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How do I transition from Academia into Science and Information (Technical writer/Science writer/Entrepreneurial editor)?

I am a postdoc fellow in life sciences. I have been in a lab doing bench work for years and this is not as much fun and exciting as it used to be. Now, I am looking at my options, trying to figure out what my next move should be; but I know that the academic world is no longer an option. science writing academic-advising editing life-sciences publishing editorial-writing technical-writing

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Cheryl’s Answer

You may find it easier to get experience in your new career by signing up at websites like upwork.com, where you can be hired for one-time assignments. Start small with easy assignments where customers won't be taking much of a risk. Over time you may find some that want you for repeat work. Upwork initially charges 20% of the fee, with no upfront costs. Of course there is a paid option if you intend to use the site extensively.


You also can check for other writer websites, including guru.com, freelancer.com and Profinder.


Another approach is to scope out print magazines, ezines, newsletters, blogs and other places that print scientific articles. Writer's Market comes out with a new book every year which writers use to investigate potential venues for their writing. You'll need to get Writer's Guidelines (you usually can find it at the library if you prefer) and check out the publications to see what they typically run and whether it is a formal style or chatty, etc. Then get in touch, however they prefer to be contacted, and make a pitch for an article you could write for them. Writer's Market will give you an idea what they pay so you can decide who is worth your time. But even if you write for free a few times it might be worth it to get clippings of your work. You can use these to get more, higher-paying assignments.


Ultimately, it will be easier to get permanent employment when you have a portfolio. If you let some of the editors that hire you for freelance assignments know you are interested in a full-time job, they may offer you a position when it becomes available.


Having expertise in science and entrepreneurship is great. Editors like to hire experts. Work at your writing craft, seek out potential employers and introduce yourself!


Best wishes.

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Terri’s Answer

I wasn't always a writer. It wasn't my first. Therefore, I can understand where you're coming from. If you have expertise in a field already (such as Science), it may be helpful to find writing assignments regarding that; many people look for writers in specific fields. When I transitioned, I was a Network Administrator. Because I already had the technical background, people began giving me standard operating procedures to write on applications, etc. Likewise, for you, you may be asked to write the same types of docs, etc. in a field you know. And you could go from there.


If you do well at blogging, offer to write someone's blog. That's always good.
I would also recommend freelancing on those websites (Guru, Upwork, etc.), although if you are new there, it may be difficult to garner much attention. It's worth a shot, however!


Cracked is currently looking for article writers. :)

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Greg’s Answer

I made a similar transition in my career. I started off thinking I would be a teacher, but later decided I would be better off as a technical writer. Working in a technical job, helped me discover that that I had a talent for understanding the details of complex systems.

As a scientist, don't underestimate your ability to understand the complex interactions of variables in a system. The ability to learn and assimilate large amounts of information is important in technology careers. Have you tried programming? Did you use any tools to help with data analysis, or visualization of experimental results? Did you think creatively to develop methods for testing hypotheses? What about problem solving to look for gaps in methods or identifying uncontrolled variables?

Deciding what products to offer and how they should look and feel is more of an art, but delivering a working product is a science. Maybe with some additional training there would be a better fit than you might realize.
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Theresa’s Answer

Whenever I've wanted to change careers in my life, I volunteered for that position somewhere, then put that job description on my resume and used my co-workers as contacts. I have three degrees (the last one was a master's degree), so sometimes I get a certificate in something first, then volunteer for that job if I can't find a paying job first. For example, I'm now moving from a successful career as a technical writer (senior level) to one as a data analyst. I'm getting a certificate first, then I'll try to move to that position in my current company. If that doesn't work and I can't find a paying job as a data analyst right away, I'll volunteer as one somewhere first. The great thing about volunteering is sometimes you can do it while you're working full-time (depending on the job and location, of course). Since a lot of us are working at home right now, I'll be able to work full-time and volunteer at least part-time after I earn my certificate. Volunteer work is still paid work!

Theresa recommends the following next steps:

Earn a certificate in the new career area.
Volunteer for a position in your new career area.
Use the volunteer position on your resume and your co-workers as references to find a paying job in your new career area.
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Stefania’s Answer

Hi Oliver,


Congratulations on your accomplishments so far. I think if you can get some freelance blogging opportunities, it would be a great way to gain a bit of "real-world" experience. There are also many content marketing agencies who hire category-specific writers to help populate different websites. You may want to look up content marketing agencies and see if they need technical/science writers. If there are specific companies or organizations that you are familiar with, I'd go to their websites and see what their hiring qualifications and requirements are. Then see if they align with yours or how you need to position yourself to be desirable to these companies. Networking is also a terrific way to make some connections and find out where needs might be. Your college should have a career development center. They often offer continued support -- that may be a great place to start. Best of luck to you. - Stefania

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Julia’s Answer

Oliver, when I read your comment regarding higher ed, I said why not? Teaching is a wonderful vocation because your are interacting with all different ages, etc. I love it. And, I just checked and there are over 3,700 higher ed jobs out there. Google Higheredjobs.com. Pick faculty and sciences.
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