December 2009

Jump, Don’t Fall, into Your Career Transition

Jeanne McAdara-Berkowitz small

Jeanne McAdara-Berkowitz received her Ph.D. in macromolecular and cellular structure and chemistry from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. She did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and then joined FischerHealth Strategic Communications. After three years at the agency, Jeanne founded Biolexica, a communications consultancy specializing in the health sciences.

From the moment my parents gave me my first microscope, I never imagined I’d grow up to become anything other than a scientist. I designed my entire scholastic trajectory with that goal in mind, and I never questioned my plan until I was well into my Ph.D. candidacy. Despite a growing discontent with bench science, I managed to complete my thesis work and even did a postdoctoral fellowship. But even wonderful mentors, great co-workers and interesting projects couldn’t keep my heart in the laboratory. I eventually made the decision— one that was absolutely devastating at the time— to begin looking for a new career.

Today, I am a professional science and medical writer and communications strategist, and I couldn’t be happier. I work on a variety of communications projects, from media relations, marketing and Web sites, to deeply technical projects like helping researchers turn clinical studies into journal manuscripts. It’s interesting, varied and fast-paced work that is intellectually challenging, both scientifically and from a business standpoint.

Making the decision to leave the lab bench might have been the hardest part of my career transition, but the next hardest part was figuring out what to do and how to get there.

Almost Everyone “Falls Into” His or Her Career

The path that led me from unhappy lab researcher to successful consultant may seem like random coincidences and luck. But, over the years, I’ve found the common theme among most of the “alternative career” crowd is that everyone’s career history is a seemingly random amalgamation of network connections, referrals and opportunities that came together in the end. We all created environments that fostered connections and remained vigilant, so we recognized opportunities when they presented themselves.

For example, in the midst of my postdoc, when the angst of not knowing what to do with my life was at its peak, a friend who was a technician in my graduate school lab got a freelance gig writing for a magazine aimed at lab scientists. He put in a word with the editor, who then gave me a trial assignment. I was terrified. What did I know about writing an article? I probably worked harder on that 500-word product review than I have on anything since. But, that first assignment led to more writing work, and it also gave me a pretty good idea that, whatever I decided to do, I wanted writing to be a part of it.


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  • Thank you for the inspiring story! I am a senior research specialist, M.S., in a human genetics lab. I have had this pull in the last 6 months that I should be doing something else, something more. I enjoy bench work,but I am starting to feel limited in my position. I really enjoy writing and solving problems, but I don't know what I would be good at, besides what I do already.

    Next year will be my year for landing a career that pays me what I'm worth, respects my work and stretch my intellectual abilities, no matter what I choose. Thanks again!

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