Career Perspectives: Karen Ring, Website and Social Media Manager at CIRM

Please describe your current position.

I am the website and social media manager at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

I wasn’t looking for jobs at the time but was contacted by companies and recruiters about jobs in science communications. They sounded really interesting so I applied to the one that contacted me and then started looking at other open positions.

How did you learn about your current position?

I check certain company job sites periodically and saw CIRM’s job opening on their website.

Karen Ring

Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

The jobs I applied for I found through LinkedIn jobs and I also learned about job opportunities through my life science network that I’ve built over the past 10 years.

What was your work or educational background before you were hired?

I have a PhD in biomedical sciences from the University of California at San Francisco and did a two-and-a-half year postdoc at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.

Which aspects of your background (doctoral training, postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?

My position requires a solid understanding of stem cell research and regenerative medicine. While the job didn’t require a PhD, having one is very valuable for what I do. I interact with scientists about their research daily, and having that degree lets scientists know that I understand their work and can speak to them on their level.

How long after your interview did you start your position? Were there any barriers to starting your position when you had hoped (e.g. lack of space or funding available, time to secure appropriate visa or any other official procedures)?

One month. I had no barriers to starting my position, and my employer was eager for me to begin work right away.

How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?

I did an initial phone interview with HR and then a second phone interview with the hiring managers for the position. After that, I was invited for an in person interview that lasted a few hours. Because I was interviewing for a science communications manager position, I was asked to bring in copies of my science writing. I also brought in my CV and used those two pieces of information to explain my scientific and communications background.

I prepared for the interview by looking over the job description and coming up with explanations for how I meet their requirements. If there was a skill that I didn’t have, I explained how I would be able to compensate or learn that skill. I also came up with a few innovative ideas for how I would improve their communications strategy, and I designed a mockup of a rebrand of the company’s website to show them I that I would bring fresh ideas to the position.

Did you pursue any other position or career path prior to being hired in your current position? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

I was in academic research prior to my current position, but during my time as a graduate student and postdoc, I explored other careers in science. I did many informational interviews, went to networking events and also gained experience as a science writer for multiple online outlets. These experiences helped me realize that I was passionate about a career in communications and set me up for getting a job in communications.

Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?

No. I thought I would become a research scientist in industry and hadn’t considered a job in science communications. I didn’t know that it was a career that I could pursue until my postdoc. I am really glad that I took the time to explore alternative science careers and that I found my true passion. I did love doing research and have a lot of respect for scientists at the bench, but I found that my talents are better used in communicating a wide range of science to other scientists and the general public.

Is there anything about your current job that you had not expected before you were hired?

I initially thought that my job would focus on just managing our website, social media and blog and doing public outreach. But my role has since expanded to cover other forms of communications, marketing and student education. One of my added roles is being the director of a high school educational program called SPARK that gives students from underprivileged communities the opportunity to do cutting edge stem cell research at top institutes in California. This program is one of my favorite responsibilities at CIRM, and I am grateful that I was asked to direct this program.

Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?

I wish that I had received science communications training during my PhD and postdoc. I taught myself how to write about science for a lay audience and also attended outside writing workshops and read books. But I would have appreciated having a more formal training during my research career. I also wish that I had more training on public speaking about science. Since joining CIRM, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to improve on my public speaking, but it would have been nice to have those skills going in to this job.

How do you spend an average workday?

In the morning, I review the latest news on stem cell research and send out a daily newsletter to our subscribers. Then I set up our social media posts (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn) for the day. I also write two blogs for our Stem Cellar Blog each week so some mornings I am writing or posting my work. In the afternoon, I typically spend time updating the CIRM website or working on other communications and marketing related projects. I usually have 1-2 meetings a day with different teams at CIRM to figure out how the communications team can promote CIRM initiatives.

What do you like the most about your work?

I love that I can read and write about stem cell research every day and in the process, educate other scientists as well as the public about the importance of funding stem cell research. It is very satisfying work, and I enjoy that I get to interact with so many different audiences every day.

What do you find the most challenging about your work?

I find that because I have so many different things that I do in my job, it can be difficult to manage my time. Sometimes I feel that I am neglecting one part of my job because I have to spend time on the other parts. Our communications team is small, and we do the best we can. I’ve learned not to be a perfectionist or to be hard on myself if I can’t “do it all”. I’ve also learned to be better at time management and not let myself get caught up in certain tasks that aren’t as important as others.

What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

To be good at science communications you need to be passionate both about the science AND about explaining that science to your audience. If you don’t listen to the wants and needs of your audience, you won’t be successful. So I think that being passionate and a good listener are two really important qualities to succeed in my job.

Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?

Yes. If you don’t like talking or interacting with different groups of people, this job isn’t for you. There are plenty of science writing jobs that don’t require you to go to conferences and meetings and talk to scientists, patients or students. My job does require me to give talks regularly, and I really enjoy doing this. I am not an extrovert by any means and have an introverted side, but I really do enjoy putting myself out there to talk about science to other people. Having this motivation and passion helps me to be successful in this line of work.

At any point, do you regret not having pursued a career in the academic field?

Nope. I never had an interest in being an academic professor. I liked research but was more interested in working in industry. Now that I am in a completely different career, I am glad that I still have ties to academia and can write about the important research that academic scientists are doing.

What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?

If you want to be in science communications, you need to have the experience that the job is asking for. For many science communications positions you need to show that you’ve done more than just write scientific publications. You can gain experience by guest blogging for blogs that you like reading, writing for your university newsletter or looking for contract writing jobs online.

I would recommend that you research what types of jobs you are interested in and then learn about their qualifications. If they want blogging or website experience, find a way to get these qualifications. If they want social media experience, volunteer to help manage a science account or start your own personal social media channel to talk about science.

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