And now for something completely different

Remember that first day at a new school? That was me this week. Photo by r.nial.bradshaw, CC.

Remember that first day at a new school? That was me this week. Photo by r.nial.bradshaw, CC.

After I finished my 5-year Bachelor’s degree in Biology last year, I had a revelation:

I didn’t want to do science. I wanted to tell people about it.

Thus began my science communication journey. Where are the jobs? Are there jobs? What kind of education do you need? Do I really need to go back to school? Are you sure, because I just finished school, and I don’t want to go back!

I decided that I did need to go back to school. If I wanted to work in communications I needed some hard lessons on how to write things that people will read. Goodness knows I didn’t learn that in Biology! Journalism was suggested over and over as a great way to get those skills. So, with no further ado, I signed up for a 2-year journalism program at a local college.

I’ve been told that college is VERY different from university. However, biology is also VERY different from journalism, so I have too many variables to make a true comparison.

Darn, I’m still doing science, aren’t I? I thought it would be fun to look at some of the similarities and differences so far between my biology and journalism education. Here goes:

1. Specialist vs. Generalist

In biology I was trained to be a specialist. My first year courses had titles like ‘Organismal Biology’ and ‘Plant Science’, but by third year I was taking ‘Taxonomy of Ontario Plants’ and ‘Animal Behaviour’. I was in the honours stream, which meant I was being groomed for grad studies. I did a research project and became an expert on orange testicles in fruit fly sex. As you can imagine, there are not a lot of jobs that require this kind of expertise. Biology did teach me great research skills, and a sense of curiosity about how the world around me works. However, the idea in academia is to be a specialist, and to know a lot about a little.

In journalism, we’re trained to be generalists. It’s fine to have favorite topics, but we have to be prepared to cover anything and everything. That could mean local news, sports, politics, economics or celebrity gossip. Being trained as a generalist was a new idea to me, but I like the challenge. Forcing myself to read the sports page will be difficult, but it can’t be much more difficult than Organic Chemistry, right?

2. Photos!

This year I have a photojournalism class, and I’m a little nervous about it. We’ll learn how to use all the manual settings on an SLR digital camera. We’ll also learn how to convince people to let us take their picture, which I imagine is more difficult than the technical side of things.

Buying an expensive camera was a stressful experience. Looking at the owner’s manual is overwhelming. New technology often has this effect on me, but as a journalist I’ll have to learn to keep up with changing technology. I might as well start now.

Then I remembered that I had used strange, expensive tools to take photos in biology too! My first-year lab coordinators were really keen on us taking photos of what we were seeing under the microscope. They taught us all about focus and exposure. Of course, photographing fly testicles also taught me about white balance and finding the true colour of something. The difference is that I didn’t have to buy these microscopes, or carry them around with me!

I’m sure I’ll make many more comparisons as the school year progresses. I am very excited to be learning something completely different. However, due to a heavy workload I’ll reduce my posts here to once every two weeks. Wish me luck!

About Amelia

I am a recent biology graduate and current journalism student exploring career opportunities in science communications.

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September 2014


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