Leveraging My STEM PhD into a Career in Scientific Marketing and Communications
For almost the entire duration of my PhD, I knew that I wouldn’t stay in academia. As an undergraduate, I’d majored in molecular biology & biochemistry and French literature, and from early in my PhD program in immunology, I missed the creative writing that I’d found through my literature degree. I currently work in scientific marketing and communications, the perfect blend of my two interests!
“Writing Careers for Scientists”
My career trajectory began late one night, on Google. Early on during my second semester of grad school, I was curious whether there were any careers for scientists who like to write. After several searches like “writing careers for scientists” and “can scientists write for a job,” I learned that indeed, scientific writing was a valid career path! I also discovered a contest from NatureJobs (now Nature Careers), that would award some aspiring science writers the opportunity to travel to their Career Expo and report on conference sessions for their blog. I applied on a whim, and ultimately won the opportunity. I was able to use this as a stepping stone to continue building my resume by writing for other scientific journals, societies, and companies. Attending this conference was also the beginning of creating a network outside of academia. I enjoyed meeting people with PhDs who had jobs I found interesting and thinking about what aspects of their paths I could emulate.
A couple years later, I joined the team at Letters to a Pre-Scientist, a science education nonprofit, as the social media coordinator and later as the Chief Brand Officer. From this volunteer experience, I learned how to use social media platforms for science communication and how to develop a web analytics program — two skills that directly relate to my current role. This also reinforced my interest in a career in science communication, while opening my eyes to other types of communication besides writing.
My Current Role in Marketing and Communications
About 6 months after completing my PhD, I began my current role as Marketing and Communications Manager at Addgene, a life sciences nonprofit in the Boston area. I work on the Outreach and Marketing Team, where I coordinate our digital marketing efforts in scientific journals, design flyers and swag that are used at conferences and events around the world, and analyze marketing and social media campaign data to inform our processes. I also work on several cross-functional teams, which currently are the Brand Team, Data Team and Survey Team, collaborating with “Addgenies” from across the company to combine our expertise and progress new initiatives. I get to consistently learn new things from the tasks I do and from my coworkers, which is a lot of fun and another reason I am excited to be working at this unique intersection of science and communications.
While I rarely apply my immunology content knowledge in this role, I use my academic background to understand how best to communicate Addgene’s message to scientific researchers. My time in grad school also gave me the flexibility to take on experiences that I was interested in. The time I spent on science writing and Letters to a Pre-Scientist was time I would already have been spending outside of the lab. I can’t say that I ever actively thought that I was spending this time on “career exploration” — instead, I pursued my interests and realized that there was a related career path along the way.
I would encourage grad students and PhDs to think outside the box when it comes to their careers: not only outside the box of academia, but even outside the box of the common non-academic careers that are often mentioned.
Teaching, industry research and consulting are all valid career choices but there are so many other options, too. I would recommend that all grad students and PhDs get on LinkedIn. It’s a great starting place for seeing job titles, finding articles about career development and specific career paths, and connecting with people.
Finally, you should let the people in your professional and personal networks know what kinds of roles you’re interested in. I learned about my current job through a friend who saw it posted in an online forum, and only told me about it when I mentioned to him during a casual chat that I was job hunting. The more people who can keep their eyes peeled for your dream job posting, the more likely you are to land it. Identify your interests, develop your skills and spread the word, and you’ll be able to forge your own unique path outside of academia, too.
Aliyah Weinstein is an immunologist currently working in scientific marketing and communications in the non-profit sector in Boston, Massachusetts. Her PhD, in immunology, is from the University of Pittsburgh. You can connect with Aliyah on her website, on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
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