I have seen on Twitter the heart-ache for people in science communication who can’t find full-time jobs with benefits.
Well, I found two of them. So let me tell you how I did that.
First, how did I search for job openings? I’m not very good at that, but one thing I did was to keep on searching “scicomm jobs” and variants thereof on Twitter. Apparently, not a lot of people do that. In fact, the first scicomm job that I got seemed to have advertised almost exclusively on Twitter, and from what I could tell, a total of three people applied. Once I had the job, I was given control of the gmail account for it, and I could see the great rush of applications sent in for the job (not). Kind of made me feel like a loser, like, wow, I was more qualified than two others. Great.
Well, this job turned out to be not so great. I complained to all my friends about it, and one of them sent me a job posting she’d seen out of the blue. I applied for that on a whim, mostly because my friend had been nice enough to think of me and send it to me. And then I got that job, too.
The PhD is apparently a big boost when applying to scicomm jobs, from my experience. My first employer did not say this straight out, but I got the impression that is was sort of an elitist issue for him, like, he doesn’t like to deal with people who don’t have PhDs.
The second employer straight out told me that me having a PhD was a big advantage to my application. They wanted someone who had a strong background in earth science, because they want a communicator who knows the science about as well as the scientists.
So the PhD has been a boost, but so has making animations. I think this is a somewhat unique skill among earth scientists, or scientists in general. I make 3D animations in a free and open-source program called Blender. I’ve been using Blender now for years and years. In the interview with the first scicomm job that I got, the animations were something that my soon-to-be boss asked about and seemed interested in. It was probably something that stood out from the grand total of two other applications.
And with the second job, the animation skill was even more important. The job was advertised as earth science visual storyteller. I might have been the only person who applied who both had an earth science PhD and extensive visualization experience.
Because I had been making animations for so long, and making them about my science research and as part of outreach programs, I had many years’ worth of samples that I could show during the application period and interviews for the second job.
When I first started making science animations, by the way, it was during my PhD, and my first advisor, who was a total disaster, was very haughty about the whole thing, and seemed to think it was a big waste of time, and something that perhaps demeaned the field of science. But I loved doing it, so I kept on. I’ve never been officially trained in animation, and I get feedback often that I’m not doing things quite right; but it would appear that despite all that I still need to learn, science + animations skills are a unique and rare combination. And that seems to be how I got these jobs.
So I guess my advice boils down to a very unsatisfactory, very humdrum: “follow your dreams and pursue your passions” and something will work out. Haha, so boring. It’s not true, anyways — it won’t always work out.
But I can’t come up with anything else, except …
For those who are both getting their PhDs and interested in scicomm:
Ignore the people who say that a PhD has to consume your life. No. Absolutely not, not least because of the big chance you’re going to crash and burn out of your PhD. You want to have other things going on for you. Don’t give up everything else that you love.
Oh, and I can think of one more piece of advice for everyone: when I was done with undergrad and had a 9-5 job, that was when I taught myself how to animate. I wasn’t in school anymore, but I still wanted to learn this new skill. I spent a few hours after work several times a week on it, and then usually a full day on the weekends. I didn’t have to force myself to do it, it was so enjoyable. My point is, keep on developing interests and skills even when you’re out of school — it will pay off so much later if you can spend at least some of your after-work hours doing that. Even if you don’t get a job from it, it will pay off — learning to animate was fulfilling and wonderful way before I got any money or reward from it.