At the time, I chatted with my PI about career options and I found this fantastic book called What Color Is Your Parachute?, and that helped me to really dig into the potential career areas I could move into. That was really invaluable. From there, I investigated several career options based on the strengths and transferable skills that I was learning, and what kind of things would appeal to my mindset.
I started looking at job adverts in magazines like Nature (there wasn’t as much stuff online then). From there I went for interviews, which is immediately quite a difference from academia: you’d apply for a job, send in your CV and cover letter, be invited for interview and then you’d go to their office for a chat for about an hour or so, and then there might be a second interview as well, if you got shortlisted.
In that second interview, you might have to do some kind of presentation, or a test – in quite a lot of these things, there was some kind of aptitude test. But it was also about giving the candidate a chance to understand about the company, and the industry etc.
Any job I applied for had to be an entry level job, because I was entering a different industry, and I think that’s one of the hard things about moving beyond academia: you may have to take a salary dip and completely change your mindset, which is hard. That said, postdocs usually have a great many more skills and so can rise through a company faster, provided that they’ve moved into a company that suits them and which has that flexibility.
The first job I moved to was working as a scientific writer in a small PR agency which specialised in providing PR and science communications for life science companies. During my time there I had the opportunity to do a diploma in marketing with the Chartered Institute of Marketing in my spare time. That was great and I learned a lot more about marketing and advertising.
As a writer, I was writing press releases and technical articles, as well as doing interviews with academics to learn about their research (which was great fun) and turning that into feature articles for trade magazines, but there wasn’t much scope for growth beyond that. So it was quite a pigeonholed job and after a couple of years I was ready to move on. With the extra qualification I was taking, that gave me a lot of confidence and really expanded my skillset.
I saw an advert for an account manager (which is a client relationship management position in a big international advertising agency with a team of people looking after clients in the health, pharmaceutical and life sciences sector – that was a great opportunity. There was an element of writing involved in that role, as well as the client relationship side and managing the client’s project. At that point I had already moved to Manchester with my husband, because he was a serial postdoc and took on a PI’s position at Manchester.
At this big international agency, I met Peter (Brown, CEO of Notch Communications), who was heading up the team. I worked there for a few years and very quickly climbed up the ranks through the company. I got onto some fantastically big branding projects with household science names, which was great and I learned so much from doing that.
After a few years, the time was right, Peter and I had a great working relationship and we decided to jump out of that big ship and set up our own company which was only focused on delivering marketing services for life science companies.
In that big agency, we had been part of a team working for life sciences, but we were always competing for resources and time with all the other teams, working on building, finances, etc. It was a big international company with 17 offices around the world so it was a very different set-up from what we chose to do with Notch.
We set up Notch in early 2011. Initially, it was just me and Peter and some clients that were very happy to come along with us, and some trusted freelancers who had been working on scientific briefs for a while. We put our processes in place, built up the client books, brought in staff, moved several times and here we are today! We’ve never looked back.