An evening with award-winning scientist, author, journalist and podcaster, Dr Kat Arney.
Written by: Maddie Wigmore-Sykes
Edited by: Rachel Rubinsohn
For our first speaker event of this academic year, we were joined by award-winning science communicator, Dr Kat Arney. Her aptly-titled talk ‘Telling Stories about Science’ highlighted her varied career, while also touching on some of the difficulties she has faced.
Kat’s first foray into a career in science was during a year in industry at AstraZeneca. Her experiences led to a decision to pursue academic, rather than corporate, science. Kat then completed a degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and followed this up with a PhD. From there, she went to London, undertaking post-doc laboratory work at Hammersmith Hospital and living within spitting distance of Wormwood Scrubs prison.
Throughout her studies, Kat relished the research going on around her, the conferences she attended and the other scientists she was able to meet, but she never felt comfortable in the lab. Increasingly lost and out of touch with her career, Kat wondered where to go next. Having always had a passion for storytelling, she realised that she had been engaging with scientific communication for years alongside her studies. It was this realisation that led her to leave academia, and join Cancer Research UK (CRUK) as a science information officer, a role Kat described as her dream job at the time.
While at CRUK, Kat was involved in science communication at all levels: podcasts, blogs, public speaking and appearances on BBC Breakfast. She also took on freelance roles on radio shows and as a reporter for news outlets including the Guardian and New Scientist. Kat then took a leap and wrote her first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats: Understanding how our genes work, leaving her job at CRUK after 12 years when the book was published. She embarked on a book tour and officially became a full-time freelancer.
Since going freelance, Kat has published two further books: How to Code a Human and Rebel Cell: Cancer, Evolution and the Science of Life. She has also founded First Create the Media, a life sciences communications consultancy, working with companies from small start-ups to international brands on strategy, content and marketing.
Having worked across so many disciplines, Kat’s talk provided an insight into some of the many paths a career in science communication can take you down. She emphasised that writing articles is not the only option, with Youtube, podcasts, visual content and even TikTok representing viable avenues for scientific engagement.
Her advice for us? Know yourself and what motivates you. Use that information to find out where you fit best, and if something doesn’t fit, change it! Keep learning, read voraciously and know your stuff. Always be hustling ‒ if you want to succeed as a freelancer you have to push at every door, leap outside of your comfort zone and learn to take rejection lightly.
We’re so grateful to Dr Kat Arney for speaking to us about her career so far and answering our many questions! You can find her on Twitter, @Kat_Arney, in your local bookstore and on the airwaves with her latest podcast Hormones: The Inside Story.