On September 25, 2019, the S2BN’s Toronto Chapter hosted an event on “Careers in Science Communication” in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Life Sciences Career Development Society (LSCDS). The event was held at the University of Toronto and attended by over 100 graduate students.
Four speakers provided insights into their careers in science communications and shared their experiences about transitioning from academia to industry.
Elodie Varin, PhD (Science Writer, Six Degrees Medical Consulting): Elodie completed a PhD in France and then moved to Toronto for a postdoctoral fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is currently working as a Medical Writer for Six Degrees Medical Consulting. Elodie works as part of a team to generate promotional and educational content such as creating disease awareness or educational content for physicians and internal training programs for medical and sales training at pharmaceutical companies. Elodie’s role involves generating both branded promotional content and unbranded educational content for diverse audiences (physicians, patients, life sciences organizations) which is published in print and digital format. Finally, Elodie’s assists physicians with writing for publications and scientific presentations.
Jovana Drinjakovic, PhD (Communications Specialist, Donnelly Centre for Cellular & Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto): Jovana completed a PhD at the University of Cambridge in the UK and then came to Toronto for a postdoctoral fellowship. She is currently working as a Communications Specialist at UofT’s Donnelly Centre where she writes about the research activities of the Donnelly scientists. As a communications specialist, she brings to light the biomedical research and important scientific discoveries made by UofT scientists. Her work is published in print and digital newsletters, websites, and other communications materials produced by the Donnelly Centre, the Faculty of Medicine, and the University of Toronto’s Communications Office. She is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, and VICE | Motherboard.
Kaitlyn Delano, PhD (Managing Medical Editor, Klick Health): Kaitlyn completed a PhD in pharmacology at UofT and currently works as a Managing Medical Editor in the Science & Regulatory department of Klick Health, a pharmaceutical marketing agency. Kaitlyn manages a team of medical editors who help develop disease awareness and promotional materials for prescription medicines. Along with her team, Kaitlyn works with medical strategists and creative teams at Klick, to aid in the development of branded promotional and unbranded educational content in the form of digital and print media advertising. This can include websites, social media advertising, banners, TV ads, and conference booths. Kaitlyn also serves as a medical, scientific, and regulatory expert at Klick Health.
Shu Ito, PhD (Director of Science & Regulatory, Klick Health): Shu completed a PhD in Molecular Genetics at UofT. He started his career as a communications officer at a start-up company in Toronto and then transitioned to working for Klick Health. Currently, Shu is the Director of the Science & Regulatory department at Klick Health where his job is to ensure quality outputs of his team, which can include developing and refining training materials for new hires, allocating projects amongst the teams, as well as assessing and improving workflow processes within the Science & Regulatory department. Shu also plays a role in relationship-building within Klick (with other teams such as the medical strategy and creative teams), as well as externally with clients (brand managers, medical and regulatory associates at pharmaceutical companies).
The four speakers shared their key take-aways from a wide variety of careers in science communication in academic and corporate sectors.
1. “If you don’t try, you don’t know”
How do you know whether you are good at something? How do you receive validation for work that instills confidence that you are good at your craft? While looking to apply for postdoctoral fellowships, Elodie was reluctantly thinking of applying for a position in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Drucker, a world-renowned diabetes researcher in Toronto, as she felt she wasn’t competitive enough. However, as she very eloquently put it, “if you don’t try, then you don’t know”. So Elodie tried and was successful in securing a research fellowship position in Dr. Drucker’s laboratory. Elodie has used the same mantra while applying for roles outside of academia. Other speakers discussed “doing your best” in every role that you hold and not limiting yourself because you think you aren’t good enough.
2. Train yourself, network, and seek opportunities outside of academia
“It must be easier for a scientist to learn journalism, than for a journalist to learn science”. Jovanna talked about her passion for science communication and challenges in landing interviews for communications positions at hospitals and academic institutions. As she networked, she discovered most science communications professionals at Toronto hospitals had a journalism background. She understood the science but needed to learn how to write. Hence, Jovanna trained as a journalist through UofT’s Global Journalism Fellowship. Through this experience, Jovanna highlighted the importance of networking and informational interviews, which led her to better understand the profession of academic science communication and seeking further education/training when needed for a profession.
3. Communicate science and create your own presence on social media
The panelists spoke at length about the difference between science communications in academic journals versus other settings (e.g. pharmaceutical advertising or medical education). They encouraged students to read scientific articles in newspapers and magazines if they are interested in science communications careers and discover for themselves how to write for various audiences such as physicians, nurses and patients. All panelists highlighted the importance of “engaging your reader” when writing by using audience-dependent language as well as using appropriate and engaging visuals. The panelists also encouraged students to take advantage of social media as a means to develop their science communication skills and create a personal brand.