Last week, we received an email from one of our readers:
“I’ve just finished my PhD and I’m now focusing on a move into science journalism. I’d really like to apply for internships to gain some more concrete experience of the editorial atmosphere at a big publication to add to the freelancing and work experience I’ve done.
Although I’ve spotted a few journalism internships and graduate schemes, including some at Nature, it’s quite hard to identify these without sometimes having to apply speculatively to publications. Can you help?”
This is a question we get asked quite frequently, and whilst it’s true that getting any decent internship these days is competitive, those in science journalism are particularly hard to find.
Part of the problem is that they aren’t always advertised that widely, if at all. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules for starting out in the industry, there are some things you can do to keep your ear to the ground and boost your chances of finding out about these placements. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but rather some general advice, so please do share your own experiences and tips in the comments section below.
Firstly, it’s important to build up a network of people in the industry. Speak to people; ask for advice from those in the know – and this means in person as well as online. Start tweeting, blogging, and following people you respect in the industry. Go out and meet these people in real life too. Go to events – talks, debates, conferences. You should also sign up to the relevant industry associations, such as the ABSW in the UK and the NASW in the US. Check their jobs boards regularly, and join in events and discussions.
You should also be reading a lot. This is important anyway if you want to be a writer, but if you want to get an internship, you need to read the publications you want to write for. As an added bonus, some of the journalism internships are only advertised in the publication itself, such as the New Scientist internships, so make sure you scour cover to cover.
There are journalism jobs boards to keep an eye on more generally which advertise writing internships, such as Gorkana, although they do not focus on science.
When you do apply, you’re going to need to impress on two fronts.
The first is your portfolio – whether that’s published work, editing or writing for the student magazine, your blog etc. You might also want to mention any other kind of science communication work you’ve done such as festivals, events, or PR. Editors want to know that you can write engaging copy, have experience of working to deadlines, and are open to editing (you’d be surprised how often new writers aren’t keen on the latter).
Of course, as this reader points out, there’s always the option of speculative applications. Show enthusiasm and ask whether you might come in for a shorter placement, such as a couple of weeks work experience, if there are no internships available. These kinds of efforts are unlikely to work unless you’ve already met the person and made a good impression (or if you have other contacts, for instance through a course organiser if you are studying a science communication course). Editors are pretty busy as it is, so the idea of having an extra body to look after in the office probably won’t sound very appealing unless you have already made a good impression on them – which, again, is why it’s worth going out to events and meeting editors in person. You might have more luck with the more hands-on broadcast media, as radio and TV producers could often do with an extra pair of hands on location.
There are also plenty of writing competitions which are well worth entering. The Wellcome trust science writing prize, for instance, is not open to practicing journalists, so it’s really a level playing field for scientists wishing to transition to writing. Nature will also be re-launching our annual careers columnist competition later this week, so check back for details.
The other thing you’ll need to have an abundance of ideas. So if you’re still at university, make the most of all the scientists around you and talk to them about their work to fish out good stories. Attend conferences, talks and seminars. It’s a shame to get an interview for an internship and turn up with stale ideas. If you’re a scientist applying for a media fellowship or internship, you should have access to great stories that aren’t yet in the public domain. Just make sure you don’t get bogged down in the details – you’ll need to be able to talk about your own research and that of others with clarity.
Of course, these are just a few suggestions of how to find these elusive placements. Feel free to share any useful tips in the comments section below.
This blog post is also great further reading for tips on cutting a career in science journalism.
And to help with your search, we have kicked off a list of available placements in science journalism/science communication below. Of course, let us know about placements that aren’t on the list and we’ll add them.
Nature’s news team has one full-time, paid internship, based in our Washington DC office. Each internship lasts for six months. Candidates must have the right to work in the US. These get advertised here on Naturejobs so keep checking back and follow us on Twitter to stay up to speed.
In London, we offer work experience placements lasting a few weeks – these are unsalaried. There is a high demand for these opportunities, so we are very selective – we usually look for people who already have a demonstrable enthusiasm for science journalism (for example, they already have some clips, in a student newspaper for example, or on their blog; or they may be on a journalism or science communication training course). Each year, we host a working scientist for a month, under a partnership with the British Science Association.
British Science Association media fellowships
A Media Fellow experiences first-hand how science is reported by spending 3-6 weeks on a summer placement with a press, broadcast or online journalist such as the Guardian, The Irish Times, the BBC and Nature.
They work with professional journalists to produce well informed, newsworthy pieces about developments in science.
The Fellows come away better equipped to communicate their research to the media, public and their colleagues. They develop writing skills that could help produce concise and engaging articles and funding applications.
For details about the scheme, including eligibility and online application form, visit the webpage.
Application deadline: 11 March 2013
European Southern Observatory
The ESO Internship in Science Journalism: ESO ePOD (European Southern Observatory education and Public Outreach Department) in Germany. More details here.
New Scientist magazine employs three interns each year, one in each office (London UK, Boston, and San Fransisco). They usually run from June for six months and are paid. The placements are advertised in print in the magazine. New Scientist also offers shorter, unpaid work experience placements.
Applications are open now – details of how to apply here.
Science News Writing Internship: Science Magazine, the largest circulating weekly of basic research — founded in 1880 by Thomas Alva Edison and published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — is offering an internship program for news writers. Science accepts applications for two 6-month periods: a winter-spring internship from January through June (deadline, September 15; selection, by mid-October) and a summer-fall internship from July through December (deadline, March 1; selection, by mid-April). Apply here.
AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program
Deadline passed for this year. For future reference, more details on the website here.
The Richard Casement internship at the Economist. The Economist is looking for a would-be journalist to spend three months of the summer working on the newspaper in London, writing about science and technology. Their aim is more to discover writing talent in a science student or scientist than scientific aptitude in a budding journalist. Deadline is Feb 3rd 2013, so get applying now!
World Health Organisation
Yale Medical School
Summer internship in science and medical writing: Yale School of Medicine (YSM) invites applications for a summer internship in science and medical writing. They seek a deadline-oriented self-starter with excellent reporting and writing skills and a demonstrated interest in the life sciences and medicine. Based on assignments from the editorial staff of a busy communications office, the intern will research, report, and write news items and features of varying lengths and styles for Yale Medicine magazine, the Medicine@Yale newsletter, and associated YSM websites. The staff will also welcome story ideas from interns.
This full-time position runs from May/June through August 2013 (start/end dates negotiable), with a salary of $3,000/month. The internship offers an opportunity to generate substantive clips and to establish contacts with leading YSM scientists and physicians. Preference will be given to candidates who have recently completed or are enrolled in a master’s degree program in medical or science writing.
To apply, please send three recent clips and/or course assignments and contact information for two references by March 1, 2013 to:
Internship Institutional Planning and Communications Yale School of Medicine One Church St., Suite 300 New Haven, CT 06510-3330 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Interviews will be offered on February 16, 2013 at the National Association of Science Writers’ Intern- ship Fair, held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Mass. See http://www.nasw.org/2013-nasw-internship-fair-aaas for details and registra- tion requirements.