Spotlight on...Catie Lichten

29 April 2017 - By: Caroline Wood

Spotlight on...Catie Lichten

Catie Lichten

By Caroline Wood

“It strikes me that being able to communicate complex scientific information in a clear way is similar to solving a puzzle,” says Catie Lichten, who works as a policy researcher for a not-for-profit policy research institute.

A mathematician by training, Catie has always been adept at working out logical solutions and spotting patterns. But during her PhD, in the Centre for Nonlinear Dynamics at McGill University, she realised that she didn’t want to limit her skills to an academic career. “I never had the same level of passion as my colleagues, some of whom would discuss papers over breakfast – I didn’t want to do that during my spare time!” Fortunately, it was around this time that she discovered just how much she enjoyed writing about science. “I took a course in scientific writing which I really enjoyed and when my supervisor moved the lab to Edinburgh, I looked for more opportunities to keep writing,” she says. These included becoming editor-in-chief of the Edinburgh University Science Magazine (EUSci) and ultimately winning the SEB media internship for the 2012 Annual Meeting, then hosted in Salzburg, Austria. “The SEB internship was a great learning experience and gave me the opportunity to see how professional journalists work – and how quickly!” Catie says.

On completing her PhD, Catie’s portfolio secured her a position at Research Fortnight and Research Europe, where she worked as a journalist for 19 months. The role exposed her to the issues surrounding research policy, as she found herself writing updates on new policy developments and funding systems. But the scientist in her missed working with real data; “Analytical work was the basis of my PhD and I had gone from one extreme to the other,” she says. “I wanted to meet it somewhere halfway.” The logical solution was to work for an organisation that conducted research on science policy issues and in May 2014 Catie moved to RAND Europe, based in Cambridge. Given that most of the work is commissioned, Catie typically works on several different projects at once and enjoys the variety this gives. “It’s much different to an academic career where you tend to have a very specific niche,” she explains, whilst admitting she would sometimes like the opportunity to explore certain topics in more depth. Typically, Catie’s role involves literature reviews, update meetings with project teams and planning new research proposals. “I don’t get out as much as in my journalism days,” she admits, “but my research experience has given me a real interest in the work. A lot of my PhD was quite basic, so it is satisfying to produce research that can be used immediately.”

If you’re considering a career at the science policy interface Catie recommends starting by investigating the landscape: “Explore the discussions and challenges surrounding topics that interest you and see who the key players are – including governments, the public and industry,” she says. “Take advantage of schemes that enable you to experience what the field is like and develop your contacts.” In the UK, these include the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellowship Scheme and in the US there is the Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship. Or why not set up your own Science-Policy group at your institute? As Catie says, a career in science policy certainly offers a compelling alternative to the academic route: “The mix of qualitative and quantitative research, writing and management keeps me on my toes and means that I am always learning new things.”

Category: Career Development
Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood was the SEB’s 2014 science communication intern. Since then, Caroline has been a regular contributor the SEB, reporting on events and writing insightful features for our members.
Caroline has an undergraduate degree from Durham University in Cell Biology and is currently a PHD student at Sheffield University studying parasitic Striga weeds that infect food crops. You can read her blog here.