If you have a background in science and a knack for communicating complex topics in a straightforward way, you might have the chops to be a science journalist. If you’re interested in the field or wondering how much a science journalist makes, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about the day to day work of a science journalist, what it takes to make it in the field and how to get started.
What Does a Science Journalist Do?
A science journalist writes about scientific advancements and other news in the field for public consumption. They’re responsible for analyzing complex scientific information and breaking it down into layman’s terms. A good science journalist has a knack for drilling down to the heart of why a topic is important to the average person, which isn’t always immediately apparent when dealing with highly technical data and studies.
In the field of science journalism, getting the facts right is paramount. Readers may base important decisions, like health matters for example, on the information you distribute. Thus, to succeed in this field you’ll need to be meticulous and detail oriented.
A science journalist may be employed full time with one publication or may work on a freelance basis. They might specialize in covering a certain facet of science, like biology or ecology, or might be a generalist that writes about many different topics. A science journalist may work remotely and conduct research via the internet and phone interviews, or they may travel to onsite locations, conferences and other science events.
A science journalist typically holds a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. It’s common for science reporters to have some kind of background in the field, like an undergraduate degree in a scientific discipline, and then pursue journalism or communications as a postgraduate track.
Science Journalist Salary
Job prospects in this field are strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts faster-than-average job growth of 8% for technical writers, which is the umbrella category that covers science journalism.
As with most fields, you can expect to get paid more the more experience you have in science journalism. According to Payscale estimates, you can expect to increase your income by about 37% over the first ten years of your career and by about 50% over 20 years.
If you have specialized expertise that makes you a highly desirable writer, like advanced degrees or research experience, your earning potential may be even higher.
In a media landscape where it’s harder than ever to eke out a living when you’re just getting started as a freelance writer, science journalism is an anomaly in that writers are typically paid very well.
According to Who Pays Writers, a site for anonymously sharing pay information about different media outlets, science journalists can make well above $1.00 per word when writing for major publications. One writer says National Geographic, for example, pays $1.50 per word, while writers for Popular Science reported making anywhere from $1.60 to $2.00 per word.
Thanks to the rise of the freelance economy, you can make a living as a science journalist from pretty much anywhere with WiFi. Still, your job prospects may be better in major cities, which are often where large publications are headquartered. Scientific American, for example, is based in New York City, while National Geographic operates out of Washington, D.C. According to BLS data, New York is the city with the most full-time journalist jobs.
You may also get a leg up as a science journalist by being based somewhere with one or more major research institutes. This may give you greater access to scientists, researchers and their publicists, which can aid in story development.
Also, when considering location, don’t count out small towns, which typically have a much lower cost of living than big cities. Your prospects for earning an acceptable income as a freelance science writer may be higher if you live somewhere where your dollar stretches farther and work remotely.
How to Kick Off Your Science Journalist Career
To get started as a science journalist, begin by polishing up your writing portfolio. Don’t have a portfolio? Clippings.me can help. Clippings.me is a user-friendly platform where journalists can easily upload, organize and share writing clips. You can get started in minutes by registering for a free account.
Once you’ve completed the simple signup, build your bio by adding a picture and providing key background information, like relevant degrees, credentials and certifications. Then, add your clips via file upload or by linking to a URL. To help visitors browse your work easily, you can organize your clips by date, publication, category or whatever makes the most sense for your work.
For some inspiration to build your science journalist portfolio, check out these two great examples.
Anthea Lacchia, Science Journalist
Anthea Lacchia is a science journalist whose work has appeared in outlets like The Guardian and Nature. Her background is an example of the science-journalism hybrid we mentioned above.
Right off the bat, Lacchia uses her bio to give you her credentials in the form of multiple postgrad degrees, one in geoscience and one in science communication. She helps us understand her expertise by sharing a bit about her background, which includes the study of fossils and working in the Nature press office.
Lacchia organizes her clips by category, grouping them into sections like news, features and research policy coverage. She places the newest clips at the beginning of each section, which is a convenient way to help readers find her most recent work.
David Robson, Science Writer and Editor
Robson is a seasoned writer, editor and author who covers the human mind, body and behavior. He puts his writer bio to good use to plug his newly released book, which is in his main area of study. This builds credibility while demonstrating he’s an expert in his field.
To show us that his book is already gaining traction, Robson uses the first section of his bio to link to advance coverage of it by outlets like the BBC and Popular Science. This is a smart move because if a hiring manager or editor lands on his bio, they can easily click through to read what trusted publications are saying about Robson’s work. It’s like an instant reference check.
He fills out the remainder of his portfolio with an extensive selection of clips on everything from nutrition to psychology, which shows off his versatility as a writer. Finally, Robson adds his website and social media links to his bio, which helps visitors who want to get in touch take the next step.
To build your science journalist portfolio and begin applying for jobs, register now at Clippings.me.
For a first-person account of how one science journalist got his start, check out our Q&A with Dalmeet Singh Chawla, who has written for some of the biggest titles in the field of science. You might also be interested in our post on how to get started as a freelance medical writer.
Musings and updates from the content management team at Clippings.me.