Connecting the Dots

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote about contemplating a career change from research science to writing. At the time, I had no idea what my envisioned new career might be, but I wondered if combining writing and science into one job was a possibility. Just thinking about changing tracks left me scared and unsure. But, as usual, I figured doing a little "research" couldn't hurt.

So, I did a lot of reading about science writing. To keep me focused and inspired about the possible career change, I arranged these books front and center in our living room, where they served as a constant reminder of my ambitious yearnings. And it worked, sort of.

Over time, I became more and more excited about this seemingly monumental change. But the biggest question remained: where to get started? How do I get my foot in the door, so to speak? I read bios and articles about how various people got into science writing, and the only common theme was that there was no one straightforward way to do this. Some people started out in science, got their PhDs even, and then decided to switch to writing. Others started out in journalism and later chose to focus on science. The path to their newly chosen career was inevitably unique. Some did a handful of internships before landing a full time job, some got lucky with the right connections. Many chose to go back to school for a masters in science journalism or science writing, and that appeared to be the "easiest" way to break into the field.

The idea of going back to school appealed to me, but financially, it wasn't in the cards. I started looking for internships, and got my first break about a year ago. A local science museum was offering a part-time science communication internship, and I jumped at the opportunity. I applied in December 2011, not really expecting to hear back. After all, every resume I had sent in response to a science writing job in the past disappeared into a black hole, not even worthy of a rejection reply. Still, I figured that I had nothing to lose.

Imagine my shock and surprise when I actually got called for an interview for this internship in February 2012. And the interview went so well that I was actually offered the job on the spot! When does THAT ever happen? Things were finally moving in the right direction for me.

But it wasn't that simple, of course. I was working in my science research job at the time and had no intention of quitting. The internship was to be two days a week (one of which was a weekend day), and paid minimum wage. My plan was to ask to switch from a 40-hour full time work load to 32 hours a week (4 days a week, essentially) at my main job, and then fit in the internship on Fridays and Saturdays. This was not an unprecedented request at our company, so I didn't anticipate any issues. My boss approved my request, and I accepted the internship position. That was on a Friday.

On the following Monday, I found out that upper management had declined my request for reduced hours. So now my options were to drop the internship (which was not happening) or work 40 hours a week at my full time job and fit in the internship however I wanted into my schedule. After some deliberating, that's what I decided to do. For the next three months, I worked four 10-hour days in science, and then two 8-hour days at the museum (Fridays and Saturdays). This went on from late February to late May. Oh, and did I mention we were planning our wedding at that same time? You could say I was a LITTLE busy that spring.

Despite the frazzled schedule, the internship was great. Maybe the best thing about it was that at the end of it, I had created something with my byline that went up on a website. I was now able to point to this creation on my writing resume and say that I did some real science communication work. Two weeks after the internship ended, we got married and left for our honeymoon. During the honeymoon, I made the mistake of checking my email and found out about the "cost-cutting" and "restructuring" being planned at my company. A month later, I lost my job.

On one hand, this was an opportunity, the swift kick in the butt that I needed to pursue science writing more seriously. On the other hand, living on one income all of a sudden kind of sucked. Especially because we had plans to buy a house. I decided to keep applying to jobs in both science and writing, to keep my options open. It was a slow process. I had some interviews at first, but then the job market slowed down and came to a grinding halt around the holidays.

And then, I saw it, the rare unicorn - a job posting for an entry level science writing position. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to apply to this job, but I wondered how to make my application stronger, how to make it stand out from the hundreds of applications that were likely to flood the hiring manager's inbox. I decided to include some writing samples, even though the job description didn't ask for them. This is when my word for the year kicked in. I chose to be confident enough in my writing to send links to some science-related posts from this blog. In doing that, I felt very exposed, but I went through with it anyway.

Perhaps I will never know if the blog links mattered at all. Or if they made all the difference. Either way, I was called in for an interview. It went well, and then I had to submit a formal writing sample before the second interview. The second interview also went well. I kept my fingers crossed.

And then... I got the job. The dots finally connected. In a very messy, totally non-straightforward way, I actually managed to change careers.

I start next week. Things are about to get real!


  1. I am so incredibly happy for you. This is so exciting. Writing and science sound both appealing to me.
    There was this position, within a pharmaceutical company, writing the "pamphlets" they give to medical doctors (so it would involve reading Reviews and Scientific literature, summarizing and putting it together in an easy, catchy way), to which I applied. They told me they wanted someone with a PhD as a minimum requirement so my CV did not cut it. I find it so annoying that companies set this absurd prerequisites because I knew I could do the job perfectly well. I also can't imagine someone who'd already done a PhD would be interested in such a position. If I was a Dr. I would most probably want to continue doing research, whether within a institution/university or company, that is another question. To me this position already felt like something I *could* like, where I could be happy, but it was still a plan B kind of thing. So how can they be so stringent with their conditions?
    I also applied for a media-communications position at EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums), twice, for different vacancies and it did not work either.
    It can be so frustrating when I feel I am already thinking out of the box, breaking my boundaries, trying further.
    But I wanted to say congratulations not make it about me.
    This sounds like a really cool job and I am so glad it worked out for you!

    1. Thank you, Amanda!

      And that job search experience you are describing... I know exactly how you feel. That's exactly the kind of jobs I encountered and applied for and was rejected from. Believe it or not, there are actually people with PhDs who switch to science writing or medical writing, and they would take a job like the one you described, at least in the beginning. But I agree with you that I don't think you NEED a PhD to do that kind of job.

      It did not work out for me overnight, it took a couple of years and constant applying to jobs and constant rejection. I felt like I kept hitting a brick wall. A while ago, I read on APW (I think it was one of Meg's posts) about how sometimes, you have to go through thousands of rejections before somebody says "yes" to you. I kept that in mind, and it kept me going. I hope you keep going as well, and find your open door soon.

  2. Wow congratulations!! That's fantastic, I'm so happy to hear that your writing on this site might have played a role in landing you this job. I wouldn't be surprised, since it has been fantastic.

    1. Thank you so much, Nina! I'm very excited to start this new journey. :)

  3. Yay, congrats again!!! And great blog as always. A.


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