Following a passion for science — away from academia

Brittany Leigh had no intention of becoming a professional science communicator. During her PhD she studied biological oceanography with a focus on viruses in marine life and then studied viruses in mosquitoes during her postdoc. For much of her early career, she envisioned herself as a professor.

“I loved: First, being involved in cool science; second, to be able to talk to people about this science; and third, having the flexibility to create my own schedule. But during my postdoctoral years, I realized that these important things don’t just apply to life as a professor,” said Leigh.

Courtesy of Brittany Leigh

At LifeSci Communications, Brittany Leigh is able to learn about new research, summarize and write about information, and share it with others, which she said are all the things she wanted to be a professor.

Today, Leigh is a Senior Account Executive at LifeSci Communications, which provides services to all types of clients, from early-stage biotech companies to commercial-stage pharmaceutical companies.

A finding in the lab alone

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leigh was a postdoc at Vanderbilt University, working alone in the lab due to capacity constraints. “That was my hard, deep look at what I was doing. Being isolated in a lab made me think, ‘Is this really where I want to go?'” she said.

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Part of what she realized back then was that the things she loved about science weren’t really the biggest part of a lead investigator’s job. Much of a PI’s time is spent writing grants and doing administrative tasks she knew she didn’t want to do.

Accepting that becoming a professor wasn’t what she wanted, she had to figure out what she wanted did want. She needed to figure out where else to use her passion for science.

However, all the training she received helped her identify what she was looking for.

During her postdoc period, she took part in lectures and gave voluntary public presentations, which taught her how to communicate with different audiences and, perhaps more importantly, taught her to love it.

“I started Googling ‘science communication jobs’ and found DOCjobs (a job site listing jobs for scientists outside of traditional academia) and a position at LifeSci was advertised.” She applied – “just to see what would happen” — and ended up getting a job she loves.

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“On top of all this cool science”

At LifeSci, Leigh oversees public relations and communications for six clients focused on gene therapy, infectious diseases and cancer.

At any point on any given day, she might draft a press release explaining a company’s data in an accessible way, develop a website, design a poster for a conference, work with animators on videos, or manage social media, including using it for the Recruitment for clinical trials. She could even write a research paper if the company needs it.

Her audience includes investors, other companies, physicians, patients and the media. “If anyone wants to speak to (any person in) the company, it’s through me,” she said.

LifeSci tends to hire scientists with some writing experience, Leigh said, and train them in the ins and outs of the writing required, rather than hiring professional writers and teaching them the science specialties. The Company assigns clients to authors based on the type of scientific expertise required and the interests of the author.

She said that learning about all sorts of new research, compiling and writing information about it, and sharing it with others is all she’s ever wanted to be a professor.

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“I get to be at the forefront of all this cool science and see it go from basic science to bedside,” she said.

Importantly, Leigh works remotely, which is important to her. With a partner in the military, Leigh needs freedom of movement and time to devote to family.

Take the time to reevaluate

In science, sometimes your research can become your life. Leigh said at LifeSci she was able to deviate from that view. “There are limits,” she said, and people appreciate your time.

She said she also learned that it’s important to think about what you want and why. “Examine yourself and see if you still love the things you do, and it’s okay if you don’t,” she said.

She noticed that sometimes people get stuck on something they used to love, something they thought they loved, or something they thought they would love.

“I always make sure I really nurture the things I love to do so I can grow in that way.”

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