How important is the Science Communication M.Sc?

I’m fresh back from the science communication conference and I am still no closer to answering that all important question – how do I get a science communicator to stop talking to me?

I kid, I kid. If you want a science communicator to stop talking to you, you just ask them a series of increasingly personal awkward questions about their job and their life until they say, “well good luck, all the best.”

I kid, I kid. Everyone I met was incredibly helpful and more than willing to answer my questions, even though I had nothing to offer them by way of professional services (strictly science related!)

Apart from information gathering about science communication jobs and backgrounds, one of the questions I sought to answer at the conference was “do I reeeeeally need to do the science communication masters?”

For those not in the know, there are several shivering scientists huddling for dryness under the science communication umbrella: practitioners, facilitators, academics, and researchers.

(I’m not sure what the rain is in this analogy, perhaps it is short sighted scientists who do not see the value in science communication.)

Aren’t academics and researchers the same thing?

In this context, no. There are scientists who are academics working at universities who do research into stuff, who like to talk about their research to engage with the public. (No, I’m not happy about the word publicS and I refuse to use it.) And then there are social scientists who do research into science communication, and somehow don’t really manage to engage with the practitioners into whose practise they research. Confused? I’m not even sure they’re real scientists.

A full time career in Science Communication Research begins with a Masters degree in science communication.

But I’m not going to do this. This is for sissy social ‘scientists’.

But, many science communication practitioners and facilitators also have this degree. It is run by several different universities. The content varies by university, and so some are considered better than others. It is not yet so popular that it is oversubscribed in any university. Science communication practitioners think that it enables them to understand the work of science communication researchers, and provides a great overview of the field as a whole.

But, do you neeeeeed it to work in any part of the field?

Unsurprisingly, people who run the degree tell me yes. People who have done the degree tell me no. Employers tell me that it looks nice, but wouldn’t be essential. I suspect they do not mean this. One person, a facilitator, even told me that people without the degree bring something different to the field, something valuable.

Im sure there are many other pros to doing the degree that I am as yet unaware of, but the takehome message is that it isn’t an essential requirement.

My biggest consideration is the practicality of doing the degree, and the logistics.

Like any degree, the Science Communication Masters isn’t immune from FEES. If I wanted to do this thing, I would have to pay one metric fucktonne of money for the privilege. I’ve had my student loan, I can’t have another one. I don’t have a metric fucktonne of money in the bank as I’ve only just got my first proper job since graduating. For something that doesn’t appear to be essential, and might even devalue the amazing quantity that is ME, I’m not about to go selling a kidney.

One thing I will be doing, however is getting myself enrolled on a Science Communication Masterclass. Unlike the degree, these are very popular. They are intended to cover the content of the degree in a much shorter (and cheaper) revised form. Bargain.








About nicolajrolfe

Dr. Nicola J. Rolfe is currently looking for her next opportunity to make a big splash in East Kent industry.
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4 Responses to How important is the Science Communication M.Sc?

  1. Excellent blog post and really useful to me as I’ve been weighing up whether or not to apply for one of those courses. I agree it’s difficult to get a clear idea of whether or not they’re that useful and the cost does seem to massively override any benefits it may (or may not!) offer.

  2. amysmAmy says:

    I did the MSc Science Communication at UWE, it was a great course and I learnt a lot that has really helped me push forward communicating in a more reliable and informed way. It was particularly helpful for developing evaluation skills and having a go at broadcast science communication (which is pretty hard to get a chance at). I went into this as a Biology graduate, with limited experience in science communication (a regional journalism competition, 3 months holiday work in a press office, a short teaching placement and voluntry work at my local zoo education department), so the content gave me some real support. However, I got the job based on my voluntary experience, not the masters. The masters just means I’m better at my job (though consequently may make future jumps more likely…)

    On the money front, I was lucky that by working (waitressing) through my first degree I was able to save enough to pay the fees and UWE is helpful by teaching in 3 day blocks, so I lived at home (my generous parents didn’t charge) and continued waitressing to pay petrol/car/B&B fees for the blocks attended. I also applied for the bursary offered, this is offered based on a pre-course task and since there were only 20 students in my year there you have a reasonable if you put some work into it.

    Hope this helps.

    • nicolajrolfe says:

      Hi Amy, thanks for for your comment. I find it really interesting to hear what people’s experience of the course was and how it has helped them. I agree that it’s definitely worth doing if you can, and it sounds like you worked hard to be able to do it, good on you! Can I ask what job it is that you do now? I had no idea there was a bursary! I will do some research into that.

      • Amy says:

        I’m an Education Officer at Twycross Zoo, so I get to design, deliver and evaluate both formal and informal, direct and remote science communication styles from age 3 upwards! If you’ve any questions about this field of sci comms please ask.

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