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#116 Interview with Priya Rangan on transitioning from academia while moving out of her comfort zone

In this episode, Dr. Priya Rangan shares with us everything about her journey to becoming a scientific communications specialist.

Published onNov 11, 2022
#116 Interview with Priya Rangan on transitioning from academia while moving out of her comfort zone
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In an age of misinformation, it has become essential for science to reach the public audience in a transparent manner. As a graduate in science, have you ever thought of communicating your science with the world? In this episode, Santoshi Devadas talks to Priya Rangan, who tells us everything about her journey to becoming a scientific communications specialist. 

Priya holds a PhD in Biology of Ageing and has 11 years of experience working in academic research and pharmaceutical settings. She transitioned to science communication because she is passionate about it. Priya wants to translate what scientists are doing in a way which makes sense to people who are completely outside of it. 

”...I do believe that scientific communication is a field that is going to change a lot of things within academia, within industry …and the general public,  [who] I think are the most important of all.”, says Priya.

#116 Interview with Priya Rangan on transitioning from academia while moving out of her comfort zone

At the end of the interview, Priya advised our listeners on the job hunt:

1. Set up your LinkedIn profile as well as you do it for your resume.

2. After meeting people either in person or online, send them a message explaining why you want to connect with them, rather than merely sending them a connection request. Make a connection with them.

3. Prioritise your mental health and know that your life is not just the lab or your job, it’s also everything else outside of it.

If you want to know more about how Priya aligned her life and career goals, while pursuing her passion, listen to this episode! Enjoy it!


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TRANSCRIPT

Santoshi: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of Career Stories. I'm your host, Santoshi Devadas, and today we have a very interesting guest with us, Dr. Priya Rangan. Priya is an American scientist who now works as a scientific communications specialist in Italy. Priya holds a PhD in Biology of Aging, and has 11 years of experience working in academic research and pharmaceutical settings. And today, Priya is here to share with us her transition story from academia to industry. And I think it will be very interesting to listen to her transition story, and especially also regarding scientific communications for all you PhDs and postdocs, who are really interested in this. So Welcome Priya to PhD Career Stories!

Priya: Thank you. Thank you for having me and for that perfect introduction. I don't really need to add anything to that. I think that kind of sums up who I am and what I've been doing, and what I'm really excited to talk about with you today.

Santoshi: So from our previous discussion before this recording, I know that you are now in the States and you are moving to Italy soon, but you are working with the company already.

Priya: Yes. So I suppose it might help to kind of elaborate on how I ended up in Italy after, you know, being in America and being an American citizen for all this time. So, yes, like you mentioned, I did my PhD in Biology of Aging. And prior to that, I did my undergraduate in Cell Biology. So I'm a Biologist through and through. And during that experience, I've had exposure to all sorts of biology topics, from oncology to nutrition science, to Alzheimer's, inflammatory bowel disease. And so my training pretty much through that period helped me get to where I am today as a scientific communications specialist. So the way I ended up in Italy was, after my PhD, I was really wanting to go abroad, not only continue in my professional career and pursue a Postdoc and get additional training from what I had already received, but also have an attempt at a new personal experience, a life experience, a cultural experience. And at the time, I was looking at Europe, Southern Europe in particular, because that is a region that not at the time, not too many Americans tend to look at as far as the next step in their career. So I thought it would be a very, very unique opportunity. And that region in particular was interesting to me as far as cultural experience.

And so I ended up in Italy, or the plan was that I would start at the beginning of 2020 in my postdoctoral fellowship. However, we all know what happened in 2020 with the pandemic and COVID. And so for a while, I wasn't even sure if this opportunity would pan out. But after the first couple of months of lockdown and things started to kind of clear up again, I ended up going to Italy in the middle of June of 2020. And so at that time, from that point on, I started a postdoctoral fellowship in Milan specializing in immunotherapies in oncology. And during this period, that's when I started to realize and come to terms as to what I really wanted to do with my career. Leading up to this time, I was aware of what was available in industry. I was aware of the types of careers one could do with a PhD outside of academia. But I wasn't sure if I wanted to do that right away. However, during my postdoc time, I realized that I did not see myself in academia forever and that industry was the place I wanted to be as far as what I also wanted to do. The reason I ended up looking into scientific communications was because I think this whole COVID experience had some kind of influence and impact on everyone. And for me, I was realizing that as scientists, as you know, these very technically trained individuals, we have a great responsibility in being able to effectively communicate what we do in the lab, what we talk about with our colleagues, with people that have very, very basic knowledge of science or are even scared by it and, you know, I think with how the pandemic was progressing and how it was being handled by the governments globally. I think it's fair to say that, the communication of what was really being done in the lab and what was really being done by medical health professionals was not being translated properly to the public.

So I think a lot of what we saw as failures and ineffectiveness and being able to quickly manage this crisis was because of this ineffective, weak link in being able to communicate science. And so I think that kind of helped push me to quickly transition into industry and not continue with my postdoc. And so at the time, I was looking around both in the US and in Italy. Part of me wanted to stay in Italy for longer because I felt like I, you know, about six months into my postdoc, which is when I was starting to find new jobs, I wasn't really ready to leave. What I intended to try to do, at least personally speaking. And so I was able to find a job within industry with a pharmaceutical company based out in Italy that seemed aligned with what I was looking for and what they were looking for.

So that was a very, very unique and very, very lucky position that I landed on my part. But that is to say that there are a lot of opportunities rising within scientific communications. It is a very new found position, newfound kind of career path to pursue, especially because of what we've seen with COVID. But I believe that a lot of companies within industry are realizing the importance of it as well as within academia. I do think that within academia there's still a long way to go as far as accepting that this is a very important role. But I think as far as what I've experienced so far and what I feel like I've learned in my journey to getting here and what I feel like I've learned and want to share, I think could be helpful as far as trying to figure out what someone would want to find in the future in their job search as far as scientific communications, scientific affairs, medical affairs, anything in that kind of field.

Santoshi: Yeah. Thank you for elaborating on this so nicely. So nice. But I mean, you have touched upon a lot of different aspects here. And one thing which I would be very interested in knowing, because you also said that, you know, part of you did not want to leave for the position that you were in already. Was it scary to think about this?

Priya: Yeah. No, it was definitely a very challenging time for me as far as trying to figure out if this was what I wanted to do. Because when I started this postdoctoral fellowship, I was coming from a very good place as far as my PhD. I had just published my first, first author paper graduation. I was coming from a place of good self esteem, and during my PhD, I had battled bouts of imposter syndrome and, you know, feeling like “What am I doing here? Am I even smart enough for this?” But by the time I finished my PhD, I thought I had conquered that. And so when I did pursue my postdoc originally, the plan was to complete the fellowship within three years, build new collaborations, become an expert in a new field that I had not had experience in as a PhD student. But I think as I was progressing into the fellowship, within the first six months, I was coming to the realization that what I was being expected to do, expected to do by my superiors versus what I wanted to do out of this experience wasn't exactly aligning. And at that point, I had to realize and figure out for myself if I wanted to compromise and if I wanted to continue on this fellowship and continue in this academia path in hopes that by the end of it I would still achieve what I what I wanted to achieve, or if it would be better for me to transition and feel better about how I felt at the moment, and hope that the early transition would lead to something just as good as what I thought the academia path would bring. I will say that I understand that it is very, very difficult for, I believe, any PhD or, I guess in this case mostly postdocs, to come to the decision for themselves of should I stay in academia or should I transition to industry? And both have their pros and cons. And I believe that it really depends on what your career goals are, what your personal goals are, what your overall life goals are. But I agree with you in the sense that it was for me, it was definitely a challenging decision. But I think that the world events, personal life events and all of those things kind of happening at the time that they did really signal to me that I should make this transition now.


Santoshi: Yeah, I think also, again, you have touched upon a very important thing where you say, you know, academia and industry both have its pros and cons. It's always not that one is the best and the other is the worst. It really aligns with who you are, what your passion is, what your motivation is, what your goals and how you see your future. And obviously for you, the industry worked out to be very nice. You know, a part of our PhD Career Stories is very special because we like to share the raw story of scientists, you know, what's going on behind their minds. So this is why I am asking this question, which is, this was a challenge and everything has worked out, but did you have a backup plan? What if it didn't work out?

Priya: Yeah. So I think as far as backup plans go, I had a backup plan initially for, if I didn't even get the chance to go to Italy for my postdoctoral fellowship, and also a backup plan as far as, if my wanting to leave academia at the time I did did not work out. And I would say that I'm glad that I didn't have to follow those backup plans, but I think having backup plans is always a really great idea.

So initially, if I had never gone to Italy for the postdoctoral fellowship, my backup plan would have been to find something in industry, but not necessarily be upset if it wasn't my first choice kind of position, because like I said earlier, I was familiar with the roles and industry and while I at the time I wasn't exactly set on scientific communications or even really knew that something like that existed, I was aware of Medical Affairs, Scientific Affairs. And the reason why those roles stood out to me was because during my PhD, in the later years, towards my fourth and fifth year of completion, I had the opportunity to do a lot of scientific writing, both with my paper, but also with presentations and making presentations. And I found that when it came to making presentations and talking about my science in an effective way, I actually really enjoyed it. I love the challenge of making a presentation that was within a set amount of time and using that time to really create slides and tell a story that captured the audience and also helped them to understand what I was talking about. Even if it was talking to people that already had a very technical scientific background as much as I did.

And at the same time, I was also working with certain organizations that were at the university that I attended where we would have elementary school girls that were interested in STEM visit our campus. And I was able to volunteer my time to make presentations on what I did as a scientist, but really, really focus on how I explained what a scientist is in a way that 6 to 12 year old girls would understand what I'm talking about. And so I think all of those kinds of events helped me realize that I really do like public speaking, I love writing. I love pretty much all of the skills that are part of what it takes to be a good communicator. At the time, like I said, prior to my postdoctoral fellowship start, I didn't exactly know I could be in scientific communications, but my backup plan at that point would have been to transition into industry and start even if I had to start at the lower ranks, but find my way to a point where I would be happy in a career that allows me to do some type of communications.

My backup plan for my transition, my wanting to transition out of academia while I was in my postdoc, was kind of multifaceted because, like I said, I was trying very hard to find something that was still within Italy, even within Europe, because I felt like if I had left right at that point, I would have wouldn't have achieved what I wanted to achieve on a personal level.

And so at that time, while I was going through my job search, I came to realize that there were a lot of hurdles as far as applying online, applying even cold call emails or cold call connections through LinkedIn. I mean, I think one thing that we need to be aware of that I think applies to job searches in general is that citizenship, visa, permits, residences, all, you know, they really do have a huge impact on being able to get a job. So I did come into situations where I was very qualified for the role, but because of my not being an EU citizen for jobs in Europe, it would have been a very, very challenging aspect for companies to take me on. Versus me being a US citizen, it would be so much easier just to go back and find something in the US. So at that time, my backup plan was - I told myself - if I was not going to find something by the end of 2021 in Europe, I would go back to the US, because I was balancing how I was feeling in my postdoc in academia, in the lab setting versus how I thought I would feel outside of it. And I think when I kind of put two and two together, I realized that I didn't want to spend two more years feeling miserable in the lab, in academia, and that was a personal choice for me. I think it could be different for other people, but for me I was not happy in the lab.

And so, you know, luckily I didn't - like I said - have to go to have those backup plans. I found a really good position with a really great company. It was almost like a miracle at that time for me. But yeah, so I think even if at the time a backup plan doesn't sound the best, it doesn't sound the most appealing. It's always good to have one. And I also think everything happens for a reason. And even if you don't know what that reason is at the time, I think, you know, just go with your gut. And if your gut is saying, get me out of this current situation, even if you don't know what the next step is going to be, getting yourself out of that, that really, you know, that situation that's making you miserable is the first thing you should do and kind of trust the process that the next thing will be even better for you.

Santoshi: I think what you also said about, you know, have a backup plan and as you mentioned, that you can always go back. Yeah. So, you know, people I think forget because, you know, if you do want to go back, you know, get out of your PhD, many people are not able to do that because you are always like, you know, I invested so many years might as well finish this. And again touching upon the topic that you said you came from a place of self esteem, you know, and I think most of the PhDs, they have this self esteem and they're always like “No, you know, I don't want to leave it.” And what people forget is that once you're done with your PhD and when you're doing a postdoc or you're doing another job in an industry, if you don't like it, if it does not fit your goals, your motivation, your passion, you can always leave it. You know, it's not, it's not something written in stone. And we can always leave it, depending upon how we are feeling at that position, how that position is making us feel. I think people always forget and they always think “Oh my God, what if I make the wrong decision?”. I think this is very nice to hear from you because your path, it was also not very straight because you finished your PhD, you went to postdoc. So you're feeling miserable, you're not sure what you wanted to do. And then I think you made the best use of Corona because I think, like many people during Corona times, did have problems. 

But I think you really figured out what the moments needed at that point of time. Scientific communication, I think it was a boom of scientific communication at that point in time, right? I mean, I think you have covered most of the questions that I already wanted to ask you. I have a question. Did you actually ever think that you would be into scientific communications? I mean, you said that you did like to write for academic papers, also for other things, and then also like presenting, but I think presentation in academia or presentation in front of renowned scientists is totally different than presenting in front of the public, let's say. But I think also what you said about these kids who are interested in STEM and the way, you know, the words that you asked to use, you use jargon like “T25” or “pipettes”. Do you think that these actually helped you inside to become a scientific communicator or - let me put it in a way - so such as, for scientific communication, you do need a PhD. I think it is important to have a PhD, but you can also start with your Masters, right? But I think if I was a scientific communicator, I don't think I would have all the values that you actually made out of your PhD, and then translated into scientific communication. So do you think that your PhD actually helped you? 

Priya: Yeah. I mean, I like to answer the beginning of your question. I did not see myself as being specifically in scientific communication until very, very late in my life. You know, even when I was doing my undergraduate, I was interested in research, but for a while I was on the MD path, the PhD/MD path, and I think after a while I settled on doing a PhD, but more out of a passion for nutritional biochemistry and that particular topic. And deciding that for me, I wanted to invest my time in solely dedicating to getting into a PhD program that would allow me to do research in that type of field. And so when I started my PhD, I honestly was very initially excited about living on my own, living in Los Angeles for the first time and really just kind of having that experience of being a graduate student. And so at that time I was very open to what was out there and very, very much focused on just going to classes and doing the rotations and not really thinking about careers after. But once I started getting into my PhD and things started to get more routine, I was very curious about what careers were available outside of academia. I'm sure a lot of PhD students and postdocs have kind of dealt with the puzzling kind of issue of academia versus industry, in the sense that a lot of professors and people in academia look down on industry and they see it as a for profit money making kind of sell out. You sell out if you leave academia and go to industry.

But I think as I kind of got into my PhD, I realized that industry does offer a lot of benefits to people that feel like they need stability as far as in the future, as far as benefits for retirement and health insurance. And not to say that academia doesn't offer these things, but I think the pay off in industry is a lot more quicker than in academia, where you really do have to put in the time to eventually get to a really, really high position. And so when I was in my later years of my PhD, I had the opportunity to go to conferences that involved career networking. Networking with people already in industry. So I was able to meet people who were research scientists. So they were in industry, but they were working at the bench, there were researchers that transitioned into clinical research and so they were working a lot with translational research and coming up with protocols and managing clinical trials. I met with people in Scientific Affairs and Medical Affairs, particularly roles like the liaison roles, communication, managing roles. And like I said earlier, those roles appealed to me a lot because of the idea that you weren't necessarily working at the bench, but you were still talking about research and still using the knowledge that you gained from your PhD or your post-graduate education to make a difference. And still talking to doctors and key opinion leaders and researchers in the field that you're interested in. And so, towards the end of my PhD, like I said, I wasn't completely sure that, yes, I was going to be in scientific communications or I’m going down that path, because I was still a little bit hopeful, especially because, like I said, when I finished my PhD, I was in a very, very good position as far as my self esteem and where I saw myself.

So in a way, I saw if I did this postdoc and if it worked out really well, maybe I could be a professor, maybe I could stay in academia and be a leader of my own lab or be a leader within academia and change it from within. And so, like I said, that obviously didn't happen. But I do believe that scientific communications is a field that is going to change a lot of things within academia and within industry, and also bridging what we are doing in those two sectors and making it make sense to people who are completely outside of it. The general public, which I think is actually the most important of it all, because we are doing all of these things to help the world. I mean, at the end of the day, in the big picture. So I would say, I think that while I didn't know about what exactly I wanted to do throughout my journey, I would say that all of the things that I did during my PhD and even in my postdoc build up to helping me come to that decision.

Santoshi: Yeah, this reminds me of a quote from Steve Jobs, which I really practice, is about connecting the dots by looking backwards. You never know what is going to actually help you because you are like “Yeah, I don't know why I'm doing this”, but then you are always like “Oh yes, it's actually helpful now.” And then I think also because you said that you were enrolled in a PhD program. And I think the program also helps you a lot for earning these extra skills or bonus points, let's say. And along the same lines I would like to ask you: What was the most important skill that you learned during your PhD that you can actually use for your work now?

Priya: Right. Yeah. So this is a skill that I actually personally wanted to develop based on what I had seen in my PhD training and going to conferences and things like that. So I'm sure a lot of people in academia, students and postdocs can relate to the situation where you end up going to a three hour lab meeting and the person presenting just goes on and on and there are questions being asked that can be asked. You know, between the PI and the person presenting, or you go to a conference and the professor giving the presentation is completely disengaged with how the audience is feeling and reacting and is just kind of just word for word, just reading their slides and not really taking the time to explain what's going on. And so I was in a lot of situations like this and I was getting very frustrated just because I felt like “I don't want to feel like I don't understand this.” But at the same time, I'm upset because you are making it. You are not helping me engage with what you are showing. You are not helping me learn what makes your work so fascinating. So I took it upon myself whenever I had the opportunity to make a presentation, whenever I had a lot of meetings within my own lab to make sure that whenever I presented something it was in a particular order. It fit within a time limit, whether it was given to me or self-imposed, just because I also wanted to think about my audience. Like, for example, in a lab meeting I didn't want to be there for one hour. I don't think anyone else wanted to be there for one hour. So let's see if I could make this, you know, fit within half an hour and make sure I get my point across and present what I need to present, to have a little Q&A and make everybody happy.

Same thing with seminars and presentations at conferences. There was one particular conference I attended within my department where we were all specifically told that we had 15 minutes to make a presentation on our research at that point, and I remember everyone kept going over time and when it was my turn, I hit 15 minutes right on the dot and even the moderator was shocked just because no one was getting the time. And I think, it just comes from me personally, I think it comes with being a PhD student. You quickly learn to be organized, to multitask, to really troubleshoot things. And for me personally, I love organization, I love being punctual. I really do think time is just as valued as money in the sense that if someone is going to give me their time, I am going to show up and respect that. I'm not going to show up late or, you know, give excuses unless something really like an emergency happens. But I treat any type of appointment I have as if I'm going to a job interview, as if I am going through a really life changing event. For me, respecting someone means respecting their time, and I think that goes with anything, especially in the workplace. So I would say, the best skill I felt that I was able to develop and also really I think it was important for me to work on, was this idea of effectively communicating things within a specific amount of time and respecting other people's time and my own time as well.

Santoshi: Thank you for elaborating on that, because I think it is really important to engage with your audience, right? Like they're there to listen to your talk and you don't want to give them a feeling: Am I too dumb, and this is why I'm not able to understand? Because I think as a PhD student, you always have this question. And I think also as early postdocs, you're always thinking, I mean, if I'm not able to understand this, then probably I'm just not able to understand, you know, it's just not in my capacity, but it's not always like that. It's also about how the person engages you right? I mean, you can say the most difficult technical thing, but in the easiest way that everyone can understand. And I totally believe that, you know, we are doing science for the public with the public's money. And the public should understand exactly because it's their money, it's their time. And at the end of the day, we are here to bridge the gap between science and society. Right? I would like to ask the same question, but with a slight change, what is the most important skill that you have learned during your PhD that you can use for your life now?

Priya: Yeah. All right. So I'm thinking about all the things that I picked up on and kind of the experiences I had and what I learned from them. I think the biggest thing is just following your gut. I think throughout this entire experience, I, personally speaking, I'm a very empathetic person. I'm very fine tuned to how people react to me. So like, if I'm in a situation and I'm talking to someone one on one, I'm always paying attention to where their eyes are looking and their body language. And if I see that they're distracted by what I'm seeing, I quickly kind of try to change how I'm talking or what I'm talking about because I'm very perceptive to that. I think a lot of scientists that tend to be very introverted, or very empathetic and very fine tuned with how they react to people are like that. And so I think being already like that and then also going through the PhD journey, I think the biggest thing that I've taken from that and I applied to my life is kind of going back to time, valuing my time, listening to my gut and prioritizing my happiness over anything else.

So I think a lot of times, like I think you mentioned earlier, when we're in our PhD or we're doing something that has this commitment, we think that even if we're miserable or if it's making us feel depressed or if it's making us feel anxious, if it's making us feel chronically negative, then we still can't get out of it because we've committed to it. But we have to see it through. It really depends on the person. And it really is a case by case situation because, in some situations it's best to just get out and go on and find something different. In some situations, it could help to just kind of buckle down and just get through it. Speaking of that, there was a time in my PhD where I actually was debating if I should continue or if I should master out. And that was actually right before my first author paper was published because at the time I was not really sure if I could handle, you know, dealing with reviewer comments and also kind of seeing if I really wanted to continue doing this, because I was also kind of going through personal issues with my mental health at the time that were popping up again. In my situation, I was able to see it through. But then there may be a situation where someone just cannot handle it. And I think the pandemic has really kind of pushed people's limits as far as their mental health and what they can handle. And I personally know a lot of incoming PhDs or early PhD students who decided to master out or who decided to just leave the program.

And yes, while it does, you know, your boss will be upset to some extent, but at the same time, I think the biggest thing, the biggest takeaway I took away, was that your happiness matters the most. If you're not happy, then the work that you produce or the time that you're putting into something it's not going to be your best work, and you're not going to be able to contribute what you want to contribute and also make other people happy as well. And I think bosses should realize that as well. Do they want, you know, a miserable worker who comes in every day and produces subpar work or do they want somebody who's just happy to come in every day and is passionate about what they're doing and they really enjoy their time there. And so, yeah, going back to what I learned and what I took away the most was just following my gut and really taking the time to prioritize my happiness and yeah, taking this into life as well.

Because now, you know, when it comes to interacting with people again, I mean, in a professional setting, it's different. Sometimes you have to talk to people you don't want to talk to. But when it comes to personal things, sometimes you have to prioritize things like, is this person respecting my time? Going back to time again. Is this person somebody I want to be around? Are they making me feel good about myself just as much as I'm trying to make them feel good about themselves? Or are they coming in with this negative attitude? Are they coming late to meet me? Are they not prioritizing me as much as I am them? And if not, then it's best to just cut ties. It's best to not try and push up something that's not working. So I think not a lot of people think about this, but when you do something like a PhD or a postgraduate education, you really do work on those people skills and social interactions and understanding and figuring out how that works and how to make it work for you. Yes, you may be at the bench and be working on experiments by yourself a lot of time, but at the same time you do end up in situations where you have to work with people and interact with different personalities and learn from that. Learn from that and make that help you make that a better version of yourself.

Santoshi: I think it's so, like people start thinking that is so trivial, that someone says, you know, I learned how to prioritize happiness. But it is not trivial. It is very difficult to do that. It's a big courage that you have to, you know, it's like, yeah, okay, I'm not feeling good. Should I quit and start with something else where I'm happy with, you know. Yeah, but I think it is not as easy as it sounds. Yes. Prioritize happiness. Obviously, I will only do things that I'm happy with. No. It's not as easy as we say it is. And I'm glad that you actually can do that and have done that and have found for yourself a nice place and your niche that you think that you can contribute to science.

And so thank you so much for elaborating on all of these points. And I think these are really important for our listeners. But as I promised to the listeners when I started, we'll talk about scientific communication as well because you are a scientific communications specialist. And with this, I would just like to ask you, because you know that our listeners are early PhDs, also late PhDs, some people might not know what exists out in the industry because if you ask some PhDs “What do you want to do?”. And they would be like “Yeah, I want to stay in academia or I want to stay in industry”. But it's not as easy. I want to stay in the industry, but do what? So I think like, it's always the same thought that you think I am working in bench, in academia or work in the bench industry as well. There are a lot of positions that exist and one of the very important positions that exist is scientific communication. So can you explain to our listeners how your work day looks like as a scientific communication specialist?

Priya: So I think one thing we should keep in mind is, especially because of the pandemic, a lot of work situations in industry especially have really transitioned from being completely in the office to some type of remote or hybrid work. But I will also say that a lot of careers that are within the scientific communications, science affairs or medical affairs path also tend to be remote or require a lot of traveling, depending on the role. And then also because scientific communications is a very new field, but it is growing. A lot of companies that are developing roles may not even know exactly what the role is at that point. And the role right now is actually developing based on company needs and how I guess the customers for that particular company are receptive to that role and what that role can do to bridge what the company is doing scientifically to what the customer needs to understand. Or the key opinion leader or the experts in the field. So it really depends again on the company, what the company is trying to do and who the customer base is or the audience is. And so within scientific communications, even if a company is not offering a role that explicitly says scientific communications, some roles that may pop up that fit within this kind of overall field are science writing, medical writing, communications manager, project manager within scientific affairs or medical affairs. There are a lot of people that end up transitioning into clinical research managers or clinical research project management. And working in clinical research is a very intriguing aspect for industry. HR people hiring within that industry are trying to fulfill these science affair or medical affair roles, because a lot of pharma has to do with clinical trials, clinical research. So they really like it when people have that kind of experience or at least experience within the industry, even if you're not explicitly working on a clinical trial. And so there are roles that, for example, have science liaison, medical science liaison, any kind of wording that has to do with someone managing, writing or communicating about science. 

And so I think if someone is interested in these types of roles, even if you type in scientific communications specialist into LinkedIn or into a job search, if nothing comes up. Try to look for keywords that are within the job description. And usually when you do type in something like that, usually the search engine comes back with things that are similar or words that are within the job listing that tend to match up with that. So yes, right now at this point, I wouldn't say scientific communication specialist is a for sure position that you'll find that every company has, every company kind of has their own way of going about it.

But at this point, it is a growing field. And like I said, it is a very important field because this need for technically trained scientists to be able to talk about technical research in a way that is understood by the public is extremely important.

Santoshi: So thank you for actually specifying the keywords, because we all know that it's not like there are different types of jobs that exist. And sometimes if you are not aware of it, you're like, oh yeah, I'm looking for a scientific writing position and you're missing out something which is not a scientific writing position. It's not advertised as scientific writing, but it is technically scientific writing, probably like Medical Affairs, and you're like, “Oh no, it's none of my business.”

Yeah, but you do have to look into the responsibilities, the keywords that exist, which is what you mentioned about communicating the science, writing the science. And this is what you have to look into when looking at the positions, right? So really thank you for elaborating on that. And coming from a person who is into scientific communications, I think our viewers will also listen to it. And people who are interested in scientific communications will definitely give it a go. Yeah. So, again on the set of the same question, what are your responsibilities right now in this company that you're working with?

Priya: So at the moment, it's like my role, like my situation is very unique in the sense that when I was looking for jobs, this company that I joined ended up creating a role that they were trying to, they didn't have a name for it at the time. But what they were looking for, aligned with what I was looking for as a scientific communication specialist or someone wanting to work in that field.

And so at the moment, because of bureaucratic permit issues between Italy and the US at the moment, I am back and forth, but my role ends up being suitable for something where I'm able to do work remotely. And so on the day to day, it really depends on what is happening as far as the needs of the company or any particularly important meetings coming up.

But generally speaking, as a scientific communications specialist, I work with our Sales Managers, our Marketing team, our Business team, so people that don't necessarily have a technical scientific background. But I also work with people that do have a science background, so I work with clinical research managers, research scientists, and people that already have that biology background. In communicating, for example, our company's particular products in the pharma nutraceutical field and making presentations, translating raw data to our colleagues. So within the company, and then also creating these presentations so that they can use these marketing tools and these scientific tools to educate our customers and educate our potential buyers for our product. And when it comes to continuing on that presentation kind of aspect of the role, part of my role is to also go to conferences and expos and seminars and again create these presentations either for people within the company to make presentations or for our scientific advisors. So our key opinion leaders, our collaborators that do still work in academia, help them with presentations and scientific tools so that they can also effectively talk about the research. And also another aspect of the role. It really depends on the company, one of my roles is at this point working on new projects that are related, that do have a scientific component to it.

And so while I'm not exactly working at the bench or doing actually any novel research, my expertise and my experience with that type of work is helpful in creating new projects that the company might be interested in. As far as finding collaborators, basically doing the steps to coordinate with people that are capable of doing the research and effectively taking what they are producing as far as data and the results of that research and quickly being able to prepare it so that we can communicate about that as well in presentations, at seminars, at congresses and that like. So while no day's particularly exactly the same, it does involve a lot of communication. I mean, not just communicating about the work, but communication with people and being ready to kind of troubleshoot, being ready to take in feedback as it comes because it really especially you're working in a very global setting and when you're working remotely, when you're working in a setting where people have different schedules and meetings, you have to work around, you have to be ready to hear an answer any time and make changes if needed so and not be sensitive to constructive criticism. And so I think for me personally, I really do, like I said, because of my love for communication and interest in talking to people and talking about research, this is a really nice, flexible role.

Santoshi: So do you think that it comes naturally to you now?

Priya: Yeah, so I will say that, for example, when I was in elementary school, middle school, I hated making presentations. I didn't like going in front of the class and, you know, talking about something.  But I think over time, I think it ended up being fun because it ended up coming to me naturally once I kind of hit the aspects of what makes a good presentation so, engaging your audience, knowing what you're telling, is like a story like me setting it up like a story. You know how to have eye contact, your body language. I think once I kind of understood how to piece together what makes a good presentation, it came a little bit easier and then eventually became fun. I will say that I still do get nervous, but I do have to make presentations. But it's gotten to a point where I see it as something enjoyable.

Santoshi: So yeah, you're nervous because you care about it, right?

Priya: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Santoshi: So did you actually. And because you said that, you know, it was not a natural thing that came to you from your elementary school. You are not you know, you are not like you are the best in presentations or something. Did you actually end up taking some courses or did you actually end up working on it when you realized that this is something that you like?

Priya: Yeah. So I think what happened was, I think just growing up like when it came to school, when it came to just anything like doing good or doing well in school, my parents always tell me, you know, double check your work, you know, practice, especially when it came to presentations, you know, practice a couple of times. And so I think from a young age, I was kind of, it was ingrained in me to, you know, keep practicing presentations before the presentation day.

And as I got older, and especially in doing my PhD and even during lab meetings, I would notice that people were coming unprepared in the sense that they would have their slides up but not really know what they're talking about. And you could tell right away that they were not familiar with what they were showing and they did not practice and they did not take the time to practice.

And I wasn't just seeing this with students. I was seeing this with my professors. I was seeing this with people who are presented as the experts in their field, but they don't seem very familiar with what they're showing. And a lot of times it's because they are taking data from their postdocs and PhDs for that overall presentation. And so, it's new to them at that time as well. But for me, I think I definitely noticed for myself like when I made a presentation that I only went through once versus a presentation I treated like I was going to go to a job interview and I needed to be my absolute best. And I went through it like five times. I noticed complete differences. So I think when it comes to PhD students, maybe they rehearse a lot before their dissertation or their qualifying exam. But when it comes to lab meetings or any other meeting, that seems very trivial. You don't really think that. You don't really think “Oh, I'm not going to waste my time practicing, I'm just going to talk to them.” But it really does help. I think it helps, you know what's coming ahead and it helps you feel comfortable about what you are showing. And then at the same time, because you are confident about what you're showing, it shows to your audience that you know what you're talking about. So for me, I think it's always a good idea to go over my presentations before, whenever, before I have to present them.

Santoshi: Okay. That is a very interesting point because you mentioned about practicing, and it's not as you pointed out, it's like many people just practice before a very important meeting or their defense or something like that, but not really giving it the time during the lab meetings. They're like, “Oh, okay, I don't want to spend time on this”, but I mean, if you do want people to understand what you're speaking, then you do have to spend time and people have to believe also that, you know, you know what you say. Yeah. And if you are stuttering because you were surprised by the graph that appeared and you're like, “Okay, why did I put it here?” Yeah, I think it's also, again coming back to the same point, also not respecting people who were there in the presentation to listen to you. 

With this, I would say that we are very close to the finish of this wonderful, wonderful podcast. And we always have a last question. But before that, I have one more question because, you know, you are a scientific communication specialist, and many of our listeners out there might be interested in this position in this field and maybe they would like to contact you. Are you fine with it? And if so, then where can they find you?

Priya: Yeah. So LinkedIn, I would say, is the best for professional networking. This is one thing I do want to mention about LinkedIn though. I notice especially when talking to colleagues and also just growing my own LinkedIn, you get a lot of requests, but there's no kind of follow up message. I would recommend, I guess it really depends on how it's set up, but whatever I try to network with someone, I do send a request and if it doesn't give me the option to write a message, I wait for them to accept. But as soon as they accept, I immediately send a message saying why I wanted to network with them. As I have been growing my page and transitioning from PhD to postdoc and other students have found me and wanted to connect with me. I've always been open to connecting with people, but at the same time I do want to know why you want to connect with me so I can help you and so we can create a good connection and networking experience. So for me personally, when I have networked with people inside science affairs, medical affairs, I always follow up with them. If I'm not able to write a short message while sending my request, I always try to follow up immediately after they accept so that they know I'm not just some random person.

Santoshi: That is such an important tip, because I think many people, because you have so many suggestions and maybe, you know, I'm one of the listeners who is listening to this episode. I'm like, “Yeah, maybe, you know, she will be useful someday. I will just send her a message now.” Never writing anything. And it's just like, yeah, it becomes like Facebook at one point of time, right? You don't know why you have these people in your network. And it's always, it's always nice to follow up. Like,  maybe I am in my first year of my PhD and yeah, it's not useful to go too deep into the topic right now. But if I just write “Hey, I listened to your podcast and it was interesting and this is why I would like to be in your network.” It's also nice when after three years or four years or five years of whenever you finish a PhD and you want to be a scientific communicator, you can always come back to this message and Priya will always remember, okay, this person connected with me because of this. So yeah, I think this is such an important tip and I mean, it's coming from a communication specialist. So I think it is very, very important. And this also brings us to our last question, which we always ask our guests: what are three quick tips that you can give to our listeners? You can choose if you want to give in to scientific communication or your personal life. Or you want to give a mix of everything.

Priya: So if we're talking about LinkedIn and trying to kind of prepare yourself for that job search, I would say definitely set your LinkedIn up as like your resume. I think, at least in my recent job search, a lot more and more people are, at least if not analyzing your LinkedIn page, just taking a brief look just to see who you are. I'm not a big fan of social media. I am not on Facebook or Instagram or TikTok. So LinkedIn is the only one that I really use because it does have that professional kind of reputation. So I would say, number one, at least a quick tip for that. If you're ready to look for a new job or in that job search, definitely have some profile set up. As far as a quick tip number two, I think this goes back to LinkedIn and networking.

Even if you are an early PhD student or postdoc, wherever you are in your journey, if you meet people at a conference or you hear a podcast episode or you are trying to reach out to people but are not really sure what to say or you're not really sure if you're not even ready to take that position as a job. Like I said, you know, sending a message, whether it's with your request or right after, just to kind of let that person know why you are contacting them. And, you know, and then at the same time, just be aware, depending on the person and what type of role they have, they may forget in the future. But at least if you have that message chain going, they can always go back to it and say, Oh yeah, I remember you.

And then I would say that there's another tip that kind of meshes both professional and personal experiences. I think us scientists, especially PhD students, forget that there's more to life than the lab. So I think one of the reasons why I look back on my PhD years and it wasn't all miserable or just sad and depressing was because I tried to create a life that I wanted to live beyond my career. So, yes, even though as a PhD student, I did go into the lab on weekends, I did spend, you know, long, long hours and long days and nights in the lab. I found out what my passions were. And I tried to, you know, have a schedule that was around the lab. But then any other time I wasn't in the lab, really do things that made me absolutely happy and gave my brain a break. So for me that was running, I was able to join a running club at the university I did my PhD in, and train for marathons, and it was one of the best experiences I ever had during my PhD. That was like my outlet of friendship and connecting with other people that were outside of science. Another thing I really enjoyed doing during my PhD was going out to places and checking out like all of the attractions. But for me, mostly I was a foodie, so I like to go to restaurants, especially in Los Angeles. That's like the foodie capital of California. So that was one of my passions and I also love being around animals. So I was a shelter volunteer on the weekends for some time, and I really think that's important. Like really absolutely prioritize your mental health and you know, remember that life is not just the lab or your job, it's also everything else outside of it.

Santoshi: I'm really sorry that I said quick tips and it's never easy to give it, but these are not just quick tips. These are such important tips for your PhD, for your life. And really, thank you so much for sharing these tips and also sharing your journey with us. I am 100% sure that many people will find this as an inspiration to what they are going through now and to see what you have fought and how you have come to this position. And, you know, there's always life when you think, oh, no, you know, nothing is working out. And yes, also thank you so much  for sharing with our listeners about scientific communication and tips and tricks, also about how to look for jobs and quick tips for LinkedIn as well, which I think is very important. So it was really nice to have you here, Priya and I thank you for giving us your time.

Priya: Thank you so much for having me. I really do hope this helps and again, like if anyone is listening to this and wants to reach out, I'm more than happy to talk to you and network with you and help you out anyway again.

Santoshi: So listeners you heard Priya that she is happy to accept your invites, provided you write her a message before or afterwards, depending how your LinkedIn is set up. And yeah, with this I would finish this episode and see you again for another episode on PhD Career Stories. Take care. Bye bye.

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