And if it goes wrong, can I get back into academia afterwards?
This is the wrong question, says Steve Palmer. Instead, scientists should be asking themselves: Am I the right person for the job?
The career paths in science communication panel at the 2014 London Naturejobs Career Expo was chaired by the Naturejobs editor, Julie Gould, who was joined by Greg Foot (Freelance), Jonathan Sanderson (StoryCog), Steven Palmer (Cancer Research UK) and Celeste Biever (Chief editor for online Nature news & comment).
Palmer answers the first part of this question with his belief that there has never been a better time to get into science communication. When Palmer “stumbled into the field 12 years ago, there were no organisations, or little groups of networking at that point. It was just beginning.” This is completely different to the scenario today: every funder, charity, hospital and university is investing in science communication. “It’s really blossomed over the last decade…. where it goes next? I don’t really see it stopping.”
Jonathan Sanderson attempts to answer the second part. “Different universities have a different view of science communication, and that can vary from department to department, from professor to professor.” He knows a few scientists who spend a lot of time on science communication that have moved universities recently because their outreach activities weren’t welcomed in their institutions. Instead, they’ve moved to places where the work they do is celebrated. “It is possible, but you don’t see it happen all that often. There’s more flow of researchers to communication than back the other way.” But whatever field you come from, going back into research can be challenging.
Celeste Biever thinks that “having a background in science and having some kind of experience in communication is a killer combination. You might not be able to go back to the lab… but you will find yourself with a set of analytical and communication skills which is quite transferable.”
Other Q&A videos from the Naturejobs Career Expo, London 2014: