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Leaving science for science writing

Does this sound familiar? “Sometime during my Ph.D. studies, I had an epiphany: I liked learning about science more than I liked doing it. 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.”

That’s Julia Rosen, who successfully made the sometimes tricky transition from aspiring scientist to freelance science writer. At The Open Notebook, she recounts how she did it and offers a thoughtful overview of the issues and challenges that scientists face when considering this switch. She also explores various approaches that scientists have used to retool themselves as science writers. 

They move slightly. They feel it out again. Move. Feel. Move. And feel.

—Julia Rosen

In today’s tough journalism labor market—tough because of the Internet-induced collapse of many journalism organizations—the transition may not be easy, and the way might not be obvious. But Rosen, at least, is hopeful, describing the journey toward a writing career in a lovely metaphor written by science communicator Stephanie Chasteen. “Bacteria—thermophilic or acidophilic bacteria, for example—do not ‘know’ that the hot spot or acidic island is ‘over there,’” she writes. “They have no overall map of their surroundings to direct their movement in a straight line towards what they seek. What they sense instead is a local gradient—a small change, right next to them. It’s a little warmer that way. They move slightly. They feel it out again. Move. Feel. Move. And feel. The resulting path is a somewhat jagged, but non-random, path toward the thing that they love. And so is mine.”

You can read her essay here.