Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another day, another introduction

First of all, many thanks to Mad Hatter for setting up this blog, and for inviting me to post on it!

I feel like my "alternative career" might be "professional blogger", since this is now the third site I contribute to. Unfortunately I'm yet to make a single penny from blogging, so you get to hear all about my real-life alternative career instead.

(An aside: this post will include several links to my main blog, since I've written a few career-related posts and it makes more sense to link to them than to write everything all over again. I promise to keep the cross-linking to a minimum in future!)

What is my career? Well, I'm not quite sure yet. Ideally I'd like to be a freelance science writer, but my current job can be very intense and I usually come home too knackered to face a blank piece of paper. So rather than focusing on the future, here's a quick run down of the story so far.

I was born and raised in Northern England. I started off wanting to be a vet, but an excellent high school biology teacher got me interested in genetics and I've never looked back. After a genetics degree in Newcastle and a PhD in Glasgow, I found my way to a postdoctoral position studying human endogenous retroviruses and genome evolution in Vancouver, Canada. (See my post "Why I Got Into Science" for a more detailed version).

I started my postdoc with the knowledge that I didn't want to be a PI (my reasons are in my post "Why I Got Out of Research"). That gave me the freedom to choose such a self-indulgent research project, rather than something that was less interesting to me but more likely to attract grant funding. It also allowed me to treat my postdoc research as just a job, rather than my whole life. I'm a work-to-live kinda gal, not a live-to-work-er.

I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do after my postdoc, but I knew that I enjoyed writing about science more than actually doing it. I was lucky enough to have a head of department who had one foot in industry and one in academia, so I set up an appointment with him when I had a few months left on my postdoc contract. I took some writing samples and asked for his advice as to what careers were out there. And... he offered me an interview at his biotech spin-off company!

I met with the heads of R&D, Business Development, Sales, and Marketing, and Marketing was clearly the best fit. I was promised technical writing for flyers, minireview articles, product manuals, advertising etc. I ended up as a Product Manager, responsible for all aspects of my products' launch and advertising.

As it turned out the job wasn't the best fit for me, but my two years in industry left me with a lot of very useful skills and, perhaps more importantly, more diverse contacts than you'll make in academia (there's a future post right there). And my marketing experience looked great on my application for my current job - a grant / manuscript / whatever writer for a large academic department.

I'm really enjoying my new job, and I have a guaranteed salary until November 2009. At that point, if they like me they'll try to find the money to keep me. Another downside of academia, but if my two years in industry taught me anything, they taught me that I'm not really cut out for industry. So fingers crossed and maybe I'll get my chance at freelancing after all! I can freelance my way to the unemployment office... just as I become a Canadian citizen.



The bean-mom said...


Sweet, indeed.

That's a great story--that you set up an informal meeting with the dept head and ended up with a job! I think many people are intensely interested in *how* one breaks into an "alternative career." Networking seems to be the key in most instances, and that's a great example of networking!

You write about your current job at your personal blog; I'd be interested in hearing more about what industry life was like for you (when you get the time!) And your plans for freelance writing?

Hmmmm, can "blogging" be listed as part of your freelance writing efforts? (sorry that it's unpaid!)

Mad Hatter said...

Looks like being a triple-blogger isn't a very lucrative "alternative career"! :-) I love how you got an interview for your industry job just by talking to the chair of your department. That's essentially how I got offered my currrent job! Like Bean-Mom said, networking is key. I think that's definitely a topic for future posts...probably multiple posts!

CAE said...

Bean-Mom, networking and contacts are incredibily important. I'm sure most academics know at least one person who works / worked in industry. Take that person out for a cup of coffee and see what happens!

I will have to think about how to address my time in industry and my plans for freelancing, as I am not exactly anonymous here! The former could be especially tricky given the small size of the local life sciences industry and my frequent work-related interactions with people associated with my last company! I already have some ideas for posts though that I will try to develop over the next couple of months.

I have completed one freelance writing job, but I won't be able to blog about it until it's in the public domain through other routes... that's all i can say right now!

Mad-Hatter, I'll email you next week about maybe co-ordinating our efforts to produce a couple (or more) of linked posts on networking, contacts etc. I'm sure we'll encounter some other common themes in the future that multiple authors would like to contribute to, so it would be good to discuss possible options!

Mad Hatter said...

Great idea! I'll start thinking about various aspects of networking that we could write about.

maddox22 said...

I would love some posts about networking. That is one thing that I am incredibly deficient in. Partly because I don't know the right people (although I'm working on that by volunteering, blogging :), etc) and partly because I just don't know how to do it. Do you just take them out for coffee and say, "So, I'm looking for a new job, got any openings"?

Sybil said...

Good post.