Communications and the media play critical roles in shaping views and informing our understanding of what is happening in the world around us. Scientific writing, publishing and editing, news reporting, and medical affairs all rely on biomedical professionals to translate advances in medicine and science for a wide range of audiences.
Typical day-to-day activities in this field include researching and creating communications projects, such as annual reports, news articles, web pages, presentations, and newsletters. They may also include responding to media inquiries and initiating contact to generate coverage of newsworthy subjects.
Clinicians and researchers with strong communication skills are highly valued in this sector to provide context and describe the implications associated with progress in their respected domains. Opportunities trainees may get involved in include working as a science writer at Nature, freelance writing for publications, or writing and editing regulatory documentation for a pharmaceutical company.
To get started in the field, it is helpful to write as much as you can and to get published. You may want to freelance or develop a blog or website. These will give you experience with writing for specific audiences, while a personal website will allow you to include your resume and published writing samples (called “clips”), making it easier for editors to search for you.
Typically, one may be asked to submit a writing sample or prepare a presentation as part of the application/interview process. Your publications are a natural choice for writing samples, but remember that writing for the public and policy is very different than writing for scholarly journals. You will find that communications outside of academia are more concise and start with the conclusion/key points first before working their way backward through evidence and background.
One of the most prominent fellowships in this area is the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship. For 10 weeks during the summer, fellows work as reporters, researchers, and production assistants in mass-media organizations nationwide. They collaborate with media professionals at radio and television stations, newspapers, and magazines. This opportunity allows trainees to observe and participate in the process by which events and ideas become news, to improve their communication skills by learning to describe complex technical subjects to the public, and to increase their understanding of editorial decision-making and the way in which information is effectively disseminated.
- Communication: Solid writing and presentation skills are essential. Getting experience teaching and presenting at your lab meetings and at conferences is an important first step toward developing these transferable skill sets.
- Interpersonal: Interpersonal skills are also quite helpful here. If you are publishing/editing, giving feedback in a way that people feel respected is imperative. Further, many of your pieces will require you to interview others to glean information from them. For success in this area, you must be able to build rapport quickly and understand the right questions to ask in order to build a strong story.
- Subject matter expertise: A broad knowledge of science and the ability to learn quickly give you an edge in this field. Otherwise, you are limited in the scope of topics to report on, which is only useful if you are the top writer on the topic globally.