How can I level up in my communications career?
March 4, 2019 4:13 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to build on my experience in communications, and pursue a more data-driven, research-oriented career that still utilizes my writing skills. Need advice on choosing a career path and whether an online master's program is worth the investment.

I’ve been freelancing for 13 years as a communications/PR writer in the higher education/nonprofit space, often focusing on science and technology. I am pretty burned out on both higher ed and any marketing-related work. (E.g., one of my more lucrative recurring gigs is writing a massive amount of web copy to overhaul a college website. I am good at this and also hate it with all my being.)

I’d like to build on my existing writing skills/portfolio and go a slightly different direction with something more sciencey and research- or data-driven. Something kind of wonky that requires really digging down into a lot of complex detail and synthesizing from it. I’d also like to become a more competitive candidate for a full-time, in-house role at a mid to senior level.

So, I’m considering a master’s degree. To expand my skill set into something more technical, gain a more competitive credential, and kind of do a “reset” on my career. Based on current circumstances, this would most likely be an online or at least low-residency master’s program but I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

So the question is — what should I study? Some potentially appealing options:

-Science writing (top choice currently, as I know I enjoy it and I have pieces for an application portfolio)
-Public policy
-Climate communication
-Strategic management/planning
-Data science/analytics

Other questions, for those with experience in any of these fields:

-Is the master’s degree worth the financial investment? What’s the job market like?
-If you found work in the field, what do you like/dislike about it?
-Is an online master’s considered a serious credential in the field? Assume it’s an online/low-residency offering from a respected brick-and-mortar institution.
-Are there related areas of study or specific career paths I should consider?

Some possibly relevant info about me: Early 30s, have a baby on the way, currently a trailing spouse to an academic in a cheap rural area, but would like to be able to move to a metropolitan area and still make a comfortable amount of money. My undergraduate degree is in English/Creative Writing; I graduated with honors from a fairly prestigious institution, but that was almost 15 years ago so I don’t know what impact it would have on my grad school application, if any.

I’m excited and motivated at the prospect of tackling something new and a little different. Just not entirely sure what it should be.
posted by the turtle's teeth to Work & Money (1 answer total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My two cents (currently in a science-y Master's program, former science writer) is to focus on building specific skills rather than just building general knowledge if you're planning on going back to school. I'd say that learning more technical data visualization and analysis skills could be really handy and in-demand right now.

There are a TON of great very cheap/free options for education in this area, so if the financial commitment of going back to school is something you don't really want to do there's options.

Again, just my opinion, but I think you would be better off focusing on something "harder" like statistics or data analysis since you already seem to have an extensive writing background. To do good science writing you're going to have to critically analyze a paper's methods section. If you think you want to do science writing you definitely don't need a special degree! Just give a shot writing some stories or doing some pitching. Developing a solid portfolio of clips will trump a degree every time for these jobs in my experience.

The Open Notebook is a fantastic resource for learning more about science writing as a career.
posted by forkisbetter at 4:41 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]

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