SciComm STEP: Sparking Transitions
for Experienced Professionals
Spring 2024 SciComm STEP applications are now closed. Spring 2025 dates are set- complete our interest form if you want information on future cohorts.
The spring 2025 cohort of SciComm STEP will meet virtually on 5 consecutive Thursdays, January 16 - February 13, 2025, at 6-7:30 pm BST/1-2:30 pm ET/10-11:30 am PT.
Applications will open October 1 and application review will begin November 4. Initial selection decisions will be announced by November 8. If there are remaining slots in the program, applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until January 13, 2025 at 11:00 am ET. Full payment will be due before the program starts.
100% of participants credit STEP with:
catalyzing mindset changes
changing professional workflows
triggering thoughtful career advancement action
This is such an excellent program. It is so well done, so well thought out, so inclusive, so supportive. I wish it were longer.
All participants said they would recommend STEP.
No participants were aware of other programs that address mid-career scicomm needs the way that STEP does.
About the program
Experienced science communicators (SCs) are hitting a professional development ceiling: most trainings for SCs impart entry-level skills to early-career communicators. STEP is a virtual, intensive career coaching program centered on (a) mindset and habit-building which are (b) enhanced through an actively facilitated community of practice. STEP guides experienced SCs to use their experience on themselves to overcome career-advancement barriers.
The first, pilot run of SciComm STEP took place October - November 2022 and was fully funded by the National Association of Science Writers. The impact of this program on cohort 1 participants exceeded even our most audacious hopes and made it clear just how badly this kind of program is needed, and just how much good it can do for the science communication community.
If you are a funder: SciComm STEP is relatively inexpensive and results in big impact (impact summary available in the "STEP resources" dropdown below). Please get in touch if you'd like to chat about sponsoring a cohort or sustaining this program into the future.
Who’s STEP for? (Can I apply?!?)Intended SciComm STEP participants are beyond-beginner science communicators (SCs), broadly defined. We are targeting communication professionals recognizing that scicomm work and careers are widely varied and many communicators may not narrowly identify with a single disciplinary subdivision. Our generous definition is also shaped by the myriad versions of modern scicomm careers. It is further informed by our own awareness of career diversity. Indeed, our personal career experiences with scicomm include writing pedagogy guides and lesson plans, creating copy for websites, running social media programs, producing video scripts, creating written digital strategies and evaluations, illustration, and (more traditional) science writing, and now we work with institutional clients to train, coach, evaluate, and develop strategic plans on these and related topics. We prioritize combating systemic biases in our applicant selection process. We also employ evidence-based inclusive practices to structure course meetings and spaces. We will welcome and protect diverse participants while calling in and, if necessary, removing harmful behavior or individuals (see this doc for our program code of conduct).
What’s the problem STEP aims to address?Experienced science communicators (SCs) are hitting a professional development ceiling: most trainings for SCs impart entry-level skills to early-career communicators. A lack of dedicated professional development for experienced professionals obscures scicomm career advancement options. Mentoring and fellowships can uplift accomplished SCs, but such programs are rare, extremely competitive, and often reinforce privilege. Thus, most experienced SCs, and especially vulnerable/marginalized professionals, have less help than they deserve navigating and negotiating growth and shifts above entry-level career stages. We conceptualized SciComm STEP to actively counter these problems. STEP provides access to intensive professional development for individuals who would struggle to access it in a paid or so-called merit-based setting. STEP is a virtual, cohort-based coaching program. Participants will develop and practice a series of self-generated action plans to apply career advancement tools to meet their goals in a way that fits with their values. This framework emerged from a need articulated for years by experienced SCs: extended time, in a deliberately facilitated community, to plan for advanced career growth. STEP is a standout intervention because it makes intensive, product- and mindset-focused coaching and professional development available to a broad swath of SCs for a minimal fee.
What is STEP?Big picture SciComm STEP is a a cohort-based, virtual professional development program. STEP guides experienced science communicators (SCs) to use their experience on themselves to overcome career-advancement barriers. SciComm STEP goes beyond providing advice; we will facilitate taking the actual steps needed to help participants advance their own career goals and impacts. Synchronous Zoom workshops and an actively moderated Slack workspace develop community, encourage peer mentoring, build in accountability, and provide a framework where participants can keep track of all materials and conversations. Participants leave this six-week, cohort-based program with individualized action plans that shift their approach to professional growth. STEP builds beyond existing science communication training/resource programs, making intensive, product- and mindset-focused professional coaching available to a broad swath of SCs. Though we are seeking sponsorship for future cohorts in order to offer the program to more people for less money, the fee for the program was $487 in spring 2024 (with a 25% discount if this fee posed a hardship). If you want help asking your employer to cover the cost of the program, use this doc, and let us know if we can support you with additional information. Session specifics The program is rooted in five, 90-minute workshops. Each workshop module includes optional pre-meeting prep work, interactive synchronous work, and a next-steps-focused product that each participant crafts for themselves during weekly meetings. Participants engage in Slack discussions between workshops. Synchronous meetings focus on the following six SciComm STEPs: 1. Articulate and refine your goals: Employ evidence-based, goals-first scaffolding and a customized evaluation plan to structure your passion and prioritize your projects. 2. Frame a slam-dunk professional identity: (1) Use career experiences as affirmation; (2) wield your CV/resume as a motivational tool, not a document that asks for permission; and (3) craft a rockstar biography that succinctly and irresistibly articulates who you are and why what you do matters. 3. Hone your website to invite opportunity: Grow your career with a website that sculpts you into the person you want to be. 4. Master mid-career networking techniques: Shift your habits in order to make the most of your earned experiences. 5. Protect your time: Identify which activities build up you and your community, and plan for how to gracefully say no to those that don’t.
Who’s running STEP?Bethann Garramon Merkle, MFA (commnatural.com) is an expert in organizational change, research impacts and curriculum assessment, and scicomm training with 15+ years experience. Clients include the American Fisheries Society, Harvard Forest, UMontana, UCLA and more. She co-founded (2013) and co-led the Communication & Engagement Section of the Ecological Society of America for nearly a decade, and now directs/co-founded (2017) the UWyoming SciComm Initiative. She is also an award-winning scicommer (science journalist and editor; PIO; freelancer) with bylines including American Scientist, BC Nature, BioScience, Nature, and more. Dr. Virginia Schutte (virginiaschutte.com) is a digital engagement and strategy specialist and trainer with nearly 10 years’ experience as a scicommer. Along with freelance science writing and social media consulting, she was a community manager for Springer Nature, co-organized OceanDotComm18, a large-group, in-person scicomm residency, and now trains private and institutional scicomm clients (e.g., UVirginia, UBergen, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute). In addition, Virginia co-founded the Institutional SciComm digital community, and Bethann has designed nearly twenty 4-month-long scicomm courses, six of which ran exclusively online (2020-present). Combined, Bethann and Virginia have run hundreds of interactive, product-driven, professional growth sessions and have trained and coached nearly 3,000 SCs since 2013. So you’re a couple of white ladies running a professional development program supposedly for diverse folks? Yup. We consider it a moral imperative to share the privileges and resources we have and have collected throughout our careers. And, we intend to do that as equitably as possible. We’re happy to chat with you about the details of our previous work and/or provide references if you like - we understand the harm that can come from recruiting vulnerable folks into spaces that aren’t actually safe. Briefly, both of us have been involved with leadership/facilitation of numerous diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) initiatives. Despite our (and our collaborators’) best intentions, however, we’ve found that most efforts fall short by refusing to fully commit resources to solve problems. And yet we (and our funder, NASW) recognize that a central tenet of a truly just discipline is expanding access to SCs who don’t have the privilege that accompanies association with a well-funded organization. Our primary motivation for creating SciComm STEP as a sponsored program is to provide access and, thus, to actively support professionals who are generally excluded from “pay-to-play” spaces. When paired with inclusion-first selection and community management practices, we plan for our program to directly contribute to professional development for underserved and/or marginalized science communicators.
STEP resourcesClick here for our evaluation of STEP cohort 1. We are happy to share this full report in case it helps other folks who build programs to affect change. Click here for a tipsheet developed by members of the fall 2022 STEP cohort: "Mid-Career Mindset Shifts to advance your science communication career". Are you getting in your own way? These mindset shifts may help!