#MoreToScience – what’s it like to be a science writer?

I’m very keen on making it clear that there is #MoreToScience (what a lovely hashtag!) than the lab. In December, when I started this blog series, I promised you that I would introduce you to more career options after a science degree, in addition to science policy. I didn’t need to look far, only around my office, to find a bunch of science-educated people who found fulfilling careers outside the lab. They have kindly volunteered their time to tell you a little bit about themselves and the work they do.

In the future you will read about people working in education policy, marketing, training and public engagement. First story is about working in science writing (it is as cool as it sounds!).

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SONY DSCTom Ireland, Science writer and Editor of The Biologist magazine

I chose to pursue a career in biology because… as a child I was obsessed with finding out how things work. Even when I was really young I did weird little experiments, like making potions from household chemicals or hiding jars of food in the airing cupboard and seeing what grew. So a biology degree – where you learn about how all of life works, from bacteria and viruses up to the complexity of the human brain – just seemed like the most fascinating thing you could possibly study; a no-brainer.

The thing I find most exciting about my job is… getting to interview the world’s most fascinating scientists and visit amazing, world renowned laboratories. I’ve interviewed Richard Dawkins and stood a few feet above a nuclear reactor as it glowed with an eerie blue light known as Cherenkov radiation. When I’m not interviewing people or visiting labs for articles I’m researching and fact-checking, so I learn something new every time I write or edit an article. It’s a real privilege to be ‘in the loop’ about the next big trends in science or how medicine and technology might change our lives in the future.

However, sometimes I have to… make difficult decisions and deal with criticism. I am regularly involved in disputes between authors, academics, and editors about what to cover and how to cover it. Both writers and editors have to accept that not everyone is going to like or agree with what they publish, and the feedback we get (especially online) isn’t always very nice. I also have to do dull stuff – as with any job, there are lots of peripheral tasks and emails that take up your time and attention. There are various budgets, contracts, relationships and paperwork I have to keep on top of to keep the publications I work on running smoothly.

When I was at school I wish I… knew more about how the media works. After doing a biology degree it was hard to play catch up with people who had been working towards being a journalist since they were at school.

I find it amazing to know that… there are far more bacterial cells in and on your body than human cells. It really makes you re-think the idea of what a human being is. We are ecosystems that can think.

In my free time I love… playing cricket and playing the drums, drawing, painting, and doodling. I still constantly read science books and watch science documentaries in my spare time because it doesn’t feel like work.

To find out more about Tom and to read some of his articles (strongly recommend!) check out his website, The Biologist magazine that he runs or follow him @Tom_J_Ireland on Twitter!

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See you next month! In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line @GabrieleButk.

In case you missed it, read the blog post about just how important evidence is from last month – ‘Talking about making informed decisions

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of my employer.

 

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