What’s it like to…work in research communications?

Woman smilingBy Dr Justine Alford, Communications Manager, IGHI

My journey into research communications was somewhat serendipitous.

During my undergrad in biology I’d become really passionate about HIV. I embarked on a PhD studying the virus in the lab, envisioning my name in scientific lights as I contributed towards a cure. The reality of pipetting minuscule amounts of liquid into test tubes while sporting an oversized bottle green lab coat was far less glamorous.

I admired my colleagues who had the tenacity to endure the heartbreak of failed experiments, but lab work wasn’t for me. As a distraction from my remarkable ability to contaminate my petri dishes, I’d taken up a hobby of bemoaning poor science journalism in a ranty blog. My thinly veiled sarcasm and nerdy exuberance scored me my first job as a science writer. It was gratifying having an audience larger than my thesis ever managed to accrue.

While I never planned this career path, working in research communications is incredibly rewarding. I get to stay at the forefront of exciting research that’s changing the world for the better, galvanising my inner geek without having to lay a finger on a conical flask. And it’s given me some unforgettable experiences: seeing Stephen Hawking give a talk was a highlight of my life.

I love my role at IGHI because of the sheer breadth of what we do. From artificial intelligence to robot surgeons, mental health to children’s hospice care. Every day I’m learning the new ways in which we’re making a difference to people’s lives, whether that’s the clinicians on the frontline or patients and their loved ones. Working in so many important areas sometimes makes it challenging to succinctly communicate what we do at IGHI – but all efforts are married by our overarching goal of using evidence and innovation to transform health and care. And it’s my role to help spread the word of this laudable work.

My favourite part of comms is storytelling. As an academic institution, we have a duty to be open and transparent about the work that we do – but I firmly believe communications should be more than a bland tick box exercise. Creatively building narratives that bring research to life and shine a light on the people behind these amazing advances helps to meaningfully engage people in what we do. Doing so helps to affirm how we’re making a difference while also highlighting areas in need, helping to drive change and inspire action.

My current job is definitely the most varied comms role I’ve had in my career to date – drafting press releases, organising events, planning social media campaigns, engaging with researchers and writing blogs keeps me busy and never bored. Seeing our efforts pay off by making headline news creates a real buzz – but that’s still dwarfed by the energy I get from immersing myself around a pool of incredibly talented people who just want to help make the world a better place.

I’m truly in awe of my colleagues across the Institute and it’s a privilege to be able to work with my team – Nikita and Nicolette – to share their stories and showcase their achievements.

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