Answer: Scientific communication is the process of distilling technical information about science-related topics into understandable messages and stories for public consumption. It is a field concerned with bridging the gap between scientists and the general public, and a multi-faceted form of communication that spans scientific fields such as the hard sciences, physical sciences, technology, health, environmental science, and more. Bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in scientific communication prepare individuals for careers in science journalism, environmental communication, public health, science policy, and scientific research publication management, among other areas.
Science communication professionals leverage their understanding of complex scientific topics, along with strategic communication and storytelling principles, to craft compelling and informative content about science and related disciplines. This combination of industry knowledge and practical communication skills allows science journalists, broadcast professionals, public relations specialists, environmental advocates, and technical writers to advance the public’s understanding of scientific research and discoveries.
The broad nature of science and its related disciplines allows for a diversity of employment options for individuals with an undergraduate and/or graduate education in scientific communication. Those with a background in the field can pursue employment in a variety of areas, including biotechnology, public health, biomedical engineering, medical technology, environmental science, aerospace, neuropsychology, animal science, or other related scientific industries that require communication professionals.
Bachelor’s in Scientific Communication Programs
For individuals who are interested in entering the scientific communication industry or a related field, bachelor’s in scientific communication programs can provide them with the knowledge and skills to step into impactful roles post-graduation. Students should bear in mind that these programs may be formally titled bachelor’s in scientific communication, or they might have titles that also indicate an additional specialization within the larger field of science communication. As science communication intersects with technical communication, health and medical communication, and environmental communication, undergraduate students might find majors such as the following:
- Bachelor of Science in Scientific and Technical Communication
- Bachelor of Science in Science and Health Writing
- Bachelor of Science in Science and Environmental Writing
Curricula for bachelor’s degrees in scientific writing vary depending on the program and the specific specialization. However, in general, core courses for these programs will cover a combination of communication and scientific principles. For example, students might take foundational courses in digital media development, technical writing and editing, the history of science, and the political and social aspects of science and scientific research. They also typically take a course dedicated to introducing students to the field of science communication. From there, students may take electives depending on the type of scientific communication they wish to engage with upon graduating. For example, individuals who wish to work at the intersection of public relations and scientific communication might take a course in risk communication, while aspiring journalists might take courses in science news writing.
Some bachelor’s in scientific writing programs may require students to complete a capstone project that relates to their desired career. Depending on the program and students’ interests, the capstone project might be industry-oriented or academic research oriented.
Master’s in Scientific Communication Programs
Master’s degree programs in scientific communication introduce students to foundational and advanced theories, concepts, and research methodologies relevant to effective science communication. Students gain an understanding of strategic writing and content creation practices across different mediums (e.g. print, online, social media) and learn how to use those mediums to target audiences with specific scientific information. In addition, these programs often explore scientific fields, such as ecology, epidemiology, climate science, medicine and human health, and technology and computer science, as well as how audiences engage with those fields and how to apply different communication models within each discipline. As a result, students may find master’s programs in scientific communication that explicitly include an intersecting specialization in areas such as environmental communication, health and medical communication, or technical writing.
A key distinction between the bachelor’s in scientific communication and the master’s in scientific communication is that the latter is a degree with coursework devoted solely to the study of science communication practices and research. In contrast, bachelor’s degree programs include general education requirements and electives that are not part of students’ major. These differences are due to the inherent difference of the bachelor’s degree versus the master’s degree. While undergraduate education aims to give students a broad set of critical thinking competencies while giving students a chance to focus on areas of particular interest to them, the master’s degree generally focuses in-depth on one specific field, and therefore, allows students to take more advanced coursework that prepares them for mid-level to advanced positions in industry or academia.
As a result, the typical curriculum for a master’s in scientific communication program covers advanced human communication research methods, communication strategies and principles, and storytelling across traditional and digital media, including print, visual, broadcast, and social media. Course topics might include science writing, science and society, science reporting, multimedia reporting, environmental and life sciences, profile writing, investigative reporting, and more. Students in these graduate programs develop into professional storytellers, able to leverage written, visual, and oral communication skills to craft engaging stories that advance the public’s knowledge of science, technology, environment, medicine, and other complex topics.
Many master’s in scientific communication programs require students to complete a capstone experience in the form of a professional project or master’s thesis, depending on whether students wish to enter industry or pursue careers in academia and research. This project enables students to apply all that they have learned in the program to a concrete deliverable that they can show to potential employers, and/or use as an artifact when applying to programs at the doctoral level.
For additional information about master’s in scientific communication programs, including sample class plans and general degree requirements, please refer to our Master’s in Technical Communication and Scientific Communication Programs page.
|Featured Online Scientific Writing and Communication Programs|
|Johns Hopkins University Online Master of Science in Science Writing||Program Website|
|Johns Hopkins University Graduate Certificate in Science Writing (Online)||Program Website|
Skills for Graduates with a Degree in Scientific Communication
Below is a list of skills students can expect to gain or build on through their studies in a bachelor’s and/or master’s in scientific communication program:
|Writing and editing||Scientific acumen|
|Data research and analysis||Grant writing|
|Multimedia production||Visual and graphic communication|
|Critical thinking and creativity||Advanced oral communication|
|Digital fluency||Technical writing|
Careers in Scientific Communication
An undergraduate or graduate degree in scientific communication can lead to a diverse number of career paths in fields such as journalism, physical or biological science, environment, nutrition, medicine, engineering, veterinary science, biomedical technology, or any other science-related industry. Graduates might pursue career opportunities with a wide range of employers, including national laboratories, universities, state and federal agencies, online media publishers, newspapers and journals, museums, television and radio stations, and more.
With their knowledge of a scientific field and strategic communication practices, professionals with a formal education in scientific communication can help the general public better understand complicated subject matter in science and beyond. Whether creating stories that reach large audiences through mass media, or working in social research to survey how communities think about local scientific issues, professionals in the field explore and consider how people engage with scientific discourse in order to deliver informative messages as effectively as possible. Below is a list of potential careers for graduates of a scientific communication program to consider:
- Science Journalist/Writer: Science writers typically work in communication roles both in and outside the journalism industry. They research and tell science-related stories through a variety of materials, such as websites, news releases, social media posts, and investigative reports. Their other duties might include coordinating with editors and communication directors to manage editorial calendars, identifying new story ideas, or analyzing and tracking content performance.
- Scientific Copy Editor: Scientific copy editors work across industries, such as medical communication or environmental science communication. They copy edit, annotate, and fact check scientific manuscripts; oversee publication management databases; secure and review journal or publication submissions; and coordinate with writers and senior editorial staff.
- Scientific Communication Director: Scientific communication directors work in both the public and private sectors, managing scientific communication plans for agencies, corporations, nonprofits, communication consulting firms, or other businesses. In their role, they develop an overall approach to communication strategies, liaise with journalists and clinical investigators, and devise plans to transform scientific data into relevant messages for the public. These messages may include manuscripts, press releases, conference presentations, scientific abstracts, and more.
- Scientific Communication Officer: Scientific communication officers are responsible for communicating scientific information to non-scientific audiences. They might work in universities, public relations firms, research facilities, laboratories, print or online publications, or other science-related organizations. Their duties typically include conceptualizing and creating various content materials, such as newsletters, online articles, print brochures, videos, or press releases, as well as pitching stories to the media, scheduling press opportunities for scientists, and conducting research into potential new media opportunities.
Note: Scientific communication is a broad field that encompasses a variety of sub-fields in the technical, medical, and environmental spaces, among others. As a result, individuals who receive formal training in scientific communication may qualify for a diversity of roles, depending on their level of education and professional experience. Students should note that employers’ expectations for candidates in this space will vary depending on a number of factors, including the specific role and the nature of the employer’s product, service, and/or mission statement. Similarly, while some employers prefer or even require a master’s degree for higher-level positions, others may only require a bachelor’s degree in scientific communication or a related field, provided the candidate has sufficient professional experience to demonstrate the necessary competencies for the position.
Applicants to jobs in scientific communication should always research their desired places of employment thoroughly in order to understand and adequately prepare for the expectations of the roles to which they are applying. Finally, while a master’s degree may not be formally required for roles in science communication, positions that involve advanced research or teaching in higher education settings generally require candidates to have a master’s degree or higher.