It’s not the “be-all-and-end-all”, but it can be useful in terms of building a network and getting work experience.
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).
I did the Imperial College Science Communication masters degree and found it extremely beneficial in terms of developing a network. Greg Foot (one of the panelists and a fellow alumnus of the Imperial course) was one of the speakers that came to speak on the course to give an insight into what it’s like to be a science communicator.
Foot found the course useful with respect to finding work experience: “My first job, after the presenting bit, was straight off the back of that.” It also gives you skills that you might not have acquired in the past, “but whether you need to go and spend a lot of money on a masters course to do that, is a debatable thing.”
“Science communication is so open, you can just go and do it. Start now. Blog some bits. Make some little films – it’s so easy to do with your phone…. Just give it a go, chuck it out there, see how it lands, see what people think.”
Jonathan Sanderson makes the case that there are many masters courses and some will fit some people better than others. “I didn’t do any of them and I have no regrets.” He suggests some UK-based courses and why they might be useful:
Imperial College Science Communication MSc: offers a good grounding in the history and philosophy of science, and communication theory and practice. It focuses quite heavily on journalism and the media.
University of West England in Bristol Science Communication MSc: evaluation and evidencing
The Public Engagement with Science Msc at the University of Northumbria and the MSc in Science, Media and Communication at the University of Cardiff: Visitor centres, museums and public events.
Celeste Biever didn’t do a science-specific communication course, something she considers a benefit. “I think of myself as a journalist. Science is interesting, and it’s a part of human endeavour, but you don’t have political communicators or entertainment communicators. It’s just things people do, and science is one of those things.” In general, a course isn’t necessary, she says, but it helps.
From an employer’s perspective, Steve Palmer says having a science communication masters degree isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. Cancer Research UK offers internships during the summer break when students can get their hands on some media experience “and get a feel of what it’s like working in that kind of environment.” When looking at CVs, he doesn’t just pick out the ones with a science communication masters degree. “We’ve hired people who have been theatre directors, we’ve hired people who have been journalists on the Express for 22 years. You have to be able to tell the story. And if you can show me that, I’m happy.”
Sanderson suggests that any one looking at a science communication course might also want to look at a teaching qualification, depending on the audience you are looking to serve.
Other Q&A videos from science communication panel at the Naturejobs Career Expo, London 2014:
And for some more videos on careers in academia: