By Anjana Nair
26th April 2022
Confession Time: You read it right. I was fired from the job I loved. Or the job “I thought” I loved.
It happened with zero warning, without any indication. I had no idea it was coming. I had received an improvement plan, but I knew I was working hard. That morning, I was simply pulled into a Zoom call meeting and my boss told me that they were letting me go. That’s all – no clue about what was going to happen or what should I be doing next.
The general perception of people who get fired is that they are screw-ups who fail to do their job right or perhaps make huge, unjustifiable mistakes. It could have been somewhat true in my circumstance since I moved into advertising – something I never truly understood.
And how would I when science was my only love language?
To me, as a young child, science was a cinematic celebration of the universe and discovering our place within its vastness. Carl Sagan inspired and gave me ideas to ponder as a youngster. Nobody had ever explained the exploration of space so bewilderingly as Sagan. It was because of him that, in my high school years, I had the opportunity of participating in many state-level science projects and competitions. Therefore, growing up, I was interested in Astronomy and Biology. But somehow my fascination with Biology and my striving for better grades led me to choose a career which primarily included research. I decided to pursue Biotechnology. The course provided me a holistic view of the intersection between science and technology. My dissertation was a revelation as I experienced the highs and lows of research life. It all helped me to realise what I enjoyed doing the most – spending hours, even days, editing my mentor’s manuscripts and writing review articles.
My career can be split into three broad sections with vast areas of writing and storytelling involved.
As a Research Assistant in cancer biology, I was able to take the role of a staff writer for a science magazine. Perhaps without realising, this opportunity diverted my path away from a traditional laboratory routine and towards science writing. As an Academic Writer, every day was different; one day I would be drafting research papers on biogenic amines, and the next writing about X-ray crystallography for high school materials. Enrolling myself in a journalism course led me to maintain a scientific outlook whilst producing articles. I was soon able to take the role of a guest writer for a popular biotechnology magazine and the position of a freelance junior editor for a local newspaper covering the environment, technology, and national affairs. These experiences presented me with an opportunity to understand the fundamentals of reporting including newsgathering, interviewing, writing, and proofreading different types of stories.
As I gradually transitioned, money became an important aspect of my career. There are times when prioritising salary feels like the right move. In late 2020, after being a researcher, academic writer, and junior editor, I added another job title to the mix: journalist. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw a need for both improved reporting – and I had stories to tell. So, I pivoted my career into news writing. Oddly enough, this time it was about marketing and advertising, and I was a complete novice.
For about five years after graduation, there was no convenient explanation as to what my real job was. Before I was a ‘lab wonk’, then a writer following many interests at any given time. There was no simple way to explain my work. I had quite simply outgrown my old way of life.
That is when my mother nudged me to return to what I was good at – understanding, analysing, writing, and making science easy. I was confident that pursuing a master’s degree in Science Communication at Imperial College London would allow me to build a strong footing for a career in science communication. I intended to pursue the type of communication which would help shape the public perception of science and the way people live. It is what I hoped to do – to not just share information and correct erroneous beliefs, but rather demonstrate competency and truthfulness. Whether it is talking to scientists or to the public, my job as a science communicator now will stand to bridge the gap between the two worlds.
Perhaps, five years from now, I can see myself working in the public-politics spectrum and making myself a part of this world called ‘science policy’. I want to turn my passion for doing good into proven social impact; I would like to develop the skills necessary for asking hard questions and follow the evidence to the answers. I hope to combine my background and my education with immediate hands-on experience to create an impactful, satisfying, and rewarding career which both creates and fosters change.
In many ways, I must agree that the job elimination liberated me from the box in which I had caged myself.
There are points in life where we must embrace change and see where it takes us!
Anjana Nair is Reviews Editor at I, Science and studies on the MSc Science Communication course here at Imperial. With her background in biotechnology, Anjana worked as a researcher and then pursued science journalism. In her free time, she loves to read science fiction and watch documentaries.