Careers, Science Outreach

From the Bench to the Newsroom – Science Journalism explained by Giorgia Guglielmi

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Christmas time is over and NGC inaugurated the new year with a career event.
Dr Giorgia Guglielmi, freelance science journalist, took a break from her family Christmas holidays to come to Mainz and talk about science communication and how to start a career in the field. After a PhD at EMBL in Heidelberg and a move to the US, she completed a 1-year MSc in scientific writing at the MIT (Boston). Giorgia had already been collaborating with science writers at EMBL and some of her articles have been published in EMBL’s blog.

This new Masters equipped her with the skills required to become a science journalist, a career that she preferred to becoming a public information officer (PIO). What’s the difference between a PIO and a science journalist? The former works for universities and research institutions, and essentially does publicity for the research outcome of the institute; the latter works independently from institutions, and provides content and perspective about novel scientific discoveries. The job of a science journalist is not very different from that of of the journalists who work in print and electronic media. Science journalists report on events and scientific advances, investigate misconducts, hold scientists up to scrutiny, e.g., in the case of overinflated claims or ethical breaches, scientific editors commission stories and edit the material that writers send them. Experienced journalists often turn into authors and write books on science, science policies and associated themes. As a freelance science journalist, Giorgia is free to choose her content and pitch her stories to the network of editors she acquired during her studies. However, it comes with pitfalls such as, less  financial security compared to ea regular job as a PIO or as a staff journalist in newsrooms, and the difficulty in convincing editors to publish one’s stories.

Researchers often already have some of the skills required to be a science journalist, but others might have to be acquired and built (see figure).

Giorgia learnt different styles of journalism during her MSc at MIT, e.g. podcasts, video interviews, reporting, and interviewing sources. The programme also included internships, which Giorgia carried out in the newsrooms of Nature and Science, thus launching her new post-PhD career. Her decision to pursue a Master’s degree in the USA, where she moved for personal reasons, incurred substantial financial burden on her, due to the typically high-priced tuition fees of american institutions. Nevertheless, this is not the only way to enter the world of science journalism.

If you are thinking of becoming a science writer or science journalist, you can attend graduate programmes, which may be expensive but help you build skills and a professional network, or look for internships in newsrooms of magazines, newspapers and research institutions, where you can make contacts for your future career and acquire more hands-on experience. Blogging, which is how Giorgia made her first steps into the world of science writing, can provide valuable writing experience and help you build a portfolio. Making a portfolio is an important thing for all science writers, including aspiring writers. Whether you apply to a course or an internship, you will need to impress recruiters with your clips (the portfolio of what you have already written) and interesting ideas for stories to cover. So, don’t be shy and start doing something to build your writing and reporting skills and understand whether you have an aptitude for that job! Starting a podcast, a blog or a YouTube channel or collaborating with the science writing office of your institution will help you get something to show the editors and recruiters. You can also choose the language you want to write in, considering that not being a native speaker can be overcome by good ideas and good writing style (and don’t forget the editors, who will also language edit your piece).

If you are excited by the idea of disseminating meaningful science to the masses, having a global audience for your description of the current state of science, its advances, its issues and new perspectives, then, science journalism may be just the right fit for you!

If you are exploring the world of science writing, good luck with your career search, and don’t forget to contact your home institutions’ SciWriting and Communication offices. NGC is also always on the lookout for motivated Blog collaborators!
Below you will find some useful links suggested by Giorgia Gugliemi during her talk.

Written by Chiara Galante; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Images: NGC/Design.
We thank the Gutenberg Nachwuchs Kolleg from Mainz University for the financial support in organizing this event.


List of Science Communication courses in Europe

European Federation for Science Journalism (non-comprehensive list)

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