Is it getting harder to find a full-time job in science writing?

800px-The_Long_Road_AheadI consider myself lucky to have completed two paid internships in the last year and slightly unlucky that I was applying for internships this summer as fervently as last summer. The point being so I could gain more experience so I might qualify for a job so I wouldn’t be applying for internships for Summer 2014.

Internships are great opportunities to gain experience, but how many internships must an aspiring science writer complete before they can obtain a full-time job? The answer obviously depends, but there seems to be a growing pattern where young writers are simply hopping from one internship to the next with no permanent job in sight.

This is because many entry-level science writing positions – be it at a magazine or press information office – require at least three to five years of experience. That’s 12 internships that last for three months each. That’s an insane amount of internships. Not to mention what little pay interns receive compared to permanent jobs and relocation costs since valuable science-writing internships exist across the country, and the globe.

Not all internships are three months. Some are six months, but that’s about as long as you’re going to find.

Ten years ago, when the science writing field was less congested, many interns could procure a job after a single internship – often times at the place they interned. All of those positions are now filled, however, which means interns are left to fend for themselves after their time is up.

Many turn to freelancing – a valuable experience in itself with a very unstable paycheck. Especially for beginners who may not know how to find and pitch good stories, freelancing will be even less lucrative than an internship. So, although a good skill to have, it’s probably not the best option for beginners. But then what other options are there besides summer internships and the occasional fall and spring internship? Not much along the lines of career advancement.

So, yes, I’d say it’s getting harder to find a full-time job in science writing and it’s also getting harder to find an internship if you don’t already have a few under your belt. It’s the classic Catch-22 scenario and it’s a long road for those lucky enough to find and follow it.

Science writers: Ten tips for interview prep

RavenngoEach year the field of science writing is growing more competitive. In fact, the 2013 AAAS internship fair had a record-high of over 70 participants. That means your ability to produce an attractive resume and cover letter is crucial to your potential candidacy for an internship or job. (Not to mention the number of clips and outlets you’ve accrued and written for over the years.) However, even more important than your paper work are your interviewing skills.

As an aspiring science journalist, I am constantly interviewing sources for stories, asking questions and taking notes. Yet, when it comes time for me to give the answers, I often become stressed, which then makes me ramble. I understand and have experienced the pressure that comes with an interview, and I think solid preparation is the key to success. Therefore, I’m going to lend a helping hand to my fellow competitors and provide ten tips for how you can knock your interviewer’s socks off.

1. Be able to summarize why you’re pursuing science writing and how you entered the field in 30 seconds.

2. Know how your experience and skills fit with the needs of the media outlet for which you’re interviewing.

3. Know other media outlets that publish similar and different science content and be able to identify some authors at each outlet.

4. Be able to identify a handful of journalists whose content you enjoy reading.

5. Don’t just follow print journalists. Know your journalists in broadcast and video, too.

6. Stay current with non-science news. Often times an interviewer will ask you if there is any news that could be reported in a different way that would fit their type of publication. In other words, find the science angles to non-science news.

7. Be quick on your feet. If your interviewer asks for a story pitch, have a handful ready complete with catchy headlines and leads.

8. Be able to communicate how this position will help you in your career prospects.

9. Be able to answer why the media outlet for which you’re interviewing will meet your needs better than other media outlets.

10. Approach each question like you’re writing a story. Be as clear and concise as possible. Include only the most relevant information and if you have some interesting anecdotes include them.