It's a simple, but uncommon, love story. Boy meets science; boy falls in love with science; boy falls out of love, but they manage to stay very good friends.
At the age of 16, when I was writing one of my GCSE * English assignments, Mrs. Taylor (my teacher) wrote: "I was going to say that this is as good as any children's story in the library. The unexpectedly adult twist at the end changed my mind. Have you ever considered a career in journalism?" I was thrilled at the idea that I could shock but also thrilled that I could write.
I hadn't considered journalism; I wanted be a veterinarian. So, I concentrated on biology, chemistry, maths, and physics. Then came the work experience. After 2 weeks in a vet's surgery watching dogs being put to sleep, cats being autopsied, and horses having their teeth chiselled, I changed my mind. Although I was happy with my choice of science A-levels **, I now had no clear career direction.
While doing my A-levels, I worked on the highly unsuccessful school newspaper. I found I liked writing features: News stories about the latest school play didn't thrill me, but an article describing how Valentine's Day started as a pagan festival bordering on the perverse did.
So, what to do at university? I liked biology and chemistry, but maths was too difficult, so I did biochemistry. University was great--I found the confidence to be myself, make friends, and live independently. I didn't think about careers at all; if I'd had any sense, I would have taken the opportunity to work for one of the student newspapers (proper newspapers this time). Biochemistry as a degree was also good. I found it interesting and even got the opportunity to work in a laboratory in Italy for 5 months. But, as I was finishing the degree, I had no idea what to do next.
I explored all avenues, including jobs in scientific publishing, and applied for various positions; I was even offered one as an assistant editor with Current Biology. But it seemed to me that assistant editors did lots of proofreading for very little money. At the same time, I was offered a Ph.D. working at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, and it paid more! I'd worked in a laboratory and that seemed OK, my supervisor seemed nice, and the place seemed good; maybe academic research was the career for me?
A year into my Ph.D., I knew I didn't like it, but I thought, "This will get better". By 2 years in, I hated it, but it was too near the end to give up. I looked outside for stimulation to compensate for what I found a daily chore.
I was interested in the Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), an HIV and AIDS charity, and started training with them as a buddy (befriending and empowering people living with HIV). I also discovered that THT was looking for people to work on the volunteers' newsletter. I started writing for this publication every month, producing updates on treatments, information on secondary infections, and interviews with treatment experts.
This experience clinched it for me--I loved this work! About 6 months before finishing my Ph.D., I began seriously looking for a job in writing, editing, or publishing. The only place to look for jobs of this kind was (and still is) Media Guardian . I applied for over 60 jobs, and I got 2 interviews. Never believe it's easy.
One of the interviews I had was for a job as an assistant editor on a trade newspaper called Laboratory News . The application was difficult because it had three questions and asked for written news stories in response. Only six people had the perseverance to apply, and I was given the job. (The people there told me afterwards that this was because I was the only one who had laughed at their jokes in the interview. As we worked in a small team, my employers needed to be sure they'd get on with me on a personal, as well as professional, level.)
At Laboratory News, I got a chance to do everything, and so I began my training in publishing. Tasks included commissioning articles, writing articles and news stories, producing product profiles, directing design, thinking of ways to increase advertising revenue, and interviewing scientists.
While working at Laboratory News I started writing management reports for another company in my spare time. This was easy, tedious, and lucrative work! My job was to turn a huge stack of information into a report of the most salient points, which the company then sold to executives.
Friends and friends of friends are good ways to learn about opportunities to get writing and editing experience. The opportunity to write the management reports was the result of connections made while doing my Ph.D., with someone who had moved to a conference production agency. An opportunity to publish a few articles in T3 Magazine came about because my partner knew the features editor. I even did theatre reviews for an Internet site just for the free tickets. Have a go, and get some experience!
After 2 years I was deputy editor, and even if I'd become editor (unlikely, because it was a case of waiting for a dead man's shoes), my job would have been no different. I started looking for a new challenge in which I could apply my newly developed skills. An advert (in Media Guardian again) appeared for executive editor of The Biochemist magazine--the membership magazine of the Biochemical Society. It asked for a degree in biochemistry, a postgraduate qualification in a biochemistry-related subject, and 2 years of experience in an editorial role. I would have been foolish not to apply.
I have now been executive editor of The Biochemist for over a year. I love the magazine and the challenges it brings. I commission articles from scientists according to a specific theme, which takes lateral thinking and coaxing. These are edited for content to make the magazine as accessible as possible to all readers--probably the hardest part of my job. We also have articles describing the Biochemical Society's work in conference organising, educational projects, and lobbying Parliament on behalf of scientists. I direct the design of the magazine (but don't actually do the designing) and have been responsible for the production specifications. Advertising is also an important activity, and I work with our agency to increase revenue. The magazine has seen some changes since I've arrived, and it has been gratifying to hear people's comments on how much it has improved.
So, although my education was in science, my career is in publishing. The great thing is, without my education, I couldn't have had the career. It's the perfect relationship.
** The qualification taken in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland at the age of 18.