Career paths are not always straightforward. Choosing a scientific vocation can involve challenging and unanticipated decisions, often with no tour guide to follow. Some scientists may hop from the lab bench into industry while others progress up the academic research ladder. Others decide to leave research behind and explore science communication, teaching, setting up their own business or working in technical roles outside of the lab.
While a love of science can lead to varied and fulfilling careers, it may be lonely trying to evaluate the next step to take. Recently, initiatives such as “This is what a scientist looks like” and the #IamScience discussions, have shone a bright light on scientific career trajectories. In our latest Soapbox Science series, we focus on some interesting examples of scientific career transitions. We will hear from different contributors, all of whom use their scientific background in their current jobs, asking each of them the same questions: how did you decide on your career path, what are your motivations, and what does the future hold?
In this post Rebecca Caygill talks about her transition from the bench into public relations (PR).
Rebecca graduated with a 2:1 in Biochemistry with Medical Biochemistry and went on to complete her PhD in Bionanotechnology from the University of Leeds this year. During her PhD she worked as a research fellow for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and interned as a PR researcher at Campus PR. She recently began work at a communications and PR consultancy in London. Outside of work, Rebecca likes photography, pottering around museums and attending comedy gigs. She enjoys hosting dinner parties for friends and plays squash or badminton when she can find time!
Junior Account Executive in Science Communications and PR (College Hill Life Sciences)
What is your scientific background?
I began my career path reading Biochemistry at degree level, after which I studied for a PhD in Bionanotechnology. My PhD took four years and I researched how to develop a simple electronic test for detecting viruses in our body. I found it challenging as it used physics, chemistry and engineering as well as biology.
I took 3-months off from my PhD to work for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) as a research fellow; an experience that was to change my future career path.
What is your current job?
“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the transformation of a technical subject, inaccessible to many, to something that anyone can understand.”
I work in science communication and PR and I see myself as a go-between, working with both scientists and journalists to get the latest science news into newspapers and trade journals. The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the transformation of a technical subject, inaccessible to many, to something that anyone can understand. This sounds a lot easier than it is in practise!
On a daily basis I translate complex scientific news into something clear, concise, factually correct and interesting, usually in the form of a press release. If a journalist is interested in the story, I’ll organise interviews and send out extra information they may require for their report. Finally, I scan newspapers and websites to feedback on where the news was reported.
Can you detail the steps you have taken to get to your current position?
I started seriously thinking about my future in the second year of my PhD; I no longer wanted to be at the bench. I applied for the POST fellowship scheme and was successful! Working for POST made me realise how much I enjoyed communicating and writing science. Throughout the remainder of my PhD I kept a watchful eye for new opportunities and experiences.
In my final year, I interned at a local PR agency specialising in higher education and developed with guidance from my colleagues. Here I flourished; every day was a challenge and I knew I had found what I wanted to do! I applied for my current job whilst awaiting my PhD viva. Fortunately, I was offered the job shortly after and have recently joined the Life Sciences team at College Hill!
Where do you see your career in the future?
“Every day is a challenge – I juggle different projects, have to grasp new ideas quickly and write to a high standard.”
Currently, I don’t have any plans to return to scientific research as I like the fast pace of the job I am doing. Every day is a challenge – I juggle different projects, have to grasp new ideas quickly and write to a high standard.
I have a lot to learn as I am just starting out, but I hope to develop my writing further and form strong working relationships with other science communicators. I think my area is growing in importance, particularly as the public are increasingly keen to understand scientific discoveries.
Do you have any advice to other scientists considering a career in your area?
“It’s hard to think about “the next step” when you are doing a PhD. You are under pressure and feel you can’t take time out for extra-curricular stuff, but it is important!”
I know that I would not have got my current position without having previously demonstrated an interest in science communication and PR. It’s hard to think about “the next step” when you are doing a PhD. You are under pressure and feel you can’t take time out for extra-curricular stuff, but it is important! I think the best advice I can give to scientists is to go the extra mile by doing internships and attending events. Apply for writing competitions, training days and fellowships. You have nothing to lose!