A day in the life of... a public relations officer

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As a person full of curiosity and ambition, I followed my hunger for knowledge and thus the academic biomedical career path from Bachelors to Masters to PhD. Already during my PhD, I realized that I do not see myself as a post-doc or professor. Since I always loved to explain my projects or other biological issues to people around me, I decided to pursue a communication path. A PhD alone, unfortunately, is often not sufficient to get a job, especially if you apply in a different field. That’s why I took some additional specific training. Then I hit the job market with a PhD in genetics and a corporate communications manager certificate and started my first job as Junior Science Consultant at a healthcare agency. There I dove into public relations (PR) and loved it. PR is at the exciting interface of knowing the data and science and communicating to targeted audiences. In my current position as PR Officer at CECAD (Cluster of Excellence for Aging Research, Cologne, Germany) I combine the two things I love: science and communication.

I start work…

As many people do, by checking my mails and calendar. Similar to the time during my PhD, I plan my day or week on Mondays. The difference is that instead of planning experiments and meetings with the supervisor or lab, I check if there are any new media requests, interviews scheduled with PIs, meetings with team members and status updates for ongoing projects. When I have got an overview, I check Twitter, the key social media channel for science communication.

There’s no such thing as a typical day...

Depending on the ongoing projects the daily tasks are very diverse. One day I am performing interviews, another I am writing or working on layouts, and just another I am organizing, mailing and have meetings. Some days all of it.

Much of my time is….

Communication, of course. I am in contact with researchers to write press releases for their upcoming papers, to create content for the university magazine, our website and social media channels, to organize and plan (online) events, and to work on new projects. Stay tuned ;)

I work in two teams with different responsibilities…

This is because my position is a “matrix-position”, which means that I am at the intersection of science and communication. My main workspace is at CECAD, close to science and the researchers. My office is embedded in the CECAD central office. While I am responsible for PR, my colleagues have various other responsibilities like marketing, finance, lab management or career development & gender equality. It is a vibrant atmosphere with many fruitful interactions. Additionally, I am assigned to the press department of the University of Cologne where I have a greater overlap with other colleagues on PR-specific tasks; together we discuss press releases, texts and contemplate potential topics and articles for the university magazine.

My workspace is normally…

The office that I share with my marketing colleague. However, since I started this job during the pandemic, my workspace situation is of course influenced by corona restrictions. Thus, I only see all my colleagues from CECAD office and the press department online and work most of the time from home. I am really looking forward to meeting all my colleagues in person. Hopefully this year…

My favorite communication medium is currently…

Twitter: here I get the most recent information about the CECAD scientists and aging research.

I am developing my skills and experience by…

Doing! You only can improve your skills if you try and sometimes fail. I always learn from mistakes. Curiosity also helps me to improve, get inspired and learn new things.

This career is different to how I imagined it...

If you would have asked me 15 years ago, I would not have imagined I would now be working in PR and writing texts most of my day. Probably my answer would have been: “I will be a researcher or a clinician. Definitely science!”.  And here I am now. I am a biomedical scientist communicating science, which is the perfect fit for me now. I am close to basic research, getting to know inspiring work and exciting results for future therapies. I really enjoy diving in the broad field of aging research instead of focusing on one post-doc project or research focus.

Sometimes I miss the lab work...

Since I am again so close to basic research nowadays, sometimes my thumb tingles to pipette. Luckily, I have two pens looking like pipettes which satisfy my thumb’s cravings. What I also miss is the constant physical activity one has in the lab: the western blot here, the qPCR there and in between some data analysis in the office at the other end of the corridor. I guess this activity will return when the pandemic is contained. Then I will finally explore the hallways of the CECAD research center and visit our researchers for interviews in person.

I end my working day by…

In quite the usual way, I guess: writing the to-do list for the next day to organize and prioritize the ongoing projects. Since everyday it full of surprises with possible requests, exciting news and new tasks, organization is key. Usually, I finish off by checking Twitter again to be up to date on recent scientific news related to CECAD.

My advice to early-career researchers interested in PR or science communication is…

  • To get involved, contact the PR Officer of your institution.
  • Collect experience in writing (for German-speaking and -writing PhD students I highly recommend to take part in the KlarText competition of the Klaus Tschira Foundation, https://klartext-preis.de)
  • Join communication projects
  • Try a science slam or start a blog


Top image of post: by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay 

Anna Euteneuer

PR Officer, CECAD Cologne