Jonathan Lawson

Jonathan Lawson is the Communications Manager for the Babraham Institute. Follow him on Twitter

A short summary of his previous work in developmental biology:

After graduating from the University of Cambridge, I stayed in the city and joined the Wellcome Developmental Mechanisms PhD programme. After rotation projects with Clare Baker and Katja Röper, I pursued a research project with Rafael Carazo-Salas (now located in Bristol). I performed large-scale, automated imaging of cells to understand the effects of genetics on cell shape, microtubules and the cell cycle. Using computational analysis we found a connection between microtubules and DNA damage.

Current role and company:

I’m currently Communications Manager for the Babraham Institute. I’m responsible for external and internal communications and publicity for the Institute, which specialises in ageing research. This includes press releases, internal communications, networking with organisations and managing web and social media content. Since the end of my PhD I have also had a short contract job with the Cambridge Science Festival and had two jobs with Cancer Research UK.

Why did you choose to leave academia?

I realised during my masters that I preferred talking about research and learning about new science much more than I enjoyed doing, and failing to do, the experiments. It took a 3am, whisky-induced poker match with housemates at the start of my PhD for me to realise that communications and engagement was what I really loved. Being on the programme gave me a great, flexible opportunity to build up the experience I would need to move into this highly competitive field whilst having a job and regular income. You tend to need a lot of voluntary experience before you can get a job in this area. There are Masters courses and Internships in Science Communications now, but you need to be able to support yourself through them.

Did the experience and skills gained in academia prepare you for the new role? Was there any training, etc. you wish you had done?

Experience of academia is really useful in communication roles as it gives you valuable insight into who you’re working with, their priorities and workload. It also helps to be able to rapidly pick up and learn new areas of research from reading papers, so you can talk about them. There’s also loads of great transferable skills like critical thinking, independent working and multitasking. I’d have liked to have taken a chance to supervise a project student as it’d have been helpful for management skills, which really help with career progression in any direction.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

I love working across lots of different science and finding the things that are interesting and relevant for society. It’s especially great if you have the chance to do this in new ways and can reach different groups of people with the latest science. I also really enjoy working with leading researchers and talking to them about their research.

What do you miss the most about research?

I miss the flexibility, PhD students work practically all the time, weekends and holidays included etc. But no-one’s counting your hours or time off so you have a great opportunity to do loads of other things too. I also loved those rare moments of discovery of things that genuinely nobody has ever seen before.

What do you miss the least about research?

Failure. Maybe it’s just me, but it was hard doing the experiments that just kept not working and keep working on it.

Do you have any CV tips?

Keep it short. Academic CVs have everything in, most other places it needs to fit on two sides of paper. Tailor your CV, at least a little bit, to each application. Most recruiters will literally spend seconds looking at your CV when shortlisting so attract attention to the most relevant things. Try to match their own wording when appropriate and put key skills up front, they don’t all need to be buried in the descriptions of your jobs. Also, publications don’t need anywhere as much prominence as they do in academia.

Do you have any other advice for young researchers?

It’s OK if you don’t have a career plan. You can make changes whenever but a PhD is a good time to consider opportunities and try different directions alongside research. Also, non-research careers are often called ‘alternative’ but it’s a simple fact that most PhD students won’t go on to have their own labs. Leaving research isn’t ‘failing’ and you can always go back if you decide you want to.

 

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