How I moved from academia to industry, thanks to SANDSWA

By Deb Bright

It was a stunningly bright summer afternoon by the ocean, and the breeze was cool. SANDSWA was holding its inaugural happy hour at The Farmer and the Seahorse restaurant in La Jolla, and I didn’t feel like going. Work had been rough lately. But I went anyway because a number of my colleagues were going to be there, and I thought perhaps I’d have a chance to share some successes—and challenges—with them. Little did I know, that afternoon would mark the start of a new era in my career.

deb-brightI’ve spent the majority of my adult life hanging around La Jolla’s picturesque cliffs above the ocean; as a college student my first internship was at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at UC San Diego, and my second was in communications under Mario Aguilera (SANDSWA member) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO)—my first real-world experience in science writing (thanks, Mario!).

Then it was off to grad school in Chicago. I took the first two years of med school classes, wrote a thesis on fetal tolerance, and ended up with a master of science in infectious diseases and immunology.

To keep my head above water during grad school, I wrote press releases for the Field Museum of Natural History and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. That experience, combined with a recommendation from Mario’s team at SIO, landed me a job back at UC San Diego, on the communications team at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

Fast forward to that afternoon by the sea: I had learned that my personality type wasn’t a good fit for the kind of work I was doing. It had recently become clear to me that at that point in my career, I needed a job that would harness my creative energy and channel it in a single direction.

And I said as much at that inaugural happy hour to one man in particular, who happened to be looking for a writer to bring onto his team at Thermo Fisher Scientific, just up the road in Carlsbad—Jeff Berkwits (SANDSWA member). He gave me his card, I reached out, and the next thing I knew, I had an editing test in front of me.

I had so much fun taking that test—it was the highlight of my week! Jeff brought me in for an interview with his entire team, and they brought me on as a contract writer/editor the next month (pro tip: bring donuts to your job interviews). I’ve been continually surprised over the last six months at how good of a fit this job is for my skillset AND my personality—and, I’m happy to say that my contract was converted and I am now full time with the company!

Ah, the power of networking. But that’s not really what this is about. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my career as a science writer thus far is this: You don’t have to have your entire career planned out—just be okay with the next thing.

Who knows, maybe your next thing is waiting for you at a future SANDSWA event!

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