Unexpected Skills I Learned as a Freelance Science Communicator

By Aimen Arshad

We’re excited to share this blog by Aimen Arshad, who, since late 2021, has been applying her social media management expertise to come up with great tweets for us, such as our #RealLifeScience series. Follow us at @FancyComma to read Aimen’s tweets, and be sure to follow her @AimenCreates. Keep reading this post for her reflections on skills she’s developed as a freelance science communicator!

photo of a mug with text that reads 'think creative, work effective'
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

I’ve been a science communicator and SciComm writer since 2018. It’s safe to say that it’s been fruitful, even though there were times when I felt like SciComm was not for me. I even started searching for non-SciComm job opportunities at one point. However, I kept at it, thanks to my online and offline mentors, and the social media influencers who unknowingly helped me stick to SciComm. I began to read about SciComm voraciously, which helped me improve the quality of my own SciComm.

Fast-forward to today: I am glad that I persisted. Amidst the rounds of editing, extensive research, and writer’s block, my SciComm journey has not only honed my writing skills but equipped me with other skills that I didn’t expect to learn. 

Aimen started the #RealLifeScience series on our Twitter. In this weekly series, Aimen unpacks an example of science communication or SciComm in our everyday lives.

A few unexpected skills I learned as a SciCommer include content strategy, marketing, time management, and science policy and diplomacy. These are some of the skills that I have picked up and can proudly offer my clients as a freelance science communicator. In this post, I will explain why these skills are important for anyone wondering whether a career in science communication is worth it.

1. Content Strategy

Thanks to a digital agency I worked with early on as a SciCommer, I learned that your content can’t stand long without a content strategy. Our content strategy would take us one step forward towards landing potential clients, and gaining recognition in our industry.

I worked with the agency to implement the content strategy. With a content strategy in place, my colleagues and I knew what target audience we were writing for. The right content strategy helped the agency decide on a relatable tone and the formatting style of the future content. Our content strategy played a significant role in generating revenue. 

2. Marketing

Another skill that is crucial to thriving in this freelance era is marketing. Well, I always wanted to get into digital marketing, but never wanted to leave science. Freelance SciComm has made my dream come true. 

“I always wanted to get into digital marketing, but never wanted to leave science. Freelance #SciComm has made my dream come true.” — @AimenCreates 

Marketing was required for two areas of being a freelance SciCommer: pitching and building my online existence. Writing a pitch is literally marketing your services and ideas. The successful pitches are more of a conversation with the editor or the client. Being an introvert, I didn’t know how to start those conversations. After watching YouTube videos and reading dozens of blogs, I learned the art to positioning my services to the needs of my potential clients. 

A key point was to start the pitch as if you would start a face-to-face conversation. Rather than emphasizing your accomplishments, tell your potential client how you can solve their problems and bring value to them. This formula has landed me a couple of clients!

As I mentioned, besides pitching, I also worked on building my online presence. Having a web presence was important because I wanted the clients to find me — I did not want to have to send dozens of pitches every week. For that, it was important that my potential clients know that I exist. So, I signed up for LinkedIn and Twitter to share my professional work. I actively engage with fellow science communicators and potential clients on these social media platforms so that they may remember me when they have work to offer.

3. Time Management

While managing time may sound easier from afar, when you are into freelance SciComm writing, you do not know where your time goes. The idea of working from the comfort of my home had appealed to me so much that I stopped applying for in-house jobs. 

However, when I was actually doing the writing assignments, I had to face my home’s distractions. I was scrolling through social media, reading fellow writers’ work, making food for myself, and having family time along with my writing assignments. 24 hours a day was not enough for me. 

This started to take a toll on my mental health until I realized I was not managing my time effectively. I made a routine and a to-do list. I assigned priority levels to each of the daily and weekly tasks. 

Here’s a quick time management guide that can help you manage your time:

  1. Make a plan
  2. Prioritize your tasks
  3. Avoid distractions
  4. Focus on one task at a time

You can learn more about time management in this MasterClass article.

4. Science Policy and Diplomacy 

The one thing that I have always dreaded about SciComm is science policy and diplomacy. I know how important it is, but being a straightforward person, diplomacy is something that I still find hard.

However, the goal of being a science communicator remains incomplete when you cannot communicate the science to important people such as lawmakers or other important authorities. For instance, if I am working on developing a catheter, and my research claims that the flexibility of these catheters can help prevent arterial spasms, I would want to be able to convince the hospital administration with my research results. 

With no knowledge of science diplomacy and policy, I would not be able to get my project approved or funded, no matter how important it is for the life of the people. You can learn how you can leave an impact with science communication to the wider audience and policymakers in Sheeva’s article on Neuronline.

The science communication journey is a rollercoaster, but I love adventures. So, I do not regret choosing SciComm as a career. The avenues that SciComm has brought me have only helped me go upwards in my career and in life. In the future, I am really looking forward to exploring SciComm, especially science diplomacy, policy, and public relations, which I often hear talked about by my peers.

What are some unexpected skills you have gained as a SciCommer? Chime in below in the comments!

Aimen Arshad is a Life Sciences Copywriter & Digital Media Strategist — a self-described “science digital media person.” She is an Applied Biosciences graduate, currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences. While Aimen’s education has equipped her with rich life sciences knowledge, her professional experience as a social media manager has instilled the ins and outs of digital media. She serves both the writing and online marketing needs of her clients in the healthcare and science sphere.

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