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Case Study: Leila Sattary

Personal details
Degree:Physics MPhys Profile picture
School(s): School of Physics and Astronomy
Year of Graduation:Jun-2008
National of: United Kingdom
Employment details
Organisation: University of Oxford / Freelance
Job title: Research Facilitator / Science Writer & Editor
Occupational Sector: Scientific/Medical Publishing
What has been your route to getting your current position?

My Science Writing work began during my degree course, having been asked to pen an article for the Institute of Physics student magazine after my blog was noticed. Having produced this crucial first piece it was possible to work freelance for other publications. I was also able to expand my experience during my degree with research lab work and a public engagement dissertation project. Working for the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council upon graduating provided me with an understanding of the processes and priorities within a government funding body, which has helped to inform my current role supporting researchers in making funding applications.

What does your job involve ?

Research Facilitator: Supporting academic research staff in making applications for research funding, as well as advising on how best to prepare for the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) national assessment exercise. The role can also throw up a variety of other unexpected tasks!

Science Writer/Editor: Writing articles for publications which include Science, Chemistry World, Laboratory News and the Euroscientist. I was the editor for the Euroscientist, controlling content while liaising with and supporting fellow freelance writers in producing articles
What are the best bits of your job ?

Research Facilitator: Autonomy; making a difference in someone’s scientific career; using my science background without having to be a research scientist. Downsides include the lack of structure to the academic working environment.

Science Writer/Editor: The flexibility to take on a diverse range of writing jobs, and the knowledge and experience accrued from this. Downsides include the somewhat lonely nature of being a freelance writer.

Why were you successful?

Research Facilitator: Empathy with academic researchers, developed through a combination of practical research work, good communication skills and a working knowledge of the research funding environment.

Science Writer/Editor: Getting started early in my career; persistence in pursuing leads and professional networks; being active through social media, particularly Twitter as a means of canvassing opinions.

What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?

A scientific background provides me with credibility and confidence in dealing with academic researchers, while my summer research projects provided me with enough experience to know I did not want to pursue a research career!

A degree in Physics has also equipped me to assess the reliability of scientific reports made in other articles, when researching a piece for publication. Good use of time to develop my science writing while still at University has also allowed me to get ahead in this field.

What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?

Research Facilitator: Establish a broad skills and knowledge base in order to inform your work. A PhD can be helpful, but is not essential provided you can demonstrate an understanding of research life, and prove that you have the communication skills required to deal with people day to day.

Science Writer: Get involved, and start early! Take advantage of any opportunities to get your written work into what is still a relatively small professional community. Competitions, blogs and a social media presence can all help with this. A Masters in Science Communication/Journalism is worth considering, if for nothing other than the opportunities to make contact with journalists, broadcasters and other professionals.