Next Steps: Why a former scientist left academia to make explainer videos

“Sometimes it’s better to be done than to be perfect, because you never release it and never move on.”

Shelley Sandiford started her scientific career with a dream of someday running her own lab. The reality after spending 15 years in academia as a student and post-doc fellow studying muscle kinesiology was that she was being subjected to more and more unstable research work. As she saw more of what it would be like to forge a career in academia, she decided to learn new skills and leave academia to start her own company, Sciconic Science Media, creating science explainer videos for magazines and digital publications. For the last episode of Next Steps season 1, Poynter spoke with Sandiford about how academia can be a dangerous place for ambitious students, how to learn new skills for a completely new career path, and the benefits of freelancing.

No matter what your job is, learn how to describe your work in an interesting, short way.

When many people learn that Sandiford was a scientist, they start telling her about another scientist they knew about. “They think that person was really smart, but as they continue talking, it’s clear that they don’t have a clue of what [the scientist] was talking about,” Sandiford laughs.

But it became clear to her — for anyone, including scientists speaking to reporters or trained journalists who translate complex ideas so readers can care and understand the idea — speaking in a simple, comprehendible way is a skill that needs to be practiced as much as other research or reporting.

You’ll learn so many skills that apply to different jobs.

Sandiford’s eternal career advice applies to academics and working journalists: Don’t box in your career prospects, especially if your heart is set on a difficult track that you may not be competitive enough to last in. For her, she acknowledged the identity crisis that occured when she spent so long training to be a scientist and knew that it wasn’t going to happen. “Figure out what your marketable skills may be,” she advises, which could include your area of expertise intersecting with video, communications, education, or many other professional niches.

Thank you for your support! We hope the first season has helped you think about your next steps in or out of media. You can subscribe to Next Steps with Elite Truong on iTunes or Soundcloud, and follow the show on Twitter to tweet what you’d like to hear in a future season.

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