(On July 16, 2009, I asked for volunteers with science degrees and non-academic jobs who would be willing to be interviewed about their careers paths, with the goal of providing young scientists with more information about career options beyond the pursuit of a tenure-track faculty job that is too often assumed as a default. This post is one of those interviews, giving the responses of Lucy Rogers, a writer in the UK.)
1) What is your non-academic job?
I have managed to combine my interest in all things space with parts of my portfolio career. For example, I am the author of the book ‘It’s ONLY Rocket Science – An Introduction in Plain English‘, which explains the basics of rocket science, from the initial idea to the completion of the mission. I am also a freelance journalist and have written for the BBC, the Guardian and more specialist publications such as Astronomy Now Magazine. I have worked as an engineer on rockets for space tourism and I give talks on space, science and engineering. Space aside, I’m also a director of a computer consultancy.
2) What is your science background?
I’m a Chartered Engineer with the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers and hold a Phd in Bubbles (Fluid Mechanics) (Lancaster University).
3) What led you to this job?
I wanted to work for myself and the opportunity arose to start the computer consultancy. I then diversified into writing etc. Previously, I had been sponsored by Rolls Royce Industrial Power Group, where I completed all of my industrial training during the University holidays and after I graduated. I also worked in a small firm making fire fighting equipment, where I completed my research for my PhD.
4) What’s your work environment like?
I mainly work from home, from my laptop.
5) What do you do in a typical day?
Usually some paperwork for the computer consultancy and keeping up with UK and other space news. Everything else varies.
6) How does your science background help you in your job?
Project management is essential in what I do, and I appreciate having learnt great techniques for this at university. When investigating a story, I try to make sure everything is covered and to look at things from different angles – the science background helps here too.
7) If a current college student wanted to get a job like yours, how
should they go about it?
Find something they are passionate about, and follow it. I made sure I had the qualifications (Chartered Engineer) before I left industry, so if it did not work, I could get back into industry more easily.
8) What’s the most important thing you learned from science?
Expect the unexpected.
9) What advice would you give to young science students trying to plan
There are no jobs for life, so make sure you are adaptable and can do different things. Write down your five and ten year goals and work towards them.
10) (Totally Optional Question) What’s the pay like?
For freelance writing: Small, specialist magazines pay about £150 per 1,000 words.
Newspapers can pay £500 per 1,000 words (Sundays generally pay more).
Computer Consultancy – Varies
Book Royalties – Varies, JK Rowling get lots, specialist text books a lot less.