Insights to a career in SciComm

Geoff McGrane, MBA and Raeka Ayar Ph.D. from the New York Stem Cell Foundation visit UConn Health to discuss careers in non-profit institutions for Biomedical Ph.D. students.

On Monday November 4th 2019 the Academic-Industry Opportunities Group (AIOG) co-founded by Robert Pijewski and Giulia Vigone Ph.D. hosted a Scientific Communications (aka SciComm) seminar for UConn Biomedical Sciences students. Representatives from the New York Stem Cell Foundation came to give interactive presentations on their career trajectory in SciComm. 

The talk started with some good advice “Why limit yourself to contributing to science in only 1 way.” There are many ways trained scientists can help science progress. With regards to scientific communication, sharing your findings out in the world is part of the package deal. 

Scientific communication takes several forms, from writing manuscripts to presenting in front of various audiences, and finally, writing proposals for science funding. Scientific communication acts as a bridge between the scientific and medical community to the lay audiences which contribute to the funding of research as well as policies that help promote change. 

Scientific communication uses creative measures to inspire collaborations and solve problems. 

Goals of SciComm: Filling the gaps in knowledge and understanding of scientific topics that may exist between scientists within a field as well as between fields. Sci Comm also highlights important works in an easily digestible manner which is important for obtaining funding for disease research or advocating for science policy’s such as drug prescription rates. 

Non-scientists may mischaracterize information which can lead to public mistrust as well as affect funding for scientific research. Scientists are essential to this dialog between audiences. By writing short articles for different venues such as LinkedIn, the conversation.com, and other websites allows experts to share their knowledge on various topics as well as to correct potential inaccurate portrayals of information that may be miscommunicated by untrained individuals. 

One of the goals of SciComm is to be accurate and provide understanding in a clear and concise way without using scientific jargon or data heavy analysis. 

Scientific communication also has an advocacy component which helps increase the visibility of scientific societies such as not for profit institutions, as well as to increase the awareness of various types of research (i.e. rare diseases or breakthroughs in drug treatments). Scientific funding relies on effective communication. Often ideas can be lost to the wind because they were not described in a meaningful or effective manner. You could have the greatest idea in the world but if you cannot describe it and pull it from an abstract entity than your greatest thing since sliced bread will remain a thought in your head. 

As a PhD or graduate student

Your experience preparing manuscripts, editing, and reviewing papers is excellent training for a career in SciComm. In addition, you’ve essentially been communicating scientific findings within your laboratory, institution, and greater scientific community for majority of your scientific career.

Some ways to improve your current skills in SciComm

-3-minute thesis 

-Elevator pitch competition

-Data Blitzes

-Writing centers/publicity for your academic institution 

-Find a society you feel passionate about and volunteer as an advocate

Ways to showcase SciComm

-newsletters (online or print)

-social media (LinkedIn, the Conversation.com etc.).

-press releases

-personal or professional blogs (example websites).

-websites

Social media can be a bigger asset to your career than you think. For one, social media can help you build a broad audience of viewership. Social media is an outstanding platform for networking or learning about new fields which may lead to collaboration and potential career opportunities. 

Social media also allows members to promote their achievements, policy activities, and journals. It is a go-to source of material for individuals as well as societies for providing useful information. Like most apps, social media sites are trigger-points for accessing hot topics and keeping up to date with various fields with a tap of your finger. 

If you are interested…

Reach out to your public relations officers for your society, or an online newsletter, get active on social media, or start your own blog. First most, choosing one of these mechanisms will enable you to find your voice and identify topics that interest you the most. Second, build your network by attending conferences, joining online communities, or local events. Third, talk to people in the field and conduct “informational interviews.”

Find a career mentor that is not directly connected to your day-job. Everyone loves to talk about their journey. Some people even like to give advice on what to or what not to do. Use them as a soundboard to talk through your career checkpoints and to support you on your journey. 

If you don’t know what you want to do, then try making a list of things you like in your day job and what you don’t like in your day job. With this list start reading job descriptions to identify positions that may fit your needs, your expertise, but more importantly, the kind of job environment you will thrive the most in. Some of us prefer to collaborate and function among a large network whereas other people like to go to work and put their head down and get the pipetting done. Choose introspection and identify what works best for you. 

Take career development courses, there are free ones online and sometimes (New England .. writers…) societies will have them for cheaper for members. 

Take aways from the seminar:

-No 2 people in science have the same journey. 

-The advice your boss gives you about YOUR career may only pertain to the four walls of your laboratory

-Seek additional advice from people who have trod down new and different paths

-Even if a job interview doesn’t pan out for you, keep your communication line open and don’t burn bridges. You never know if your objectives will align one day and you will need each other as a contact. 

-Know when it is time to move on and accept change 

-leaving the lab is not a failure it’s just a different path to progressing science. 

-Be brave, be you. 

-Know your talents, you have more to offer than just standing at the bench. 

Published by Britt Knight

I am a postdoctoral fellow at UConn. I am studying novel therapeutic drug formulations for the management of oral facial pain. Long term, I am interested in how these potential therapeutics can be applied in the biotech industry for the treatment of chronic pain conditions such as musculoskeletal pain. My hobbies include listening to movie soundtracks, watching nature documentaries, and cooking.

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