Science writing offers a rewarding career option for mid-career chemists interested in making a career transition. I myself began writing full-time in late 2004 after a thirty-year career as an industrial chemist. Science writing for the general public remains a rewarding career option today. The number of science writing jobs preparing articles for newspapers and consumer magazines are decreasing. However, science writing offers several other career options for chemists who are fast learners, write well and enjoy the writing process.
Science writers may write articles targeted mostly at scientists and engineers and published in trade magazines. They also write corporate material such as press releases and manufacturing process instructions. Some write press releases for universities, professional science associations, trade associations and government agencies. Many large medical centers employ science writers to write press releases about medical advances achieved by their researchers. Science writers may also write articles, blogs and other documents for websites maintained by all these organizations. Another science writing job at many universities is helping faculty members write research grant proposals. Many science writers remain writers throughout their careers. Others eventually become editors.
Science writers may work as salaried, full-time employees of newspapers, general interest magazines, science magazines and trade magazines. Some work for broadcast media such as the major television networks, CNN and the Discovery Channel. Others work for membership societies for scientists, trade associations, companies and medical institutions. Some work for federal government agencies such as NASA, NIH and NSF.
Rather than work for one of these organizations full-time, some science writers may work on a freelance (project-by-project) basis working for different organizations at the same time being paid when each project is completed. Freelance writers are running a business and must deal with important business concerns such as setting and negotiating fees, billing and collecting from clients, obtaining new business to replace completed products to maintain a steady income stream. They usually work out of a home office.
Some science/engineering writers do much or all of their writing for corporations either as full-time employees or on a freelance basis. Work assignments include writing laboratory reports for researchers too busy to do so, editing reports and research papers for scientists for whom English is a second language and knowledge retention projects. Drug companies employ science writers to prepare regulatory documents for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Knowledge retention is a particularly fascinating field. The writer interviews scientists and engineers who being promoted, retiring, or leaving their employer for other reasons. These are much longer than exit interviews. Mine are a series of up to several two or three hour interviews. Usually but not always, the interview subjects have written their research reports. In these cases the conversation focuses on preparing successors to take over projects, what the researcher thinks could have done better and competitive threats to the employer’s technology.
Teaching writing workshops are another option. My writing workshops for researchers for whom English is a second language are popular.
Books that explore the craft of science writing include:
- Ideas into Words: Mastering the Craft of Science Writing by Elise Hancock and Robert Kanigel
- The Art of Science Writing by Dale Worsley and Bernadette Mayer
Books that discuss how to conduct a freelance writing business include:
The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing: A Professional Guide to the Business, for Nonfiction Writers of All Experience Levels by Timothy Harper and Samuel G. Freedman
- 88 Money-Making Writing Jobs by Robert Bly
- The Well-Fed Writer: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Commercial Freelancer in Six Months or Less by Peter Bowerman
As a full-time writer, John Borchardt is the article of the ACS book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers” and more than 1,400 articles published in magazines, newspapers and online. He is also an ACS career consultant.