New to science writing

Julia Rosen draws from her own experience and from interviews with other scientists-turned-science-writers for a guide to making the move from academia to journalism. She also discusses her own motives for making the big switch: "Although I had excelled in science classes as an undergraduate, I was unprepared for the drudgery of lab work, and the funnel of ever-narrower research questions that felt ever more removed from the questions that motivated me at the outset."

The traditional path to a newsroom job starts with journalism school and, at most, a master's degree. But there's another way that starts with the lab and a science doctorate, writes Robert Irion, who directs the science communication program at the University of California-Santa Cruz: "My graduates agreed that it's not necessary to complete a PhD to be a successful science communicator. It's a competitive realm, however, and the degree can help open some job doors."

The National Association of Science Writers (NASW) is once again sponsoring travel fellowships for undergraduate students interested in science journalism, to attend the upcoming American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Chicago. As many as 10 students will receive $500 to $1,000 in travel expense reimbursement for attending AAAS, which will be held Feb. 13-17, 2014.

Next summer may still be a year away, but Poynter's Dan Caterinicchia says it's not too soon to start preparing for the hunt: "That preparation should include meticulously researching markets where you may want to intern and establishing portfolios with examples that show you’ll be ready to start producing professional-grade content from day one." Caterinicchia's guide includes helpful "do" and "don't" tips from editors at three intern-hiring journalism organizations.

Poynter's Beth Winegarner lists a half-dozen ways for freelancers to build their businesses. Many of them boil down to finding a network and making the most of it: "Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, connecting with fellow freelancers has never been easier. Knowing who’s writing, and who they’re writing for, gives you a good sense of which publications are open to taking freelance work," Winegarner writes. Also, do your homework, and "pitch more than you can write."

The days when a beginning journalist was surrounded by a newsroom full of experienced colleagues may be gone now, Jillian Keenan writes on the Poynter site: "I fell in love with the freedom and flexibility of independent journalism, but there was one problem: without long-term editors to supervise my work, it seemed like I’d never find those inspiring mentors I had imagined." Keenan offers five tips for freelancers who want to fill the gap by finding their own mentors.

Two prominent educators and NASW members offer advice to students about science writing in this Quora post. Traditional journalism may be on the skids, but other options beckon, says Rob Irion of UC Santa Cruz: "The bottom line is that I remain sanguine about getting a job with the right training in hand. Become involved with NASW, seek mentors in the field, attend key meetings (NASW and AAAS, in particular), use social media, and seek solid training. You'll do fine."

"Technical writing sheds truth; science writing breeds understanding," Kristina Bjoran writes on her blog, where she gives examples of both (a pharmaceutical insert for the former; a CDC web page for the latter). She also offers tips for beginners who want to break into either field: Get an education, get experience, and network. "Science and technical writing exist on a spectrum — sometimes it’s the stuff in between in which you’ll find your perfect happy place."