Name: Rebecca Nesbit
Job: Scientific Programme Manager at Nobel Media
Last November I took a midnight auto-rickshaw ride around Pune, India, with a Nobel Laureate. This wasn’t the kind of career highlight that I thought an ecology PhD would provide me with, but it’s certainly up there with my most memorable experiences.
I took a circuitous route to my current role at Nobel Media, simply applying for jobs which caught my attention. I think every experience, even my stint training bees to detect explosives, has been really valuable for the next step.
Nobel Media is a small organisation which manages the communications around the Nobel Prizes. As Scientific Programme Manager I’m involved in two types of events: taking Nobel Laureates to give talks at universities around the world, and public conferences which tackle issues at the interface of science and society. This year I’m lucky to be doing these events on four continents.
As is common in small teams, I do a bit of everything that needs doing. This can be organising the event logistics, suggesting speakers for a conference, or doing communications work. Our websites are an important aspect of what we do, and I’m particularly involved in producing videos of advice for young scientists from Laureates.
Before joining Nobel Media in 2014, I was press officer at the Society of Biology. Science press officers out-number science journalists in the UK, so the press office is a common home for science writers. Benefits for me included working closely with scientists – I would interview scientists for press releases or for media statements on controversial topics. I was lucky to have such a varied role, which included running citizen science projects, attending events in the House of Commons, and managing the Society’s social media presence.
Alongside my day job, I’ve found time for some side projects inspired by science. I write fiction, and my first novel (A Column of Smoke) was published in 2014. It tackles ethical dilemmas facing a young scientist, along with some challenges which will be familiar to anyone who’s survived a PhD. I also make science jewellery to sell on Etsy (in case you thought that leaving academia would make me less of a science geek…). I give science writing courses on a freelance basis and have found this really rewarding.
Science communication was a career I could easily move into because of the skills I developed during my PhD. I volunteered for things simply because I enjoyed them, such as giving talks to natural history societies and taking school children on ‘mini-beast safaris’. I particularly enjoyed writing, and wrote freelance features for magazines. As my PhD came to an end, I realised that my writing skills were more unusual than my scientific skills.
After submitting my PhD (and going backpacking in Asia) I took a job in a start-up company which was developing the technology to use honeybees in airport security. Bees which detect explosives are a gift to science communicators, so it’s unsurprising that I enjoyed writing about the bees more than I enjoyed cleaning out our indoor hive. It also confirmed that I didn’t have the constitution for short-term contracts.
My years of studying science were extremely well spent, and not just because I enjoyed them. A highlight of my current job is that I get amazing opportunities to chat to scientists at the top of their field, and I think being a scientist makes this easier and more exciting.
My advice to anyone who is considering a science communication career is to volunteer whenever you can. Your university will have a communications department, and scientific organisations like the Society of Biology are often on the look-out for volunteers. London has a welcoming science communication community, and I have found it easy to meet new people through my work and through Stempra (a network for science PR and communications professionals – I can definitely recommend joining if you’re considering a career in this area).
There are aspects of research which I miss, but if I’m honest they are more about discussing science than about doing statistics. Science communication roles are exciting and varied, and you never know which direction they may take you in.