From Virology to Marketing Communications: Building a Career in Scicomm After Grad School
Science communicator Mariko Alexander shares her transition experience from graduate school to her current position as a technical editor at Bio-Rad.
When did you start your current position at Bio-Rad?
I have been working as a science writer/editor in Global Marketing Communications for Bio-Rad’s Life Science Group since July 2019. My official title is Technical Editor.
Please use one or two sentences to describe your Ph.D. work.
My Ph.D. is in molecular plant pathology. I studied protein-protein interactions between viruses in the family Polerovirus and their plant hosts, as well as the structure of the viral capsid.
Please describe your current job responsibilities.
I serve as an editor, writer, and scientific advisor in a team that also includes designers, videographers, and project managers. My main responsibilities are assisting with the creation of marketing materials, although I also work with some technical documents and educational materials, and am part of the staff for our online magazine, Bioradiations.
What made you decide to transition into science writing as a career?
Partway through grad school, I realized that I love science, but I don’t love bench work or designing experiments. I was happiest and most successful when I was writing up my work, making posters and presentations, and helping others communicate their work.
What was the transition like from being a Ph.D. student to being a science writer for the company? What are the differences?
It’s very different! As a grad student, I had a lot of freedom to plan my own schedule and pursue what interested me. As an industry employee, my days are more regimented, and projects are assigned to me. However, this also means that I can draw a hard boundary between work and my personal life. I rarely work overtime and never on the weekends, and when I’m “off the clock,” it’s expected that I will not continue to work or check email. Of course, this isn’t the case for every science writer job, but it’s been a huge benefit for me.
The other big difference is the actual science that I work with. Grad school is about choosing one very specific thing and knowing everything there is to know about it. In contrast, now I need a little bit of knowledge about many different things, including areas that I had little or no exposure to in grad school.
What do you enjoy about being a science writer?
My favorite aspect of my job is that I get to work with a great team of extremely talented and knowledgeable people in very different fields than I am. I love brainstorming with a graphic designer, for example, and then being blown away a few days later by what they’ve created from our ideas. I get to help translate science into art, and that never gets old. I also love that I get to do and learn about something different every day.
What do you find challenging?
I miss working with ag science and plant science. Although most molecular biology labs use at least some Bio-Rad products, crop science research isn’t a big sector of our market, so most of what I work on has a more biomedical focus.
What are some important factors you considered during your decision-making process after you received the offer?
Coming out of grad school, I really didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do other than science communication. What was exciting for me about this job was that it offered a chance to try many different things -- technical editing, science writing, marketing, videography, and podcasting -- in a relatively low-risk way.
It was also really important to me to feel like I was going into an environment where I was supported and had a good work/life balance. This is where it’s important to talk to other people who will give you honest answers about the company you’re interested in.
What type of careers can science writers grow into?
Starting a career in science, communication is both exciting and challenging because there are so many possible career paths. The people I know that were previously in my position have remained in marketing for science companies but have transitioned to managerial roles or positions where they have more of a say in the branding of a company. I’ve also heard indirectly of some people becoming independent contractors.
Anything else that you wish to share?
Moving out of academia is intimidating and can make you feel very alone. Talking to people who had already done it was the single most helpful thing I did during grad school. Talk to visiting speakers at career panels, ask your mentors if they know anyone they can put you in contact with, and don’t be afraid to cold-message someone on LinkedIn (myself included!) if you’re really interested in what they’re doing. Everyone I’ve met has been incredibly friendly, honest, and happy to help.
Mariko can be contacted through:
Here's an example of Mariko's work! https://www.bio-rad.com/webroot/web/pdf/lsr/literature/Bulletin_7275.pdf
This interview was conducted by WAGS collaborator Yingyu Liu.