Tag Archives: freelance writing

Science Writing Resources (Friday follow-up)

16 Nov

Last Friday afternoon, I spoke on a panel about media careers for the “What Can You Be With A Ph.D.?” Symposium held at NYU Langone Medical Center. I talked to several  students and postdocs after the program and wanted to pull together a list of resources related to careers in science writing.

It was a fun session– I learned a lot from my co-panelists and the auditorium was full of people with a lot of interesting questions about careers that blend science and communications– including journal publishing, medical communications, medical science liaisons (MSL– a career, incidentally, that I didn’t know anything about until Friday), and yours truly, who talked about my mix of freelance science writing experiences. The overall symposium program looked  terrific– I wish that I’d had access to a careers program of this size and quality when I was a graduate student.

But back to science writing:

I also got a few questions (after the main session) about freelancing. A few thoughts:

  1. It’s not a good fit for everyone. You’re starting a business, so you have to think about all the issues (and potential insecurities) that go with that: finding health insurance, start-up costs, lack of a retirement plan, etc.
  2. Getting started is hard work, and it will probably take a while to prove yourself. Persistence is key: continue to pursue opportunities, get experience where you can, and build your clip file.
  3. It is possible to start a freelance business even if you don’t have a huge cushion of savings (I didn’t). Think about practical strategies that will allow you to start slowly. Having some source of steady income while you ramp up is essential if you don’t have a nest-egg to fall back on.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 23: For NYC-area scientists interested in learning more about the transition from the bench to a writing career, Science Writers in New York has a program on December 1: Goodbye Benchtop; Hello Laptop.

New York State of Mind

20 May
Summer afternoon in 2004-- view from the Staten Island Ferry, the harbor tour on an intern's budget

Summer afternoon in 2004-- view from the Staten Island Ferry, the harbor tour on an intern's budget

Five years ago today, I arrived in Manhattan with two cats, dreams of a new career, and a little overwhelmed by my move from the college-town Midwest. At that point, that Sarah could have told you generally what she wanted her career to look like in 5 years. But the woman who miraculously found a parking space on her block to unload the Toyota, waiting for her new roommate to bring her apartment keys, couldn’t have imagined what my life would look like today.

My NYC move was far from unusual– I came for 6 months of internships. I’d spent little time in NYC before I uprooted my life to come here– one day as a tourist when I was in high school. But NYC somehow hit the balance that I’d never found in my bounces between college towns and mid-size cities in the United States and Europe. Urban exhaustion initially hit me much like language exhaustion did when I lived in Germany, but I was somehow “home”– finally living in a space that combined the best of the eclectic United States and the history and culture of Europe. Earlier I’d always felt that my personality was somehow divided into geographic– or even continental– zones.

So, first I fell in love with New York, and chose to stay on and cobble together freelance work “temporarily” until I found “a real job.” Soon after the decision to stay, I fell in love a second time, with the man I later married. And as my career evolved, I realized that freelancing was, in fact, my real job after all.

Moving to NYC was a risk well worth taking, and what I didn’t realize at the time was how well my graduate school years, though tough and tubulent, prepared me for what has become my freelance science writing career. So, though I don’t know if Sarah from 5 years ago would recognize me, I definitely didn’t jettison everything she learned in the laboratory–  more about life than chemistry.

  1. Self-motivation— I learned how to independently manage a research project, plan experiments and budget my time. My current work is different, but the principles behind it are the same.
  2. Research— I spent a lot of time looking for written information and finding people who could help me with my research problems– not all that different from finding, talking to, and evaluating sources.
  3. Turning failure into a learning experience— Most scientific experiments fail on some level, but the learning comes from figuring out what went wrong. So near misses breed success. Failure also served as a catalyst for my writing career. The first time I applied for a writing internship in 2003, I was turned down– and completely devastated. If I hadn’t been sure that I wanted to do this, I might have given up then. I stiffened my resolve, got more clips, and moved on (and applied the next year). Resistance, failure, whatever you want to call it, serves as a gut-check. Does it mean that you need to make a turn and head in another direction? Or does it mean that you need to climb over or through the obstacle in your path?
Wandering through The Gates in Central Park in early 2005

Wandering through The Gates in Central Park in early 2005

So, here’s to five years– as a science writer and in NYC.  I’m excited to see what the next five bring.