How to Get a Job in Science Education and Outreach

November 30, 2010

Apples and ChallkboardLast week, OITE launched a new “How-to” series to share information with trainees about what it takes to get a job in a particular field. The inaugural session of the series was on how to find a job in science education and outreach. What kinds of jobs exist in this broad field, and what does it take to find a job in science education & outreach?

If you are considering a job in this diverse field, it is important to know what the job entails so you can connect required skills to those you have developed through your graduate education and/or postdoctoral training.

In these positions, you may be asked to:

  • Offer demonstrations (as at a science museum)
  • Teach, either in a classroom setting, one-on-one, or to small groups on-site
  • Develop curriculum
  • Assemble educational materials (LOTS of writing)
  • Leverage diversity (of science, of groups, etc.)
  • Manage programs (science fairs, exhibitions, etc.)

Where do these jobs exist? In lots of places, depending on your geographic preferences. Some include:

  • Public and private schools (K-12, both traditional classroom teaching and, at a more global level, in education policy)
  • Colleges and universities (both traditional faculty positions and leadership positions within outreach offices)
  • Zoos
  • Museums
  • Industry (divisions focused on outreach, community involvement, e.g. science fair judging, providing resources to schools, etc.)
  • Extension (land-grant universities often have large community extension programs, some focused on agriculture, nutrition; office-based jobs)
  • Non-profits (educational programs for children and/or adults)
  • Entrepreneurial (build your own business in this field)

What job titles might you see?

  • Program/Projects: Director/Manager OR Analyst/Coordinator/Specialist
  • Career Development and Outreach Specialist
  • Education and Community Involvement Specialist
  • Curriculum Development Specialist
  • Educator
  • Exhibit Developer
  • Grants Program Manager
  • Outreach Coordinator

What are the requirements for these types of positions?

Scientific Knowledge (need to be able to talk broadly about science in general, what topics are hot, newsworthy, etc.)

  • Consider mentoring a summer student to talk about your science on a different level
  • Give as many presentations as you can
  • Volunteer to host a speaker
  • Read broadly about science

Knowledge of Education/Outreach

  • Mentor graduate or summer student
  • Consider taking a course on pedagogy (Scientists Teaching Science at the NIH)
  • Volunteer to teach a course–or even a lecture–in an undergraduate classroom, volunteer through FAES
  • Conduct outreach (judge science fairs, join speakers bureau, volunteer for National Lab Day)
  • Volunteer to develop materials for a K-12 school/grade
  • Consider getting certified to teach (some counties/states pay for university teacher certification programs for people who commit to teach)

People Skills

  • Join committees to learn how to lead meetings and manage volunteers
  • Seek collaborations within and outside of your lab
  • Take leadership and management courses through OITE (see Events)

Communication Skills, Written and Verbal

  • Talk about your work to outside audiences, other scientists
  • Join Toastmasters (meetings on the Bethesda campus on Thursday nights, but meetings also happen nationwide) to work on your public speaking skills
  • Teach or volunteer
  • Write as often as you can (papers, grants, reviews)
  • Write non-technical articles (NIH Catalyst, professional association newsletters, etc.)
  • Practice proper business correspondence and email etiquette
  • Join NIH Fellows Editorial Board
  • Consider taking science writing courses (offered via the NIH)
  • Volunteer to write promotional materials for your IC or the NIH
  • Write a grant for a school or teacher

Analytical Skills

These skills may seem most directly transferable from science-based experience and education, but you will need to demonstrate that you can:

  • Gather, analyze, and organize information
  • Find and test solutions to problems
  • Formulate plans

Project/Time Management Skills

  • Manage someone else’s work
  • Set short-term and long-term goals for your science
  • Join/volunteer with groups that require you to organize people or projects

Computer Skills

  • NIH Library offers many courses

Where are these jobs listed?

…Among many others. More resources, including sample job descriptions for science education and outreach positions, can be found here.

Good luck!


A Writer Writes, Always

November 23, 2010

Last week, OITE hosted an online chat with Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American. If you’re considering a career in science writing, be sure to check out the transcript of the chat here: Day in the Life of a Science Writer.

During the chat, Mariette suggested that aspiring science writers begin blogging immediately. Setting up a blog is free, and forcing yourself to write in a more accessible way about science will improve your writing skills, your ability to juggle multiple projects at once, and will help you to build a portfolio of writing samples.

Also, think about submitting a short piece to the NIH Catalyst, or a newsletter associated with your undergraduate or graduate school, or with your professional association. Again, think in terms of building up a collection of writing samples for when you feel ready to submit a proposal to a leading journal like Scientific American or similar.

Whatever you do, start writing. As Larry reminds us in Throw Momma from the Train, a writer writes: always.


Need a Job? Get on out There and DANCE

November 16, 2010

danceSitting and reading the news in the library, I stumbled upon a story in a recent issue of Science that highlights one of my true loves: dance. I danced for over 20 years when I was younger, and still dance now, though I’m beginning to feel a bit old in a hip-hop class filled with teens and 20-somethings.

I dance regularly, think about dance often, and have watched countless dance performances and films, but I must confess I have never explored the relationship between dance and science. It seems a natural partnership, as both are creative endeavors. And a quick search on PubMed reveals 212 entries that include the words “dance” and “science” – and from a glance, it looks like the terms have been used both literally and figuratively in the studies listed.

Beyond the idea of planets dancing in the galaxy, though, I never imagined that a connection could exist between dance and work as a scientist – or more to the point, that a Ph.D.-level scientist might actually land a job through dancing!

The story behind this glorious act is highlighted in “Why Do Scientists Dance?” exit icon1 by John Bohannon. In it, Bohannon explores the 2010 “Dance Your Ph.D.exit icon1 competition, a contest in which Ph.D.s present their thesis through dance. The videos made are then reviewed during the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York every October, and the winners are awarded prizes during a ceremony at the conclusion of the festival.

Bohannon, seeking to learn the motivation behind scientists’ participation in the competition, surveyed entrants via email. Here are two responses to survey queries about the consequences of the dance:

My PhD dance exit icon1 may have helped me get a job. I submitted my dance in the last year of my PhD, shortly before I started searching for a postdoc position. The video was one of the top hits for my name on google, so when I interviewed for my current job, my coworkers-to-be had all googled my name and seen the video. It may or may not have influenced their opinion of me as a scientist, but it definitely gave us a starting point for getting to know each other. And if any of my potential employers saw my PhD dance and thought worse of me because of it, then the video may have saved me from joining a lab full of boring fun-haters.”  —Bonnie Barrilleaux

“I had two interesting things happen as a direct result of my danceexit icon1 First, I went to the scientific recruiter at my postdoc to talk about getting a new job and asked him whether he thought I should take down my dance to increase my chances of getting a job. He thought it would not hurt to keep it up. In the end, I think it he was right. My current boss has a habit of googling people before they are hired, and I learned that he not only saw my dance but was also more enthusiastic about hiring me after learning of this crazy endeavor.” —Wendy Grus

What lessons can we take away from the Ph.D. Dance? Three things, I think:

1) Push yourself – and I mean really push yourself – to think of your work in a new way. Try to explain your work to a non-specialist. Try to see your work in other art forms, or translate your work into a painting or drawing. You may find that you’re able to see connections you hadn’t seen previously.

2) Attack your job search in the same way. Think of innovative ways to network, share your work, etc. Don’t be afraid to mention outside interests, as you may uncover a personal connection someone has in the same area.

3) Be ready for everything you have ever posted on the web to be examined closely by potential employers. Get rid of things you would not be willing to have read or viewed by your colleagues.

Get on out there and dance! Or count yourself lucky that your Ph.D. advisor isn’t/wasn’t Adam Burgasser, who now requires the dance of his grad students as a condition of the doctorate. 🙂


A Day in the Life of…A Science Writer

November 9, 2010

This fall, OITE is hosting “A Day in the Life of…,” a series of interactive, online chats exploring a variety of careers in science. In September, we heard from David Kosub, a Public Health Analyst, about careers in science/public health policy, and chatted with Philip Mayer, an Assistant Vice President of Pfizer, in October to explore careers in big pharma.

Mariette_DiChristinaThis month, we are featuring careers in science writing and will chat with Mariette DiChristina (left), Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American. Below are the details of the chat, as well as a bio of Ms. DiChristina.

Click here to set up an email reminder for our talk next Thursday. Cheers!

EVENT: “A Day in the Life of…A Science Writer”

DATE: Thursday, November 18, 2010

TIME: 12 pm – 1:00 pm EST

GUEST: Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American / Past President, National Association of Science Writers (2009-2010)

Mariette DiChristina oversees Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com, Scientific American MIND and all newsstand special editions. A science journalist for more than 20 years, she first came to Scientific American in 2001 as its executive editor. She is also the former president (2009-2010) of the 2,500-member National Association of Science Writers. She has been an adjunct professor in the graduate Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program at New York University for the past few years. DiChristina is a frequent lecturer and has appeared at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Yale University and New York University among many others.

Previously, she spent nearly 14 years at Popular Science in positions culminating as executive editor. Her work in writing and overseeing articles about space topics helped garner that magazine the Space Foundation’s 2001 Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award. In spring 2005 she was Science Writer in Residence at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her chapter on science editing appears in the second edition of A Field Guide for Science Writers. She is former chair of Science Writers in New York (2001 to 2004) and a member of the American Society of Magazine Editors and the Society of Environmental Journalists. Recently, DiChristina was honored by New York’s Italian Heritage and Culture Committee in their October 2009 celebration of Galileo’s contributions to science.


Volunteer for Your Career

November 4, 2010

test tube

“I don’t have any experience.”

“I’m only trained to do one thing.”

“I don’t have the skills employers are looking for.”

Sound familiar? These are sentiments I’ve heard in counseling appointments with graduate students and postdocs in the past, typically from those exploring careers outside of academia. While I do think that many, if not most, of the skills developed through graduate programs and postdoctoral fellowships can be transferred fairly easily to a variety of careers, there is no doubt you will be a more attractive candidate to a given employer if you have had some experiences in that particular field.

How can you possibly gain experience while you’re conducting dissertation research? Or working full-time and caring for a family? Or a house? Or volunteering in your community part-time? It is difficult, but it can be done. Following are some ideas for gaining experience in a range of career fields. This is not a complete list of careers available to Ph.D.-trained scientists, but suggests some ideas for exploration. Consider some of these activities, but be sure to discuss your ideas and career goals with your PI, as your first priority is to your program/postdoc.

SCIENCE EDUCATION

What You Need:

  • Passion for and ability to education others
  • Ability to communicate science to a broad audience

Getting Started:

  • Get involved in community outreach programs
  • Volunteer at museums or schools
  • Offer to lecture through FAES, at a local community college, etc.

SCIENTIFIC/MEDICAL ILLUSTRATION

What You Need:

  • Love of science combined with artistic skills and interests

Getting Started:

  • Volunteer for projects to build your portfolio
  • Build images and diagrams into your current projects
  • Take classes or workshops in this area

SCIENCE WRITING

What You Need:

  • Must be comfortable communicating science to a broad audience
  • Ability to absorb new information and learn quickly
  • Interest in writing, books, words, language

Getting Started:

  • Write a few articles for NIH publications, alumni newsletter/magazine, local newspaper, your scientific society
  • Take course in journalism
  • Find writing fellowships

BIOINFORMATICS

What You Need:

  • Facility with computers and programming
  • Ability to keep up with research in a variety of fields

Getting Started:

  • Get hands-on experience using relevant programs
  • Take courses to develop skills

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

What You Need:

  • Experience. Most positions are not entry-level. Try to volunteer some time at the NIH Office of Technology Transfer.
  • Interest in bigger picture, application of science.

Getting Started:

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

What You Need:

  • Strong analytical skills
  • Ability to solve problems and communicate very well
  • Affinity for working with different kinds of people

Getting Started:

  • Read business journals to get a sense of where/how the market is growing right now
  • Talk to people involved with business development currently
  • Attend workshops at the MD Technology Council exit icon1

SCIENCE POLICY

What You Need:

  • Interest in and comfort with dealing with issues, policy, and politics around how science is conducted
  • Knowledge of how government functions
  • Ability to communicate in a different style and culture

Getting Started:

  • Get involved with politics at the local level
  • Take writing courses
  • Be aware of/volunteer with/write for the NIH Office of Science Policy
  • Consider policy fellowships

Again, as you map out short-term and long-term goals, be sure to communicate your ideas and interests to your PI and mentors. It is critical for you to be on the same page as your PI regarding your hours, projects, and research-related goals.

Enjoy exploring these and other exciting career fields!


Success on Election Day – and in Your Job Search

November 2, 2010

checkmarkToday’s the BIG day: Election Day! There are many hotly contested races around the country, and some of us will be anxiously awaiting today’s results. By day’s end, some politicians will be enjoying the thrill of success, and others the agony of defeat.

What about success on the job market? We know from recent job reports that unemployment remains high. Still, some employers are hiring, so some people are getting jobs. How are they doing it? Or more to the point, are there particular traits shared by successful job hunters?

This is the topic of a recent article exit icon1 posted on EmploymentDigest.netexit icon1. In this piece, the author shares the following 6 traits common to people who have found success on the job market.

1) They keep an open mind. Be flexible with your job requirements. If you have had your heart set on living in DC, would you be willing to look at positions in Baltimore? How flexible can you be? Being open to different locations may improve your chances of finding something you would enjoy.

Also, be flexible in terms of sources of jobs. Having a strong online presence (having a complete LinkedIn profile, a Facebook page, a personal blog) will increase your chances of networking with the appropriate people, being found by employers of interest, etc. Be sure that all of your social media links are included in your email signature – but before doing this, be sure that they are all fit for professional/employer consumption.

2) Preparation is key to success. Your energy and hard work should be put into creating a strong and error-free application. Is your résumé and/or CV free of errors? Is it tailored to the specific jobs you have been applying for? And have you done the same with your cover letter? The more time and energy put into this work upfront, the better your chances of hearing back from an employer once you submit an application.

3) They do their homework. What is unique about the company or organization you are applying to? Where are the majority of their efforts going these days? What is their hot, new research area? Understanding the priorities of the organization(s) you are applying to and mentioning these in your job search materials – and how well your background is suited to tackle these – will set you apart from the pack.

4) They convey energy and enthusiasm. Be aware of every interaction you have with individuals, and be sure to present yourself professionally and with enthusiasm. From the way you dress, to your interactions, documentation you submit, to the timeliness of your responses…everything you say and do in regards to networking and job searching matters. So be aware of the messages you are sending in the way you carry yourself, both online and in person.

5) They assume nothing. Once your application materials have been submitted for a particular job, keep in touch. Do not assume that your materials arrived intact – follow up to be sure that your application is in, and inquire about the timeline for a particular search. These two follow-up questions are totally appropriate…and may result in your name ringing a bell with reviewers later in the process.

6) Closing the sale and follow-up makes the difference. As mentioned a few times above, follow-up can make a great deal of difference in a tight job market. Send a quick email to a contact you made at a conference, through a friend, via LinkedIn, etc. Consider sending a handwritten thank-you note to someone with whom you’ve networked recently. Being thoughtful and following through will keep your name fresh in people’s minds – and keep your name circulating as a potential candidate for future jobs.

Follow up after you have had an interview as well. Beyond sending a thank-you note or email, call the potential employer if you have not heard back in the time frame mentioned during the interview.

Being proactive, staying professional, and remaining polite and courteous will take you far in this difficult market. Good luck with your search – and BE SURE TO VOTE TODAY! 🙂