So you want to be a medical research charity science communicator

and both will be updated simultaneously.


Scope of this post

This is about people working in medical research charities or patient groups who communicate health information and / or results from clinical research. There are of course people who work in charities that use non-health scientific information (eg climate science, marine conservation etc) but that's not covered here.

Charity science or health communication covers quite a few different types of information as well as different audiences and different means of communication.

I'm going to be adding to this periodically – this is a 'stub' for now. Anyone who works as a charity science communicator is very welcome to add their own thoughts in comments or by email??jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com??- thanks. Also that email is good for anyone who has questions that I've not thought of that should be in this post.

Some examples

Someone might write an article for a charity's website or their magazine about a piece of research the charity has funded, putting it in context with previous research findings and what the results might mean for someone with a particular medical condition. Or they might give a talk on research that's being funded to companies or local support groups – to raise funds, to thank people for funds raised or just to raise awareness and keep people updated.

They might be required to do a literature search on a particular topic to help develop a policy statement, or for the organisation to contribute to NICE guidelines on treatment.

Some people will answer a wide range of science questions directly from the public on all matters relating to the condition and its treatment, drawing on published resources and databases.

They might fact check externally written articles, or any text that the charity wants to publish. Note that most text is edited in several ways – fact checking and sense-making, typos, and house-style – this might be done by the same person or different ones.

Putting together statistical information for use across the charity – snappy facts are often required when putting out a press release. Journalists writing for a local paper are naturally keen to put a local perspective on things.

What's required

I've collected several hundred job descriptions over the last three years or so and many of them are from charities.

I'm going to start putting them in some sort of order (by salary) here but in the meantime just use Google to search the database, using the site: advanced search.

For example, google for??site:scicommjobs.posterous.com diabetes??to find all jobs that mention diabetes (eg from Diabetes UK or JDRF etc).

The information in job descriptions and person specifications gives some indication of what employers expect.??

Where are jobs advertised?

Guardian Jobs / psci-com mailing list, sometimes on ABSW (Association of British Science Writers), Charity Comms (which provides all manner of comms jobs in the charity sector that include non scicomm jobs)…

But I don't have enough experience

This is a perennial problem of course and you may find that you have to do some other jobs before you can move into your dream charity scicomm job. Some suggestions??

In larger charities there will be more people doing these different roles but in smaller charities one person might take on more tasks.

Being able to explain complex information in a clear way is essential in any role and in a charity setting avoiding hype is also essential, as is being very careful not to give medical advice.

Alice Bell gives some good advice for anyone wanting to be a science communicator, in her post "Working in science communication" and one of those suggestions is to start a blog, which I'd wholeheartedly agree with. It's fun, you get to interact with a wide variety of people online, your views may well be challenged forcing you to reflect and you get the opportunity to write regularly on topics you're interested in. All of this happened too in my work at Diabetes UK and I think the discipline of having a blog and being part of the scicomm world helped me do my job better.

Who / what are the charities?

All UK charities must be registered with the??Charity Commission. Some health charities don't fund research but still provide information to patients and advocacy and there's plenty of science communication going on there. Charities that do fund medical research may be members of the??Association of Medical Research Charities, which has over 100 members – note that there are very relevant charities that aren't members of the??AMRC.

I've been collecting a list of suitable charities??here??(and some??here) but the merest google will of course find many more.

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