Career Inspiration: Science Communications

A guest post from Dr Lauren Tedaldi, Research Communications Officer at the BHF.

Tell us a bit about your academic career

My PhD was in Synthetic Organic Chemistry at UCL. I’d worked for Novartis for a year as part of my undergraduate degree from the University of Surrey and I loved it. I’d always thought I’d go back into industry as I liked the structure of the working environment more than the sometimes haphazard life in academia, and I wanted to get a PhD to help my career prospects.

After my PhD, I looked for a PostDoc as I didn’t feel ready to start my ‘lifetime’ career and wanted to fill a few gaps in my CV. Four years as a PostDoc taught me lots of new things like management, administration and budgeting, alongside new scientific techniques. I soon realised that I enjoyed all of the ‘extra’ skills I’d learned, and I particularly liked the process of learning and explaining new science, rather than staying in one narrow field, so I started looking into jobs that I could do outside the lab.

What did you do to find some career inspiration?

Over the following year, I went to lots of different courses and conferences and I took on some new responsibilities and challenges. I was already busy but I just had to make time to get extra experience. In the end, it was worth it. Your PhD and PostDoc will give you transferable skills, but you do need to show that you can transfer them, because not everyone can. I applied for around 30 jobs in science communication and around 30 jobs in the lab in that year. I actually was interviewed for two posts and received one lab job offer (that I turned down).

My first post in science communication out of academia paid me less than my PhD stipend. It was really tough having to prove myself all over again but pretty soon, I realised that I could do this work. I also realised that I needed to move elsewhere and get a decent wage.

What do you do in your present role?

I’m now the Research Communications Officer at the British Heart Foundation (BHF). My job is to take BHF-funded research and share it far and wide. This can mean making sure that all departments in the charity know what cutting-edge research we’re doing or getting an article on the BBC. The role primarily requires me to understand complex research quickly, be able to translate it into something that we can use to promote the charity, and ultimately increase the likelihood of people giving us a donation. My previous charity job often required writing longer public guides around science, but I was attracted to this role because I felt that it better exploited my background in research. When I’m trying to get researchers to do something for the BHF, I hope I have a good insight into the demands on their time, that a quick chase email is usually necessary because of their busy schedules (which often aren’t spent at their desks) and I’m not surprised when I get in on a Monday to emails sent at 11 pm the night before.

What I do isn’t just about writing a lay summary. I need to make research relevant to people, attractive to journalists and worthwhile to potential funders. It’s a really varied job, but with research always at it’s core.

What might you do in a typical day?

My typical day consists of turning upcoming papers into stories for the press to highlight our research, supporting our fundraising team to make sure that they know what great work to shout about and setting up lab visits for staff and volunteers (and the odd celebrity). It’s really important that everybody here can see why we need donations. Sometimes I get to match up someone who suffers from a type of heart disease with a lab researching their condition, and that’s really fulfilling.

What are the differences between your current role and your post-doc?

One big difference is the turnaround time on everything I do is now hours and days, maybe weeks, but very rarely months. You need to be able to juggle many different activities, keeping everyone in the loop about what’s happening. Sometimes there are meetings just to decide on the next meeting. It can be frustrating but teamwork is much more a focus here than it was in academia. In the lab, teamwork meant everyone doing their bit and then passing it on. Now, teamwork means the whole team working on reports, design, and a press angle. Lab research is like a four man relay race, passing the baton from runner to runner. Communications is like tying four people together and hoping that they cross the line in one piece.

The biggest, and hardest, difference for me has been sitting down all day. The lab is a very physical place to work and I miss being on my feet but I don’t actually miss the lab. I’m also very junior. I still don’t earn anywhere near what I did as a PostDoc but it’s a chance to learn, to make mistakes and get better. I’m very glad I decided to make the leap.

 

Like this?  Come to our Career Spotlight about science communications……

Career Inspiration: Project Management after a post-doc

A guest post from Dr Catie Rousset, now an Associate Consultant at Prescient Healthcare Group.

What were you doing here at King’s, and why did you decide to move out of academia?

I was doing research on perinatal brain injury, investigating mechanisms of injury which could be targets for potential treatments. I decided to leave academia for various reasons. I became disappointed in the system, realizing that you cannot go forward by yourself without good support despite your greatest efforts, integrity and qualities as a researcher. It led me to wonder whether I was interested in becoming a PI myself with the huge pressure of quick publications in high impact factor journals, the need for funding (good funding) and the competition between post-docs to get a position. Finally, I grew tired of being in the lab repeating the same experiments: I felt that, at the end of the day, it is always the same things you are doing, just the name of the target that changes.

How did you decide what to do next?

After I took the decision to leave academia, the big question was what next? I started to talk to a lot of people that had a PhD but left academia to know their background, challenges, what are they doing now. I was trying to figure out what was interesting to me. I didn’t want to find a new job for the sake of it, I wanted to find something I liked doing. Project management came up naturally as this is what I have been doing ever since starting research in another context.  After coming to London, I had the great opportunity to be part of a huge project: setting up a group which I took care of with my PI. I loved that part of the job and I am great at it: I am a great organizer, manager and admin doesn’t scare me.

How did you find your current role?

Finding my current position was not easy.  The first step for me was to prepare an adequate CV leaving behind academia and tailoring it to the standards of a ‘normal’ job. Finding the right jobs to apply to was not easy either; from my point of view, there’s no need to send CVs to companies for the sake of it. You are losing your time, you are losing their time. I started to update my LinkedIn profile, network, and let the right people know I was looking for a new position. I applied for a lot of positions in academia, all unsuccessful despite a couple of interviews. One day a friend told me they were recruiting in her company. That’s a private industry and I was quite prejudiced against it, but after discussing with friends who worked in the private sector I decided to give it a go. After a couple of interviews, I got the job. It all went very quickly: 6 weeks later I started here, my PI agreeing to reduce my notice.

What work do you now do, and how is it different from your post-doc?

This is a pharmaceutical consulting company. We basically do research for companies, researching information that we analyse and compile into documents and send or present to the clients. It is very diverse. I am losing the expertise I had in my domain but immensely broadening my scientific, medical and pharmacological knowledge as I am working on a huge range of projects. It is fast paced, you meet a lot of people, there is always something happening and I am learning a lot of things which I find deeply stimulating. I kept the research, analysis and presentation part from my job as a scientist which I love, although there are different standards. There is still pressure but good pressure. I find the environment much healthier too; since we are a client oriented company, there is no point in having ‘politics’ between us, not to the extent I have seen in academia at least, there is a real cohesion and group effort. We are all in the same boat.

Overall from the moment I decided to leave academia, it took me 18 months to find a new job.

What would your top tips be, to anyone looking to leave academia?

Finally my top tips would be to network, tailor your CV for the job, pinpointing the right experience, look for extra things you can do on the side to improve further your CV and be brave and confident in contacting the companies.  Be patient.

 

Do you know any research staff who have moved out of academia?

The Vitae ‘What do research staff do next?’ project explores what research staff (postdoctoral researchers, research fellows, etc.) do after they leave university and how they make this transition.

This European project explores the career transitions of former research staff who have moved into other occupations. It will reveal the tipping points in their careers, understand their decision-making processes and explore their experiences and reflections of their career paths. The survey results will provide an invaluable insight into potential employment opportunities for researchers who are considering moving out of higher education. Continue reading