clinical medical physics

Non-Clinical Careers Blog Series #6/7: Non-Clinical Careers in Science Policy and Writing

Science Policy

Science policy careers are found on Capitol Hill, within government agencies, and at universities. There is an ever-increasing need for research-trained scientists to contribute to the creation of the policies that regulate and guide scientific and medical fields. Knowledge of the scientific process and science writing skills gained during graduate school can be directly applied in this area.

Physicists are well suited for careers in policy not only because of their scientific training, but because of their ability to break down complex problems into neat and succinct arguments as well. Experience with computer programming and engineering can also develop these analytical skills. Writing, especially for a general audience, is another important skill to hone.

Typically, further training in policy-related topics is necessary in order to make a proper transition into this career path, but fortunately, there are resources available which can assist in providing such experience. Several organizations offer fellowships to give scientists and engineers an introduction to the creation and implementation of policy including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Institute of Physics (AIP), the American College of Radiology (ACR), the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), SPIE, and the U.S. State Department [1]. These fellowship programs are highly competitive, so students interested in pursuing a career in policy should begin seeking out leadership experience within their graduate programs and/or professional societies early in their graduate career.

No additional certification is necessary for most positions. Positions within a university setting may require a doctoral degree.

The starting salary of policy careers is less than that of a clinical physicist, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 per annum [2] and these positions may require travel.

Science Writing

Science writers are primarily responsible for educating a non-scientific audience about scientific research. Science writers often work at universities, national laboratories, non-profit foundations, and media outlets. A science writer at a non-profit foundation relays the achievements of scientists who receive grants from the foundation to donors, patients, the general public, and other non-scientists. Some communication of this type has a fundraising component. As a science writer working in a journalist role, articles or media pieces would be about translating science for a lay audience. Science writing positions often allow the writer to additionally follow science outside of medical physics.

To best prepare for a job as a science writer (or communicator) students should take advantage of writing, reviewing, and presenting their work as a part of their education and research. Outside of an educational environment, students can practice these skills by maintaining a journal or blog for public consumption. Students should begin by following science outside of their area of research and practice summarizing it. There are also workshops and fellowships that students may attend to hone their writing skills.
While a PhD is not necessary, it may be a bonus. The average salary ranges from $40,000 to $100,000, depending on experience and credentials [3,4]. These positions are typically constrained to a 40-hour work week and travel may be required.

References:

[1] https://www.aaas.org/page/fellowships, https://www.aip.org/policy/fellowships, https://www.acr.org/Member-Resources/rfs/fellowships, http://spie.org/about-spie/advocacy/public-policy/policy-fellowships, https://www.state.gov/e/stas/fi/
[2] Glassdoor Science Policy Salaries in United States. https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-science-policy-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,17.htm
[3] Glassdoor Science Writer Salaries in United States. https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-science-writer-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,17.htm
[4] How Much Money Do Science Writers Make? http://casw.org/casw/how-much-money-do-science-writers-make

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