A keen interest in human behavior led Courtney Bricker-Anthony to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology, but as she delved more deeply into the subject, she soon realized that something was missing. She wanted to go beyond the observation and analysis of behavior to explore its biochemical, physiological, and structural foundations. Consequently, upon completion of her degree, Courtney began graduate studies in neuroscience, first at the University of Tennessee and then at Vanderbilt under the mentorship of Dr. Tonia Rex. As she progressed in her graduate program, Courtney had many opportunities to satisfy her curiosity about brain function, and she discovered all the joys and frustrations of scientific research. However, by her second year, she also realized that she did not wish to pursue a career as a principal investigator in an academic research lab. This decision was largely driven by a newfound pleasure in talking about science and explaining it to others combined with a concern that scientists in our society communicate their discoveries and the importance of those discoveries very poorly to the general public.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there about important topics such as vaccination and climate change. I became interested in helping people understand the science behind these and other issues – to help them be better informed.”
Pursuit of this goal, however, presented some problems. Her graduate research provided a strong background in a scientific discipline and plenty of opportunities to communicate science to other scientists, but it did not define a clear path to a career in science communication per se. Fortunately, The BRET Office’s ASPIRE program filled the void. The Biomedical Research and the Media Module provided Courtney with an excellent introduction to science journalism and media relations. The module is led by experts in science communication who share their expertise and facilitate discussions about communicating scientific discoveries to the lay public. Through the ASPIRE module, Courtney also had opportunities to gain experience in her intended field, as she wrote articles for The Reporter and the Results and Discussion newsletter. Equally important, the ASPIRE program directed Courtney to the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), a professional organization that provides networking, advice, links to free-lance work, and career development opportunities.
It was through advice from members of the NASW that Courtney decided against postdoctoral studies following completion of her Ph.D.
“They said that a post-doc would be great if I want to learn more about a different field of science, but if my main goal is to be a science writer, then that’s what I should do.”
So, she started out doing free-lance and contract work until she landed a position as Academic Editor for Research Square in Durham, NC. Research Square provides editing services for scientists preparing manuscripts for publication, grant proposals, etc. Its primary customer base is scientists for whom English is a second language. Here, Courtney has found an opportunity to help people making great discoveries overcome the language barrier and effectively communicate their research to others. She has found the job to be interesting and rewarding, and she likes the fact that she can work remotely, so she did not have to leave Nashville. Yet, Courtney retains a strong desire to use her talents in the interest of communicating science to the general public. Once she is well established at Research Square, she plans to pursue this goal through free-lance work.
Asked if she has any advice for current graduate students, Courtney enthusiastically said, “They should explore as much as possible, even if they have to create the opportunities themselves. Lab research is important, but it’s only part of the picture. Grad students should find the time to branch out and do other things – to get out of their comfort zone. That’s the only way they can be sure of what they can do, and what they will want to do in the future.”