Posts Tagged ‘freelance’

Why do I work like this?

In May 2016 on May 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm


Sarah: Last week I ran a marathon and juggled burning batons.

Not literally in my running shoes plus fuel and matches of course, but it felt just as massive.

I had taken on a huge writing job for a new client, and it coincided with the second week of school holidays during which I had previously scheduled multiple allied health appointments for me and my kids.

Looking back, I’m amazed it actually got done. With early wake-ups and late nights and very high levels of screens and ignoring healthy cooking and being cranky with my children and pet, somehow it happened. A typical day looked like this:

5.30am –> awake and sitting at computer

7.30am –> love and breakfast for kids

8am –> load of washing on, then walk dog

8.30am –> more work for me, kids play and fight and play

10am –> hang out washing, dash to dentist

12pm –> buy and eat sushi for lunch, play at the park on the way home

1pm –> more work for me, kids on screens

3pm –> yell at kids to get off screens and do something active, they walk dog

4pm –> hair appointments

5pm –> more work for me, kids on screens with intermittent yelling

6pm –> take kids and dog to the local oval for a run and kick of the ball

7pm –> OMG what is for dinner?

8pm –> more work (husband cleans kitchen, plays with kids, gets them into bed)

10pm –> yes, still working

11pm –> suppose I’d better sleep

Why do I do this to myself? Why not just say no to the client, or delay the work, or opt for a simpler life with more sleep and lower income?

I love being busy and am at my most efficient and effective when I have a lot on. But every now and again I wonder if this is not the best way to operate. Things would be a lot simpler if I got a fixed job, walked away from the house to a set office, used more Out of Hours School Care and babysitters, ate takeaway and threw the clothes in the drier every day.

But then yesterday — as I took a deep breath and hid in the laundry and actually found pairs of matching clean socks — I listened to Radio National’s Life Matters program. In this episode, guests of host Cassie McCullagh were Professor Ross Anderson and Associate Professor Susan Bartlett of McGill University in Montreal. Speaking on the risks of heart disease and joint problems, Professor Anderson said:

Individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time, without interruption, are at greater risk.

A lot of Australians commute to work passively, in a car.

Most of us sit behind a desk or at a computer for the entire morning, and in many cases we don’t get up to take a break.

We sit at the cafeteria eating lunch passively, and then we go back to work and back home in our cars.

This is not the way I work. I suppose that’s good.

I also wonder if I would be as efficient if I knew I had endless hours in each day to dedicate to my writing tasks. Even today, when deadlines are less pressing, I can feel myself drifting off, thinking too much, checking out clothing online, seeing what everyone’s up to on Facebook.

Snatched windows of time in-between physical tasks forces me to focus and deliver. And it helps me lose my inner smart-arse.

Now excuse me, the dog needs a run. And so do I.

PS. I’ve written previously about the need to sit less in several posts: Sitting and standing, Making a stand, and The walking meeting

[image thanks to Ky:]


Where could science take you?

In March 2016 on March 30, 2016 at 9:11 pm


Sarah: Research science can be the perfect platform from which to launch a new career. Perhaps you’re interested in marketing, intellectual property, teaching, business management or pharmaceutical sales? After graduating with a biomedical PhD in 2000, now I am a freelance science writer.

Here are my top 6 tips for transitioning from research into another career:

  1. Know yourself. Keep your options broad. Be open to change.
  2. Before you make a move, get extra training if possible.
  3. Offer yourself up for volunteer roles – you’ll learn new skills you didn’t know you didn’t have. And you might love them.
  4. Don’t expect a new career to take off overnight. Aim for a slow transition.
  5. Find great mentors, and work collaboratively and humbly with them.
  6. Be bold enough to design and transition to a career that fits with other responsibilities and loves – whether these are family, an existing job, or a passion such as marathon running or speaking French.

It’s hard to see how each of these points is relevant without a case study. So here’s little more detail of my career history:

I was always the kind of person who was interested in lots of…well…stuff. As a kid and teenager, I read many kinds of books. I played lots of sport. I listened to the radio and loved documentaries. After school finished, I signed up to study Medicine.

But it didn’t work out. Fundamentally, I was unhappy (looking back, I think it was lack of emotional maturity). After switching to a Bachelor of Medical Science, I was lucky enough to conduct an Honours year and subsequently my PhD under the supervision of Sarah Robertson (now Director at the Robinson Research Institute). Sarah R was – and still is – an adept communicator, both in the written and oral forms. She taught me that to cut it as a researcher in reproductive immunology I needed to be able to explain reproduction to immunologists, and conversely to share immunology with reproductive scientists and obstetricians/gynaecologists. This awareness of audience needs was an excellent start to a career in science communication.

Sarah also advised me to join the ASMR, and I subsequently became active with the South Australian branch – including as media officer, my first foray into the world of press releases, briefs and talking to journalists. It was a pleasure working with ASMR stalwarts Moira Clay and Peter O’Loughlin during the mid-late 1990s. And Cath West was a great support from head office.

I became so interested in talking about science to a general audience, that I signed up to study a Graduate Diploma in Sciences Communication (Central Queensland University). Of course this was a crazy move, given that I was mid-PhD. But once started, it was easy to defer it many times and I finally completed the diploma over 10 years later. This gave me an important theoretical foundation in media and communications. And it showed people that mattered I was investing in my communications career – this fact alone was enough for a well-known media identity (Keith Conlon) to give me a brief spot on his local TV show.

Post PhD, I stuck with research for about 4 more years, working in Australia and Indonesia. A post-doc with American military scientists in Jakarta was an eye-opener to say the least. Here, I developed better skills fending for myself, and was fortunate to work with a fantastic epidemiologist in Dr Kevin Baird.

But that communication bug kept biting, and so I left the academic sector and started working for an Adelaide science and futures consultancy Bridge8. In this company, business owner Kristin Alford focused on digital and novel strategies to tackle big problems related to science and technology. She encouraged me to take up social media and to embrace new challenges I never would have dared confront previously. With my two and then three young children to work around, she was also highly supportive of my need to work odd hours and from home on many occasions. If you provide new parents with flexibility and options, it’s my experience that they will work hard for you.

It became clear that the thing that made me happiest was writing. So I used a blogging project (ScienceforLife365) to announce to the world that I was a freelance science writer. This blog (now in its 5th year) was crucial in refining my writing skills, reaching new audiences, understanding social media better, and formed a great marketing tool as well. I undertook further training in writing, marketing and social media through SA Writers Centre, the Walkley Foundation and Australian Science Communicators. Now I work with a range of clients in academia, publishing, government, social media and digital news services. Many find me through word of mouth; others I meet through networking and introductions from existing clients.

And the crazy thing is, I’m actually a little bit tempted to look into Medicine again. I guess I just like to keep things fresh.

Have you worked out what stuff keeps you motivated? It just might lead you to a new career.

This post was first published in the March 2016 newsletter of the Australian Society for Medical Research

[Image thanks to Chase Elliot Clark, Creative Commons license]


The day unpaid writing and networking happily collided

In March 2015 on March 31, 2015 at 1:47 pm

severed image copy

Sarah: Should I write for free? It’s one of the toughest questions faced by writers and other content creators. Yes, you want to see your name in a byline. Yes, you need more experience to add to your portfolio. Yes, you want to show a business that you’d like to build a relationship with it.

But when should you say ‘sure thing!’ versus ‘thanks, but no’ to unpaid writing opportunities? I’ve heard many authors comment on the pros and cons of producing content for free. As I’ve written previously, Adelaide-based author Patrick Allington said,

“If you’re considering taking on unpaid work, you need to work out whether and how you’re going to make it work for you.”

On her website, freelance writer Allison Tait said,

“There are many people who will tell you that you should never write for free. There are others who will tell you that it is essential that you write for free to build a portfolio. I say… maybe. I say put a value on your words and decide where you think you will get a return on your investment. I say think about how you will transition from writing for free (should you decide to do this) to getting paid for your writing. I say choose very, very wisely where you put your words.”

Many scientists undertake communication activities for free, driven by passion and a desire to spread the word about how wonderful and diverse and useful science can be.

When I was a brand new freelance writer, I did some unpaid writing – mostly on this blog. In fact, having a daily commitment to write was one of the reasons for starting the project. Now I’m happy to report that the majority of my writing does provide an income.

However I still do write some words for free. Included amongst these are book reviews and interviews for the website Science Book a Day. An initiative of George Aranda, I support it because I believe it’s a great and unique idea and I enjoy reading books with a critical eye – hopefully it will improve my writing as well.

Recently I experienced another benefit of this commitment. Drinking champagne at the inaugural Women in Media event in Adelaide, I was introduced to a senior writer and books editor at The Advertiser (South Australia’s primary printed newspaper). I told her of a wonderful science/history book I had just reviewed for Science Book a Day – Severed: A history of heads lost and found. She said it sounded wonderful. She said would I like to submit a shorter review of the same book for The Advertiser? She said she would pay me.

It’s a positive outcome that arose from a happy collision between networking and an unpaid writing gig that I did for love.

Peer review

In August 2014 on August 3, 2014 at 1:14 pm


Sarah: A few days ago, guest-poster Cameron Webb issued me a challenge

Well I can’t just ignore that, can I? So here are my favourite haunts.

About 400m up the road from my house is a teeny-tiny converted cottage called Espresso Royale. The coffee here is literally delicious. With tables set up in the main room, a secondary sitting-room-styled area and a gorgeous wee kitchen garden back yard, it’s also a casual and flexible venue for both work and family visits. Sometimes I set myself up with headphones, a laptop and a flat white, and type away for an hour or so. Other days I arrange to meet interviewees here – Anthony and his staff always seems happy to accommodate. Lunch options are healthy and yummy, including turkish bread with pumpkin hommous. Also spotted here: PhD/dietician Jane Bowen, wine writer Nick Ryan.

If I’m looking for a bit more hustle and bustle, 1km down the road is Argo on the Parade. Coffee, fresh juices and yummy snacks a go-go. This place is the beating heart of Norwood, and run by the-man-with-the-community-know-how Daniel Milky. In mid-winter, and rugged up to the nines, an outside table is my usual haunt. People I know stream past and stop for a quick chat. Its great way to change up the solo existence I usually maintain as a home office-based freelancer. Also spotted here: journalism guru Katrina McLachlin, Leah Vandenburg from Playschool (well, during the festival anyhow).

As an ex-student of University of Adelaide, Rundle Street in the city is special to me. I used to wander up from the Medical School in lunchtimes and breaks between experiments, and spend money I didn’t have.  Right in this vicinity is Felici Espresso Bar. It’s the place I now meet friends and work colleagues in Kristin Alford and Heather Bray on a ‘need-to-stay-sane’ basis. We sit in the glass-enclosed front corner and chew the fat over matters ‘important and trivial’ (to steal another’s words). I couldn’t tell you about the food, but the coffees are top notch. Also spotted here: science communicator Adam Barclay, community engagement expert and science chameleon Noriko Wynn.

Also Cameron, your fallback position across Adelaide is Cibo.

[image thanks to Mike Poresky on flickr]



Day 337. Household shuffle

In July 2013 on July 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm


It’s a bit of a stretch to say that this post is about science, but it relates to my capacity to work effectively so I’m going to proceed.

(It’s also based on rather of a first world problem, so please forgive me if it irks you on that level.)

We’ve been rearranging the house over the past couple of weeks.

When we renovated nearly 4 years ago, we decided to create two bedrooms for children and one general ‘playroom’ which could house toys, games, puzzles, various shared electronic paraphernalia and drawing and painting supplies. You know, all the stuff that the modern Western child seems to accumulate faster than you can say consumerism. This room is attached to the main living space by two sliding doors.

A spare room in the older front part of the house was transformed into a slap-dash home office to be shared by my husband and myself.

This layout had not been working too well recently for a number of reasons.

Firstly, my oldest child – a boy aged 10 – was well and truly over sharing a bedroom with his three-year-old brother. Their wide age gap and shared tendency to be highly competitive and emotional about most aspects of life was wearing us and them down. Differing times of retiring to bed also got a little complicated. In addition, that their sister had her own room seemed a little unfair.

Secondly, all five members of our family seemed to be spending most daylight hours together in the main living area: the kitchen, the TV area and the play room. This may sound most cosy and loving and wonderful. But it was doing my head in. There was no escape. There was no rest. Nobody ever seemed to leave and find their own space. And the toys. The toys were everywhere.

Thirdly, we hired a piano to support our daughter’s recent love affair with this instrument. Unfortunately, we had no place to put it. She needed a larger room; the only one big enough was the home office.

I had to make a change. Finally, over this past weekend, I’ve completed it.

Three kids, a bedroom each. Big boy, stays where he is. Little boy, into the smallest room. Middle daughter into large ex-home office, with piano. Toys distributed into bedrooms.

Playroom converted to new home office.

And it’s worked.

Kids actually go to their rooms to play! Toys generally stay out of the living area. Kids can go to bed at age-relevant times, and read with the light on without disturbing others. My new home office is handy to the living area, and I am able to use the built-in cabinetry to file work and personal matters rather than endless photo albums and drawings of fluffy bunnies.

Yes, I sound selfish. But when you work from home in a relatively large family, you have to make it bearable. Otherwise it can do your head in.

[image thanks to janetmck on flickr]

Day 319. Let’s workshop it

In June 2013 on June 27, 2013 at 10:55 pm


So you want to be a writer. Is there a course for that?


Sometimes I feel like I’ve been doing ‘courses’ towards becoming a writer for the past 23 years. Everything I’ve done – professional, amateur, paid, unpaid, deliberate, accidental – has somehow contributed to my current motivations.

Adding to all that, today I attended my first workshop at an association of writers, the SA Writers Centre.

Talking to the topic “How to give up your day job”, Patrick Allington held the floor and encouraged the audience to join in.

Patrick touched on several aspects of writing that struck a chord with me.

On managing several different types of work (along with the demands of a young family), he said:

“I think of myself as a juggler; I throw balls away as I finish things, and I pick up new ones”.

Patrick also talked about the necessity to juggle different types of literary employment – balls of different sizes and weights, if you will. Tasks such as reading, writing, editing and critiquing all require different skills. As a result, most writers need to be meticulous about the way they allocate time and energy to each job.

‘The deadline’ was raised as another important issue. Whereas most jobs involve a worker sticking to mutiple deadlines for a single boss, freelance writing requires that multiple deadlines to multiple bosses are managed. This is tough. Each boss does not care about the other bosses. Each boss must be kept happy. Work must be handed in to deadline, otherwise future assignments from that source will dry up.

Making decisions about when to take on unpaid writing assignments was also a hot topic. It’s of particular relevance to science writers, as evidenced by a recent chain of discussion on the Australian Science Communicators email list about if and when it’s reasonable to ask writers to generate content ‘for the experience’.

Patrick proposed that even experienced and well-regarded writers do still take on unpaid work from time to time. He suggested the key is:

“If you’re considering taking on unpaid work, you need to work out whether and how you’re going to make it work for you”.

There is no doubt that taking on unpaid work will improve your experience and create content for your CV. The problem is – as I discussed with Liam Mannix recently – an individual’s capacity to take on unpaid work is directly related to the income they earn through others means and/or the ability of other family members to support them.

I do a reasonable amount of unpaid work, but I’m lucky to have a husband who earns well enough to allow me to do so. This is not the case for everyone.

[image thanks to PalFest on flickr]

Day 13. Home office

In August 2012 on August 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Working as a freelance writer from a home office has many benefits. My time is run the way I want it, I can squeeze in work around children’s commitments and obviously it’s cheaper than leasing corporate space.

The one big downside is the difficulty in being able to physically remove myself from the household chores.

A dash to the bathroom? Piles of laundry looks at me as if to say,


Each trip to the kitchen I hear a whisper in my ear,


So here are my top 10 tips for surviving the home office experience as a working parent:

  1. Breakfast cleanup: do it on the spot, before the school run. Even if it means getting up 20 minutes earlier. Nothing better than coming home to an empty house and a clean kitchen.
  2. Make a rough meal plan when you do your weekly big shop. Ascribe a meal to each day Monday-Friday, write it down and stick it on the fridge. It will help you remember what you planned, and help the kids feel more comfortable with what’s coming up. (‘Oh you don’t want lasagne? Sorry, it’s in black and white. Talk to the list’).
  3. Washing: rather than let it pile up to tackle on the weekend, do at least 1 load per day and make the hanging out a break from the computer.
  4. Morning showers are optional. Who’s gonna care what you’re wearing, and whether you have perfect hair? Make a shower a work break, and tie it in with your exercise routine.
  5. Speaking of an exercise routine: prioritise it! Keeps you sane, and gets blood pumping.
  6. If in the morning the house looks like a bomb has hit it, DON’T TIDY WHEN NOBODY IS HOME. You’ll waste precious alone time, then the kids will get home and trash it all again anyway. Let them get home and eat, play, wreak havoc. Then make them help you tidy up before dinner – with dessert as a reward.
  8. Say yes to coffee mornings at school and other activities which involve people you like and with similar needs and interests. You need social stimulation.
  9. Make Saturdays and Sundays different from your weekdays. Groundhog Day after Groundhog day will slowly do your head in.
  10. Make your home office a pleasant room, somewhere you want to go and hang out. Nice lights and flowers can do wonders.

Number 1o is my priority in the next school holidays. Ikea here I come.