Top Takeaways from a Science Insider Turned Science Communicator

Author: Trevor Ainge, Media & Content Specialist

Many of today’s greatest discoveries remain hidden behind closed doors. They’re locked away by obscure language and phrasing that reads like a series of switchbacks. And it’s not just the proverbial “lay audience” on the other side of the threshold, it’s potential investors, partners, and customers, too. That’s a lot of meat left on the bone for budding biotechs.

Building a consistent, discoverable public profile in the media and on social channels lands you into hard-to-reach inboxes organically, without whittling away at a pitch. Outlets from papers to podcasts have an established rapport with your audience. They’ve invested in it. Hitching your wagon to their credibility can grease a lot of wheels, whereas a cold call or email could gum up the opportunity pipeline. 

From stage to startup

I had the immense fortune to join a Seattle-based precision oncology biotech straight out of university. Their roster of heavy-hitting scientists, clinicians, and entrepreneurs guided me gingerly through the first chapter of my career. More than any other project I helped tackle, communications moved the needle for the organization. So I sharpened my pencils, squirreled away a healthy stash of erasers, and shifted focus toward science communications.

Luckily I had a good model to follow. Before the world went topsy-turvy in March 2020, I was on the client side of meetings with s2s. They passed the PR pencil my way later that same year and, somewhat unexpectedly, I began tracing over s2s’ winning campaigns to find their secret sauce. When the opportunity bubbled up to join the s2s team, a team I’d spent a good deal of effort emulating, I nabbed it. 

It wasn’t an altogether unlikely pivot. I honed my communications chops – or busted them, at the very least – on the opera stage. All that high-octane pathos takes a lot of skill and quite a few years’ hard time served in the practice room. I sank my teeth into voice science, too. I earned a degree in Communication Science and Disorders and subsequently delved into the biomechanics and acoustics of voice at the National Center for Voice and Speech. 

Opera shares one particular pain point with the hard sciences: accessibility. Its texts are written in many languages and, even in English language productions, meaning can get tangled up in a mouthful of articulatory gymnastics. It’s not the singer’s fault. Nearly all works across repertoires contain passages that leave vowels acoustically inaccessible to the singer. The situation birthed lyric diction, singer-specific resonance strategies, and an inevitable mush of vowels that can obscure the text.

Science, as it turns out, is a similar patchwork of idiolects. Scientists are trained to package their discoveries for publication in top journals, wrapped up neatly in the parlance of their particular discipline. That obscures the impact of the world’s latest discoveries for the average Jo. Which is a big problem when Jo could fund a startup’s next round, or open up their Rolodex to make a few valuable connections. 

It’s hard to look credible when your audience is left on the wrong side of understanding, peeking through the keyhole. Without a well-considered adjustment, your story’s going to get siloed into a few very specific hands, and for everybody else, into a shiny round filing cabinet. An inclusive communications plan can capture the eyes and ears that preprints and posters can’t muster up.

Impact tech needs stories that impact everyone. For fledgling startups, it doesn’t always make solid sense to fold in a comms team to lighten the load, but plenty of opportunities to democratize communication lie in newsletters, slide decks, and emails. Next time you’re passed the pen, loosen that grip, soften the language, and think about average Jo with an above-average venture fund. And, when the time is right, call your friends at s2s – we’re waiting in the wings.

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