Jess Smith, Freelance Science Writer
Practice and gain experience in whatever way you can. This will help improve skills, show experience when applying for related roles, and help identify your areas of passion and interest, in whichever sector they lie.
As a young research assistant, Jess Smith was drawn into communications after realising that lab work wasn’t for her long term. Now a successful freelance science writer, Jess does not regret not having a PhD and has found her scientific background an important asset throughout her career.
Following her Masters in Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, Jess began working in a laboratory with a view to learning specific techniques that would set her up for undertaking a PhD project. But, unsure whether she wanted to pursue lab work long term, in 2008 Jess began working on the Edinburgh University Science (EUSci) media society’s magazine and podcast alongside her research role.
It was at this point in her career when Jess discovered a love for science communication and writing more broadly, rather than research in one specific area. Jess explains: “I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to develop my skills and discover my passion."
In 2011, Jess set her sights on a more permanent role with the Alzheimer's Society that would provide her with the opportunity to pursue a career in scientific writing. Working within a charity, Jess enjoyed the defined office hours, the fast pace environment, and relished being involved with a variety of tasks and projects running concurrently.
Explaining her decision to move from research into writing, Jess says: “Moving out of academia before undertaking a PhD has allowed me to get further in my chosen career. While having 'Dr' in front of your name is sometimes helpful in research communications, it doesn't necessarily make you better at the job. It was far more worthwhile for me to spend those years actually doing the job."
In her role as a charity-based Research Communications Officer, Jess used her lab-based research knowledge and further developed a range of communication skills that have enabled her to set up as a successful freelance science writer.
Jess believes the main cultural differences between academia and her working world are around people. Working in industry or the public and charity sectors means working with people with varied backgrounds, preferences, skills and knowledge - much more so than in academia. This opens you up to new ideas, and helps you to see things from different perspectives: “I truly value being able to choose where to be and for how long. Practice and gain experience in whatever way you can. This will help improve skills, show experience when applying for related roles, and help identify your areas of passion and interest, in whichever sector they lie.”