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……