Planning a move into science outreach? First, build a portfolio of voluntary work, advises Caroline Tolond

Planning a move into science outreach? First, build a portfolio of voluntary work, advises Caroline Tolond


Caroline Toland is the RSC’s careers adviser

Q I have worked in my current job for eight years and one of its best aspects is the promotional side of chemistry. I recently attended a local science fair meeting and aired some of my ideas. Everyone’s feedback was so positive it has made me realise even more that this is what I want to do. Are there any organisations or people I could contact? 

A The first thing I want to say is well done for taking your interest in outreach activities a step further and getting involved in activities alongside your day job; this is a really important step if you are considering a career change into this field. Doing anything to build up your experience in a new area you want to move into is key to helping make a career transition. This process also allows you to check if your ’dream job’ is really as good as you think it will be and demonstrates to future employers that you are committed to this area. 

There are many organisations involved in the sciences that have educational or outreach positions, ranging from professional bodies such as the RSC and the Association for Science Education, to other organisations such as the Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust. Smaller organisations such as the British Science Association, StemNet - the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network - and science museums also have educational or outreach posts. 

It’s worth mapping out the wide range of organisations involved in outreach and educational activities and finding out more about them to see if they are involved in the types of projects you would be interested in.

Universities are also worth looking at as most have school liaison positions and they also recruit for outreach positions - a move driven by the widening participation agenda set by UK government a few years ago - although it is unclear at this stage what, if any, the impact of the recently announced university funding cuts will have on these activities. Some larger companies also have educational positions, but the recession has put a squeeze on these ’non-essential’ activities, so you may find it hard to locate jobs in a commercial organisation. 

Make contact 

As up to 80 per cent  of job vacancies are ’hidden’ and the competition for posts in this area can attract a lot of applications, making contacts and building up your knowledge of what is happening in the sector is important. This should come naturally for you through your voluntary activities, but you can also network in a wider community through virtual means in specialist forums such as the Big Interactive Group (who, among other things, advertise outreach type jobs), MyRSC, Facebook and Linked In.  

Finally don’t forget to rewrite your CV so that it is tailored to these types of activities. This is really important when your day job is less relevant than your voluntary experiences are. In these situations I recommend that you split your voluntary and paid work, placing the relevant voluntary experience underneath your personal details and a profile statement and your paid work after that. I don’t always recommend including profiles but in this situation you could use one to help the reader. Something like: ’experienced chemical scientist with X years experience in voluntary outreach activities looking to develop a career within the outreach sector’ would be fine. Make sure that you expand on each voluntary position in the same way as you would for a paid job, adjust sections on your paid experiences so that they are focused on the relevant skills for the application, and keep to the two page limit.  

If you are reading this article and are inspired to get involved in science outreach activities then consider getting involved as a volunteer at local events. The RSC has many activities for schools run by local sections and a ChemNet ambassador scheme. Alternatively you could become a Stem ambassador through StemNet orvolunteer to support a local science fairs. The Big Bang runs a number of regional science and engineering events for school and college students, so check out its website for more information.