Brittany Leigh didn’t plan to become a professional communication scientist. She studied biological oceanography, focusing on viruses in marine life, during her PhD, and then studied viruses in mosquitoes during her postdoc. For much of her early career, she imagined herself in the role of professor.
“I liked: one, being involved in cool science. two, to be able to talk to people about this science. and, three, to be able to have the flexibility to make my own schedule. But during my postdoc, I realized that these major things are not unique to being a professor,” Leigh said.
Courtesy of Brittany Leigh
At LifeSci Communications, Brittany Leigh learns about new research, compiles information and writes about it, and shares it with others, which she said are all things she wants from being a professor.
Today, Leigh is a senior account executive at LifeSci Communications, which serves all kinds of clients — from early-stage biotech companies to commercial-stage pharmaceutical companies.
A realization while alone in the lab
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Leigh was a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University and, due to capacity constraints, was working alone in the lab. “That was my hard, deep look at what I was doing. Being locked up in a lab leaves me thinking, “Is this really where I want to go?” he said.
Part of what he realized at the time was that the things he loved about science weren’t actually the bulk of a principal investigator’s job. Much of a PI’s time is spent writing grants and doing administrative work, which she knew she didn’t want to do.
Once he accepted that the professor route was not what he wanted, he had to understand what he was doing He made I want. She had to find where else she could use her passion for science.
However, all the training she received ended up helping her identify what she was looking for.
During her postdoc, she took teaching classes and volunteered to do public presentations, which taught her to communicate with diverse audiences and, perhaps most importantly, taught her to enjoy doing it.
“I started Googling, ‘science communication jobs’ and found the website DOCjobs (a job site that lists jobs for scientists, outside of traditional academia) and a job at LifeSci. She applied — “just to see what would happen” — and ended up getting a job she loves.
“At the forefront of all this amazing science”
At LifeSci, Leigh handles public relations and communications for six clients focused on gene therapy, infectious disease and cancer.
At any moment every day, she can be writing a press release that explains a company’s facts in an accessible way, developing a website, designing a poster for a conference, working with animators on videos, or managing social media, including its use for clinical trial recruitment. He can even write a scientific paper if the company needs it.
Its audience includes investors, other companies, doctors, patients and the media. “If someone wants to talk to (a person) at the company, they go through me,” he said.
LifeSci tends to hire scientists with some writing experience, Leigh said, and train them in the specifics of the writing required, as opposed to hiring professional writers and teaching them the science topics. The company assigns authors to clients based on the type of scientific expertise required and the author’s interests.
She said she is learning about all kinds of new research, synthesizing the information and writing about it and sharing it with others, which are all things she would want from a professor.
“I got to be at the forefront of all this cool science and see it go from basic science to the bedside,” he said.
Importantly, Leigh works remotely, which is important to her. With a partner in the military, Leigh needs to be free to move around and have time to spend with family.
Take time to reassess
In academia, sometimes your research can become your life. Leigh told LifeSci she was able to step away from that. “There are limits,” he said, and people value your time.
She said she’s also learned that it’s important to think about what you want and why. “Check in with yourself and see if you still love the things you’re doing and it’s okay if you don’t,” she said.
He noted that sometimes people can get stuck doing 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 that way.”