Friday, July 18, 2008

Networking in science writing/editing

I’d like to piggyback here on CAE’s excellent, excellent post on networking.
Professional societies in your field of interest can offer invaluable opportunities for networking. If you are interested in scientific writing and editing, there are three organizations you should know about:

National Association of Science Writers (NASW)

Council of Science Editors (CSE)

All three associations offer a wealth of online information. There are listserves or discussion groups that offer the opportunity to virtually network with other writers and editors. There are online job boards, and web space to advertise your own services. Perhaps best of all, there are opportunities for face-to-face networking at national meetings, chapter meetings, and educational workshops.

Unfortunately, I do not belong to any local chapter of any of these associations. These are all U.S. organiations, with chapters near major metropolitan areas. I live in something of a Midwestern backwater, and the nearest chapter of AMWA is a five-hour drive from me. However, if you *do* live near a local chapter, attending local meetings is great way to learn more about these fields and make local contacts. I know one science writer who told me that attending local chapter meetings of NASW brought her invaluable contacts, and mentors who helped her learn the ropes of science journalism.

And as an illustration of how useful networking within these professional societies can be, I am going to reference this post I saw recently in the ScienceCareers discussion forum.

The original comment was posted at But I am copying the post in full here, because it is just that good (hope that’s okay. Someone let me know if it isn’t)

From a ScienceCareers poster going by the name of “Wes”:

Hello everyone, Just as a little background I've been reading and posting on this forum as a grad student and postdoc for a couple of years now. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after graduate school, so I decided to take a postdoc at a prestigious University in one of the biotech hotbed areas of the country, in hopes of networking and landing a position outside of academia. I had read many of Dave's posts regarding "networking" and how invaluable this technique could be for meeting individuals outside of academia who may aid in your job search. At first, I was stubborn and didn't may much attention to these comments. So I applied to a bunch of companies online and either never heard back or received the wonderful automated generic response of "Thank you for applying but we have received more qualified applications". After a brief stint of frustration, anger, and even lashing out at someone on this forum who was already in an industry position, I decided it was time to take a more assert approach. Now this was not an easy step, no one I knew from my graduate school days or from my postdoc lab had EVER networked outside of academia, and had either no ambitions to look outside the Ivory Tower or had no idea how to go about it (or they were just too scared to try). The only information I was equipped with to start networking I found on this forum. After reading 'alternative careers for scientists' books and websites, I decided that medical writing appealed to me. I still get to think, read, and write about science without having the pressure of obtaining grants and performing bench work. But, how do I find such a job? After reading on this forum that websites existed for science professionals to network within a specific region, I found such a website for my area. There was an online calender of events, one of which was a talk given by a nobel prize winning molecular biologist which happened to be sponsored by the local AMWA chapter. I signed up to attend the talk and discovered there was an hour long networking session before the talk began. I was alone in a foreign world outside of my comfort zone. I didn't know anyone, but decided to just walk up to someone who looked friendly enough and began talking. Just small talk at first... "How are you? What do you do? Where to do work?" etc. After speaking with a few individuals, the approach became easier and by the end of the session I had 4 business cards and few names. A few days later I contacted the individuals via email and 3 out of 4 responded. I'll skip the details, but after retooling my CV to a resume and listing my transferable skills, I landed a couple of interviews. One interview went very well and I received a verbal offer, but after waiting a few months for the official offer, I was about to give up. Luckily, I was still attending monthly AMWA meetings and met another individual who was very open to talking about my interests in medical writing. So again, I applied directly to the director of her company and received an interview within a week. A few days after the interview I received an offer and I accepted. Now I have a whole new challenge of adjusting to a desk job in an entirely foreign environment, but I feel the first and most difficult step is complete. Basically, I'm writing this to share with those disgruntled postdocs that while the job searching process is not easy, and many bumps in the road will frustrate you even more, perseverance and networking is the key. Don't give up and eventually the combination of luck, timing, and hard work will come together and bless you with a real job. Good luck and happy hunting!

Now isn’t that a story to inspire and warm the heart?

*Note: I think all the professional societies I’ve mentioned have discounted membership fees for students.

*Note: The job board at the CSE website is open access (you don’t need to be a member to see it), and I actually got my second science editing gig by responding to an advertisement on that job site.


Silas said...

When I mentioned the Science Forum in a post, I'd been meaning to point out that comment. I was also very impressed by it.

CAE said...

Great stuff! I'll have to go looking for a Canadian equivalent now!

Mad Hatter said...

Thanks for the information on those science writing/editing professional organizations! I was going to add the links to the Resources section, but it looks like all three point to the same place? Just thought I'd check....

The bean-mom said...

Sorry about the messed up links! I just fixed it!

Mad Hatter said...

No problem! Thanks for posting them.