A scientific PhD can be required for some science communication careers, but not for others, say panelists at the 2015 London Naturejobs Career Expo.
In science PR there is an argument as to whether or not you need a science qualification, says Robert Dawson from Cancer Research UK. Some say that having a scientific qualification can hinder your ability to see the bigger picture, and translate it into something the lay public can understand. Proponents of a science background in science communication say it’s critical to understand the scientific process. He personally has had undergraduate training in biology, and he falls back on it time and time again.
In policy a PhD is very useful, says Catherine Ball, policy analyst at the House of Lords Science Select Committee. Haivng spent time in academic research and having completed extended pieces of research, you understand the scientific landscape and the policies that shape it, like open access or funding, for example. Plus the experience of writing a thesis, and the data management and everything that comes along with it, can be a great experience.
For a career as a scientific editor, a PhD is crucial, says Anke Sparmann, an editor at Nature Structural and Molecular Biology. You cannot do the job without a PhD because your link with academia is so close. Most editors actually have postdoctoral experience as well, as this will have given them time to build a wider network.
In industry the need for a PhD varies, depending on the sector and type of company you’re in, and also how quickly the landscape is changing, says Belinda Quick from Mondelez International. She works with a team of people, some of whom have a PhD (herself included) and others who don’t. For her, the biggest factor is being able to marry the skills from your PhD training to the skills of good communication. The PhD means you have a core resolve, an ability to persevere and an ability to analyse, all important skills when you have to apply it to a breadth of topics that you experience in science communication. But this doesn’t mean it is essential to have one.
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