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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

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Edwin Colyer - Independent Science Copywriter

Why did you choose to do your MSc at Manchester?

I did my undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Manchester. I love the city and by the end of my final undergraduate year it was feeling like home so to be honest I didn't really look elsewhere.

My BSc involved doing a year out in on an industrial placement. I was lucky enough to get a placement working in a hospital lab in the US. For the first six months of the research project I was involved in I got absolutely no results whatsoever, it was extremely frustrating. But I discovered that I enjoyed writing up my work. So I looked for something that would bridge the gap between writing and science; history of science seemed to make a lot of sense.

How has your career progressed since completing the MSc?

“My work is very varied and I get to find out a lot about different research projects going on, especially at the European level. I also love being a business man and thinking about how to succeed and expand as a business, not just considering myself as a writer.”

As soon as I finished my MSc I decided to try my hand as a freelance science writer. My first piece - about the importance of the history of science for scientists - was published in New Scientist. I was very lucky. My wife was bringing in the regular income so I could take the risk with freelancing. Somehow I seemed to make the break and quickly built up a relationship with an editor at the Financial Times. In 2000 I got a job as a writer and editor at Datamonitor which provided me with some experience of managing projects and teams, but I went back to freelancing in 2003. Since then I have built up by portfolio of published work and more recently diversified into what I would call science copywriting, where I write leaflets, brochures and other communication materials for research projects. Further details on my work can be found on the following website:

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

It is great to have the flexibility of time. I have been able to ramp my work up or down according to different life stages - when my first child was born I did most of the childcare and not much writing. Now I'm probably working 20-30 hours per week, but I also take lots of holidays. I must say, I couldn't do this without my wife working too, though, I wouldn't have that luxury if I was on my own.

My work is very varied and I get to find out a lot about different research projects going on, especially at the European level. I also love being a business man and thinking about how to succeed and expand as a business, not just considering myself as a writer.

Do you think the skills you learnt on your Masters help you in your current role? If so, how?

Yes. Obviously writing my dissertation and essays helped a lot. I wrote many drafts of my dissertation and enjoyed not just putting information on paper but making it read well. I always try to engage my readers, make them want to read on - that's a skill I first started to develop during my MSc.

Do you have any advice for people who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Get published! It doesn't mater where - it could be the student newspaper, the departmental newsletter or writing a blog - but you need to prove you can communicate complex ideas clearly. And don't be afraid to pitch ideas at the top. I started with New Scientist. Who could ask for a better start to a science writing career?!

 

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