of organizations. The type of organization that hires them may vary depending on what category of science writer they fall in to: science journalists or science public information officers (PIOs). Science writers may work for commercial organizations, such as newspapers, or they may work for non-profit organizations, such as the magazines produced by professional scientific organizations.
Science Journalists typically work for:
• Wire services
• Book publishers
• Radio and television networks, as well as individual stations
• Digital news services
• Other independent information channels
Science PIOs typically work for:
• Universities and colleges
• Private research foundations
• Government agencies and laboratories
• Science museums
• Non-profit science and health organizations
While many science writers are full-time staff writers for their organizations, many others are freelancers who are paid by the story, the book or the size of their weblog readership. These news media outlets may be either commercial, such as the local daily newspaper, or non-profit, such as scientific societies that produce magazines, newsletters and online news services.
Science Writer Job Postings
Science Writer Jobs - Canada
Science Writer Jobs - United States
Career Experience Needed to Become a Science Writer
Science writers may begin their careers through a variety of means. Some science writers are professional working scientists who complement their research or regular work duties with direct-to-the-public communications about their fields through articles, columns and popular science books.
Some science writers may also begin their careers as freelancer science writers while they are already working as educators or public information officers. They may be attracted to the freedom that freelancing offers and look to build up a reputation and client base sufficient enough to sustain them as a full-time freelancer.
Other science writers may begin as general assignment reporters who eventually move into the specialty of science writing.
Science Writer Salary
The salary level for science writers can vary widely depending on many factors, such as whether or not they are full-time employees, their level of experience and education, where they work and many others. According to the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the salary level of science writers can be broken down as follows:
• General-assignment reporters in entry-level jobs with training in science writing at small newspapers typically earn around $40,000 per year.
• More experienced and specialized science writers at large newspapers may earn around $80,000 per year.
• Entry-level jobs for science writers at small, specialty science magazines start at around $40,000 per year and grow to around $70,000 per year at highly circulated commercial or association science magazines.
• Magazine science writers with decades of experience at large science magazines can make up to $100,000 per year.
• Entry-level university science writers usually earn between $40,000 and $50,000 per year. As they gain more experience they may earn closer to $60,000 per year.
• Entry-level writers with science backgrounds at federal agencies and laboratories typically earn between $60,000 and $70,000 per year.
• Experienced public information officers who head news offices at large research universities or firms may earn above $100,000 per year.
• Freelance science journalists usually earn between $.50 and $3.00 per word for magazine articles.
Please Note: Freelance science writing is said to be the most difficult to make a living at, due to the inconsistency of contracts, the lack of financial and health benefits, and the time it takes to build a reputation and a client base. However, many freelancers only work part time while holding down jobs as educators or PIOs.
Careers Related to Science Writer
Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to Science Writer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.
Science Writer Career Information: References
Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Science Writer.
Alberta Learning and Information Services website: alis.alberta.ca
Council for the Advancement of Science Writing website: www.casw.org
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website: www.bls.gov
Scholarships for Becoming a Science Writer
Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Science Writer can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Science Writer: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a science writer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!