Case study

Policy and communications assistant — Shannon

Shannon loves using her skills and knowledge to make a real impact on current scientific issues. Find out how she became involved in shaping future immunology policy

How did you get into policy and communications?

I studied for a BSc Biochemistry at University College London (UCL) and then went on to do an MSc Immunology at the University of Oxford before starting work at the British Society for Immunology (BSI) as a policy and communications assistant.

Being an immunology graduate, I was a member of the BSI before working for them. I was also involved in a policy think-tank organisation throughout my studies.

I enjoy seeing the almost immediate positive impact that my work can have

What's a typical day like?

My role involves keeping up to date with current events in immunology and the broader life sciences. On a day-to-day basis, I go to parliament committee meetings and debates on key issues such as Brexit, write policy briefings on key topics (for example, cancer immunotherapy and immunisation), attend conferences (academic and non-academic) and think ahead to what I feel science and immunology should look like in the future. It's an incredibly fascinating and fast-paced position.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy seeing the almost immediate positive impact that my work can have. One of the main reasons I decided to explore my career options, rather than going straight on to a PhD, was that I often felt a disconnect between my lab work and the positive impact that the work could have.

Working in policy and communications, you're aware of what needs to be done for science now and in the future, feel connected to real issues and see these tackled head-on.

What are the challenges?

Policy involves learning how to communicate science to a wide audience and tailor projects to a targeted group. For example, I wrote a briefing for the lay population on cancer immunotherapy and had to tailor my usual scientific voice to the general public.

How relevant is your biochemistry degree?

Both my undergraduate degree and Masters are very relevant. I stay up to date and closely connected to science, but have a different perspective than I had previously.

Although the content of my degrees are important, I also developed other skills such as time management, which is vital for working in policy, and communication, essential for explaining complex issues to a range of audiences.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I want to find an area that I'm really interested in and build a deep understanding, hopefully implementing positive change along the way.

What are your tips for others studying for a biochemistry degree?

  • Explore your options. There are so many opportunities available to biochemistry graduates and having a science degree is only an asset. Make sure you network to build up contacts, join organisations and societies, and use your careers service.
  • As a student, you have time to figure things out. I've worked and studied with people who have worked in different sectors, from consulting to medicine, and back to research years later. It's important to give yourself time to find what you want to do, rather than settling for something because you think you have to immediately take the next step.
  • Evaluate your lab experience. Understand what you enjoy about it and what you don't. You may find that what you really enjoy about being in the lab can be found in a different environment.

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