Ask Surly Amy (and Bug Girl) : Science Outreach
Dear Surly Amy,
It’s my dream to work in a science museum or some organization which focuses on science outreach and informal science education. I have a BS in Physics and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication. I have been looking at job postings, and it seems that most of the jobs I want require/prefer a PhD/Master’s and/or teaching credentials/teaching experience.
My question is, do I have to have a PhD to be taken seriously as a science communicator? I am not interested in 4+ more years of school, or in doing research. I am also not interested in teaching in a classroom environment. Would it be worth it to take two to six years to do something I won’t enjoy just to be a more competitive applicant? And, am I betraying my gender by not getting more education? Women in scientific research, physics especially, are so few that I feel a little obligated to be the best that I can be.
This question falls a bit out of my field of expertise so I called in the big guns. The big guns being our resident scientist, the mighty Bug Girl to get her take on the situation.
And I’m glad I did because my first instinct was to say, yes get all the schooling you can but now I’m realizing this might not be the best avenue to get you the particular job you want.
Here is what Bug had to say in an email:
I think the worst thing she could do would be to get a PhD; she’s got plenty of degrees already. It would probably make her job search harder, not easier. What she needs now is experience!
Unfortunately, the museum and nature center set is a fairly closed group. Volunteering and working at a low level is the way to go to get her foot in the door. People hire who they know, or who their friends know.
She should join the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) and start networking: http://www.astc.org/
The Association of Nature Center Administrators is also a good spot, but less physics-oriented: http://www.natctr.org/
Having a teaching certificate would be helpful; that is often desired by many science and nature centers, because they want to align their programs with science degree requirements. Because of budget cuts, a lot of science is now outsourced to science and nature centers. But she’ll still need experience. Since most teaching cert programs are meant for folks working full time, they are online or evening–so working on both is quite possible.
There is only one museum in the US that I know of that is hiring PhDs for public outreach, and that is an experimental model for science communication in North Carolina: http://naturesearch.org/.
It’s an exciting idea, but only 4 scientists are going to be hired.
It is also a pretty crappy time to be going into the non-profit science center industry, since state/local budgets are cutting just these sorts of programs. Looking for corporate outreach jobs might be more successful.
Bug even went so far as to write out a full post on the question of whether or not to pursue a PhD. The post is called The PhD Question. Please go read it. It gives a far clearer explanation on this topic than I ever could.
Good luck in your pursuits and I hope you find your dream job!
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