HOW MY LOVE STORY WITH SCICOMM STARTED
I often get asked how I started science communication and some other questions, so I thought I would write it in an article to celebrate my 10 years in scicomm (edited for the 11th year)!
I did my PhD in neurogenetics, I defended it in 2009 and that time science communication wasn’t as big and common as it is now. I didn’t do any until my 2nd postdoc in UCL, London in 2013.
I did a first postdoc that wasn’t very successful, I was hesitating to leave research because after 2.5 years I didn't get any papers and wouldn’t get any. So I thought my career in research would not happen… But I got offered the postdoc of my dreams in gene therapy against epilepsy at UCL. So I went for a second postdoc hoping to have a career in research.
One month after starting, the 14th of february 2013 (yes, on Valentine's day!)
I received an email from scientists starting a science festival and looking for volunteers to build it, I immediately called them to join; and I was in!….This is how I started working on Pint of Science!
I started Pint of Science as UCL coordinator, I was managing a little team of event organizers for 3 different teams, I was involved in meetings in the core team to build the festival.
Working on it was amazing, the first edition was a success and after that I wanted to bring it to France so I convinced the founders Praveen Paul and Michael Motskin to go internationally; To be honest from the start I had the feeling that Pint of Science could really change things in lots of countries and have an impact o the public and researchers around the world.
So, in June 2013, just after the first edition, I started Pint of Science France to have the festival running in May 2014. At that time I was still a postdoc and it was both amazing and incredibly hard. Hard because I had to work on Pint of Science a lot of nights and I was going to the lab during the day and also because since pint of science didn’t happen in France yet people were very skeptical at first. A lot of people told me that it wouldn’t work in France etc etc. I didn’t listen because in my heart I was convinced it would be good and I also had an amazing team of friends and friends of friends with me creating the first ever Pint of Science in France… and it worked!
Every year the festival got bigger, in France and in the world. I was helping as I could new countries starting it, while still directing the French one…and being a postdoc. One day we talked with the founders and we realised that if we want the festival to really get bigger and have a big worldwide impact we needed someone to handle all the news countries and that had to be an almost full time job. It was 2017, I had just finished a project for my postdoc. We were writing a patent paper, the lab culture wasn’t very amazing and my paper wasn’t as good as I hoped for. My career in research would have been difficult, getting a position would have been impossible with this medium track record and I was enjoying science communication way more than I was enjoying research anymore. It was time to close the research chapter of my life.
I really enjoyed being a researcher, I was passionate about it but I found something that was making me even happier and prouder!
In August 2017, I left research to be a science communicator freelance with being Pint of Science international director as my only mission to start with.I left London to come back to my home city ; Paris. I really enjoyed meeting tons of amazing science communication people and scientists and going to science communication events in Paris. After a few months Pint of Science didn’t have enough money to keep paying me full time and I started taking freelancing missions back in 2018.
This is how I arrived at the job I do today: Pint of Science international part time, Pint of Science France as a volunteer director role and a lot of different things as freelancing missions.
I love my job, I get to experiment and try new things like I did with podcasting and organising live events (even if I would have loved not to experience this one cause of covid!) but most of all I meet amazing people all the time and that is so inspiring!
My first ever Pint of Science event in London in 2013
A collage of pictures of the cool missions I've been lucky to do since I started freelancing.
The questions I often get about my background & work:
Do I wish I left research sooner ?
No, because I left after really trying and enjoying it. I also left at a moment where it felt like a chapter was closing anyway. And the most important is that my experience in research is very useful for my freelancing everyday and if I didn't do those years of postdocs I wouldn't work the same way or have as much knowledge on how research works.
How did I do to leave research and directly have some freelancing work?
Well, I worked on Pint of Science while doing research for almost 5 years, I built a network and learned a lot during that time. So that’s why when I left research I was skilled enough to have freelancing missions and I had the network to find clients.
What is a typical day of work?
I have no typical days, some days I’m home at my laptop all day with my cat, some others I’m with people recording podcasts, doing training or hosting/organising events. One thing that is pretty stable whatever I do : I start and end my day with Twitter!
What do I like about my work?
I really love the freedom to explore lots of different projects and formats and to organize my life as I want! I also love being so close to research and science but being able to explore a lot of areas, not just my restricted area like when I was in research.
What do I like less in my job?
As a freelancer at the start I was really worried about my income, so I was maybe working too hard and also I was accepting all the missions even the ones that were clearly underpaid or not really interesting. Now that I’ve been working for 6 years as a freelancer and for 11 years on science communication I get more returning clients and also I can say no to missions that are not right or when I have too many..
Do I have any training in scicomm?
No, I didn’t do a master in scicomm after research but I worked almost 5 years on Pint of Science before freelancing on other projects and I started small with training on science communication for scientists and I realised that my experience of 5 years was worth a diploma.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do a master for example, if you can I think it’s great because it’s teaching you all you need to start, it’s also helping with building experiences and networks. I didn’t do one because when I decided to switch to a science communication career, I already had a lot of experience, going to so many events showed me the good, the bad and the ugly of science communication and you learn some tips pretty fast.
Building the festival and expanding it taught me so many skills, organisation, project management, communication, but it was the hard way and very stressful because I was learning but it wasn't free of consequences, if I was doing something wrong, I would have put the development of the festival in danger. When you learn by experience it’s super important to ask people how they do, so you can replicate or learn from them…a bit like deciding to do a new experiment in science, you read, you ask people about their protocols and you try!
What advice I would give to someone that wants to leave research and do science communication?
I would give 2 pieces of advice : the first one is to try science communication while you are still a researcher. You can get a lot of opportunities and it helps you get to know the field and what you like to do. It also helps build your resume in science communication!
The 2nd one is to expand your network to meet people doing science communication to get to know the jobs and the day to day activities that people do. Sometimes a job looks amazing but once you know the tasks you realise it won’t fit you. The network can also help you to find out about opportunities in the field! To expand your network you can go to scicomm events around you but also don’t forget the social networks
More and more people want to work in science communication, it’s not an easy way out of academia, you need to be proactive!
Here is a list of scicomm and engagement initiatives on twitter :
UK mailing list on science communication with a lot of opportunities (a very good thing to know all the jobs available and their salary associated)
Interviews where I talked about my background and how I started