Communicating science for a living
By Sophia Donaldson, on 28 May 2015
Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe is one of the founders of STEM Women, a site devoted to addressing gender inequality in Science. She has a PhD in Molecular Parasitology from Glasgow University, and is now a Science Communication Manager at CRUK, putting together scientific content to help fundraisers appeal to donors.
Last week Buddhini spoke to us about her work on STEM women. Here she tells us about her career path and current role at CRUK.
How did you move into Science Communication?
After my PhD, I had the opportunity to take up a post-doc position in Hawaii, which was amazing. But as I got towards the end of my contract and started looking for jobs, I realised just how many talented and well-qualified people are struggling; there didn’t seem to be any permanence, and getting a job had stopped being about merit, and seemed more about luck. At the same time, I started to do some outreach work, to bolster my CV and broaden my awareness of what was out there. The more outreach I did, the more I liked it, and I started to realise that people actually got paid to do science outreach work, so maybe I could do it as more than just a hobby. Alongside my academic applications, I applied to a science outreach role at CRUK, which I saw advertised in The Guardian. Unfortunately I wasn’t given that job, but I did get the next one I applied for, my present role as Science Communications Manager. The role was part-time and fixed term at first, but it’s now become a full-time permanent position.
What does a normal day look like to you?
Lots of meetings and lots of writing. I meet with fundraisers to find out who, either individuals or companies, they’re pitching to, and what they need from our team. I’ll then search our research database for something that fits the bill, and write about it in language that will appeal to the potential donor. I also write updates on our progress for existing donors.
What are the best bits?
I’ve been able to stay within science. I get to see people and talk to people, which wasn’t always the case in research. When I first started in this role, it was part-time maternity cover, and yet oddly, given the current employment situation in research, it still felt more secure than when I was on post-doctoral contracts. And I’ve now been made full-time permanent staff, which feels quite nice!
What are the downsides/challenges?
Office jobs are a lot more stationary than laboratory research, and that’s something I’ve had to adjust to.
What’s the progression like?
There are more senior roles that people can move into within the team, and many people will move into communications roles in other organisations, or move around within CRUK, which seems to be positively encouraged.
What are your top tips for getting into a science communication role?
Don’t wait for anything, just write. That’s what I did, with my Jargon Wall blog, my series of Scientific American guest blogs , and the blog that I co-founded addressing the issues women in STEM can face. There are so many avenues for self-publishing, so set up a blog and get your voice heard.