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Alt. Scientific Career Path #5: Scientific Communication and Entrepreneurship [Megan Waldman, PhD]

Dr. Megan Walman is a freelance scientist who operates her own Life Sciences Communication & Business Coaching firm. Her scientific expertise is in human genetics.

As somebody who leads her own life sciences consulting business, your work schedule could get pretty chaotic, I'd imagine. For the most part, what does your day-to-day look like?

Like any other job, there are very busy periods and more relaxed periods. My work schedule is flexible, however, I like to keep it stacked with some breaks here and there.

Occasionally, I have meetings at some odd hours (early morning/late night), but this is because several clients are located in different time zones around the world and I do my best to accommodate their schedule.

When it comes down to it, I have the choice of working 3 days a week, the traditional 9-5 with my weekends free (plenty of time for camping weekends and game nights), or every single day—it really just depends on the projects I take on and my personal life.

Oh, nice! And yes, greed, having flexibility is so important. What’s the most difficult part of your job and with being a solo-entrepreneur?

For me, it is learning when to say no to projects or new clients. This turns into a packed workload, and therefore, a packed schedule.

Having to turn down work must be difficult and would certainly intensify when you are solely responsible! On to happier news, what are your favorite aspects of your job and with being an entrepreneur?

So many positives!

  • Ownership — I will either fail or succeed and that really comes down to my level of motivation, discipline, creativity, and business acuity—personally, I love that.

  • Flexibility — not just in regards to my schedule, but also for the specific clients I work with, the projects I work on, and the structure of the deals

  • Learning — I am very curious and this career path helps quench that curiosity. I get to learn about new businesses, cultures, technologies, and business practices

  • Opportunity — I’m an opportunity hunter and I’ve come to realize that, as an entrepreneur (especially as a solo-entrepreneur), there are so many different paths to choose, and new ones constantly arise. From where I’m sitting, there really aren’t that many “wrong” paths to choose, so I can explore new opportunities as they come.

So it seems like with your job and with being a solo-entrepreneur, you really need to be a self-starter, which many STEM PhD’s are. What are some other critical “transferable skills” necessary for somebody who wants to work in scientific communication and/or entrepreneurship?

The list is long, but here are the top 5 (IMO):

  1. Communication is the most important (in my opinion)

  2. Project management

  3. Negotiation

  4. General business acumen (or having a mentor)

  5. Presentation building/Reporting

Fantastic list! I agree with all of that, especially having a bit of business acumen and vocabulary to present an established profile. Let’s discuss knowledge area.

For folks who are just starting out post-grad school or right after their post-doc and don’t have any industry experience yet, how can one become a consultant in a specific therapeutic area?

Hmm. I’d say it depends on the specific position you are looking for.

The real key is—can you understand new therapeutic areas and industries quickly. If you cannot, then you absolutely need the background knowledge (ideally hands-on experience). You could probably get away with limited knowledge, but a better understanding really does translate into higher value communications because you can empathize with the audience more.

A bonus would be an understanding of the day-to-day workflow and key pain points in that workflow.

Yes, being able to adapt and learn quickly are both skills STEM PhD’s already have! Are there any other tips or words of wisdom you want to provide to Strik3’s community?

For those who are specifically looking to follow a similar path that I took, stay resilient and goal-oriented. There are a lot of moving parts when you start your own business and it can take time to get a steady stream of projects and funds coming in, especially at the rate you probably want—don’t get defeated, get creative.

You aren’t going to be great at everything, so you’ll need to pick up and refine skills as you go, but if you are really delivering value, you will be successful.

Also - remember to stay humble. While you are formally trained in the sciences, you are not necessarily the expert compared to the clients you are serving. You are expected to be an expert in the service you provide (e.g., science communication) with an ability to really understand what your client does and what they need.

To learn more about MWaldman, LLC:

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