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  • Shriya Naidu

Exploring Alternative Career Paths in Science: Beyond the Lab and Academia

Most scientists who pursue research careers decide so because they recognize early on their passion for science and the overwhelming curiosity that drives them to seek answers to the unknown. A research career, however, is not just about exploring the unknown but is strongly governed by funding opportunities, access to labs, and knowledge resources. Over the past few years, there has been a more apparent intermingling of science with fields such as policy, writing, journalism, and diplomacy. As the world moves towards an interdisciplinary understanding of science, many scientists have explored their skills in administration and diplomacy to create new job roles. Some may consider these roles to be unnecessary and obsolete. However, these roles form the foundation for the inevitable marriage between disciplines outside academia. It’s crucial to talk about these alternative paths that some amazing pathbreakers are creating for us. 


Science Writer:

A science writer is a professional who writes about science-related topics for various media. Most science writers have a degree in a scientific field and a passion for communicating complex scientific concepts to the general public. A science writer can work on many projects, such as writing articles, blogs, or books on scientific topics, creating marketing materials for scientific organizations or companies, or developing educational resources for schools or museums. Organizations such as Scientific American, National Geographic, and The Atlantic work with science writers to communicate scientific information in a way that is easy for the general public to understand.


Science Outreach Coordinator:

Science outreach coordinators are responsible for promoting science education and scientific research in the community. They can work with universities, research institutions, non-profit organizations, or CSRs. Their primary responsibility includes organizing and leading outreach activities, such as science fairs, workshops, and seminars, designing educational materials, and building relationships with schools, museums, and industry. Outreach activities play a key role in establishing partnerships with the industry and other research organizations. These can not only improve the public and private image of the institution but also lead to scientific collaborations and improved funding for the institute. 


Science Policy Fellow:

A science policy fellow is a professional who works at the intersection of science and policy-making. They help to shape policies related to scientific research, technology, and innovation. Typically working in government agencies, non-profit organizations, or private companies, they conduct research, write reports, develop policy recommendations, and provide scientific advice and expertise to policymakers. They often work with multiple stakeholders, including scientists, policymakers, and the general public.


Scientific Illustrator:

Scientific illustrators are professionals who use their artistic skills to create visual representations of scientific concepts, theories, and findings. Visualizing science plays a huge part in communication. Imagining what a black hole would look like or how nanoparticles interact require deep scientific knowledge and a vivid imagination. Scientific illustrators can work with scientific journals to visualize their recent research and develop journal covers. They could also work with museums for scientific exhibits, awareness materials, or educational institutions to showcase their research through visual media. Needless to say, despite your scientific degree, you would need expertise in graphic design and digital media to pursue this role.


Science Diplomacy for International Relations:

Science diplomacy is a unique field that combines science and foreign policy. Science diplomats work in government agencies, non-profit organizations, or universities to build relationships between nations through scientific cooperation. They facilitate the exchange of scientific knowledge, promote scientific collaboration, and help to address global challenges such as climate change, public health, and sustainable development. Science diplomats often have backgrounds in science and international relations and are skilled in diplomacy, negotiation, and communication. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) offers multiple opportunities for students to explore this role through resources and fellowships. 


Museum Manager:

Museum managers oversee the daily operations of museums, science centers, galleries, and other cultural institutions. They are responsible for managing staff, developing and implementing exhibits, planning events, and maintaining the museum's budget. Museum managers work with other professionals, including curators, designers, and educators, to create engaging and informative exhibits that appeal to the public. The Science Gallery in Bangalore offers students many exciting opportunities to engage with them and explore their interests in science communication. 


Science Journalism:

Science journalists report on scientific research and discoveries for various media platforms such as newspapers, magazines, and online publications. Their primary role is to convey complex scientific information in an engaging and easy-to-understand manner to the general public. While having a science background is beneficial, it's not always necessary to become a science journalist in India. However, the participation of science graduates in journalism is a welcome change that bridges the gap between scientific research and public communication. In addition to reporting on scientific discoveries, science journalists also write about the social and cultural implications of recent discoveries and technologies and interview scientists and experts. Due to the fast-paced nature of their work, they must work under tight deadlines and keep abreast of the latest scientific developments and trends.


The traditional academic route is not the only option for those pursuing a career in science. There are many opportunities for individuals passionate about science to make a difference in the world. The field of science offers various unique and diverse roles, from science writing to science diplomacy. These positions are crucial in building relationships with the community and promoting science education and scientific research. The increasing overlap of science with other fields presents a promising future where scientific research and knowledge can be utilized to address global challenges. Embracing and exploring these alternative paths is essential in encouraging the growth and development of science beyond traditional boundaries.

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