How to be a forensic scientist [Interview with Martina Ribar Hestericová]

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How to be a forensic scientist [Interview with Martina Ribar Hestericová]

Senior communications manager and trade media lead

Tell us about yourself

Hello everyone, my name is Martina and I am originally from Slovakia, now working and living in Switzerland. I am a chemist by training, but I also work as a science communicator and a science journalist. I studied biochemistry and bioorganic chemistry at the Comenius University in Slovakia and afterwards moved to Basel in Switzerland to pursue a PhD in chemistry.

How to be a forensic scientist

What was your PhD about?

My PhD was aimed at the development and optimization of artificial metalloenzymes for nano applications. Let us break that down: I was combining the world of classical metal catalysis (organic chemistry part of my research) with the advantages of enzymes (molecular biology part). The artificial enzyme is produced by anchoring a transition metal containing catalyst within the active site of a protein. As a result, we artificially create a functioning enzyme, which I used for creating nanoparticles. My PhD was a great experience, but after defending my thesis, I decided to leave academia and pursue a career in industry and communication.

Why did you decide to no longer pursue an academic career?

It was a decision that took time. Already during my first year of my PhD, I noticed how many people seemed like they suffered. I often experienced competitiveness where there was certainly room for collaboration. Add in long hours, pressure from the PI, projects where I got stuck… I eventually experienced burnout, even considered to quit my PhD completely. Science communication on social media got me back on track and I soon realized that a career in academia was simply not compatible with my life and career goals – becoming a professor in Europe requires moving almost every other year for a postdoc, an early professorship and then ultimately looking for a tenured position.  

How does the research you do in your current position differ from an academic position?

In my current role, my experiments are always related to a concrete project. Instead of blindly exploring the unknown waters of basic research, my results help to ensure the safety of the patient and of the drug product and drug substance we are working with. This is a great source of motivation, knowing that whatever task I do has a direct impact on society – I was missing this while working on basic research in academia a lot.


What is your side hustle? How does your PhD help you in your side hustle?

Other part of my career life is being a freelance science journalist. In this job I heavily rely on my writing skills I acquired during my PhD studies and all the writing and presentation courses I took. However, instead of describing complicated scientific procedures using even more complicated academic language and jargon, I do my best to communicate the findings to a broad audience. My goal is to present the research I am writing about in a way understandable by more people than researchers and to present it in an interesting and, ultimately, fun way.

What resources did you use when making the career transition to an alternative career?

The University I did my PhD at (University of Basel) has an amazing system for ensuring that students get trained in a variety of skills – apart from the obvious hard skills acquired during performing research, they organize various courses aimed at improving the communication and negotiation skills, scientific writing, project management and much much more. These skills proved to be crucial during my transition since employers outside of academia do not only care about you knowing how to do a full synthesis of a drug or how your bacterial transformation works. They want to be sure that you can manage time and a team of people well, that you can communicate effectively and that you are a team player.

How can my readers connect with you/find out more?

Feel free to DM me on IG or reach out on any of my social media sites. My contact info can be found here: https://www.priklady.eu/en/hestericova.alej

Considering a non-academic career but not sure if a forensic scientist is a good fit? Check out my full list of non-academic careers and side-hustles for PhDs.

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