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Pippa Sammes: a systematic review

Updated: May 12

Background

Having just joined RubyDuke and charged with writing a blog to introduce myself, I actually found it extremely difficult: writing about science & medicine is my dream job, writing about myself is not! Then someone suggested I turn the exercise into a rough abstract, which was a very good idea….


Introduction

To date, no study has systematically reviewed memory content to understand how Pippa came to join RubyDuke in March 2020. This analysis will attempt to introduce Pippa to the reader.

Method

A systematic review of all freely-available memories in Pippa’s head will be assessed for relevance to a career in medical and science writing. Memories will be excluded from analysis if they are partial, fuzzy or related entirely to real ale.

Results

Extracurricular activities: Just under three-quarters of Pippa’s memories (74%) were related to family, friends, her rescue dogs and hobbies; in order of decreasing frequency these include cryptic crosswords, reading, puzzles, blackwork embroidery and quilting. Attempts to detect memories related to sporting prowess or successfully cooking for more than two people at a time were unsuccessful (<0.01%). Pippa has been fascinated by the periodic table for about 40 years, and owns a number of chemistry-themed objects including test tubes (nowadays used for gin cocktails), mugs, coasters, socks, t-shirts and a shower curtain. In times of stress she recites the elements up to yttrium or the words to Ice Ice Baby.

Pippa's rescue dog, Rexi

Career timeline & discussion

So that exercise was fun, but I can’t continue writing in the third person! I guess from an early age I always remembered feeling happiest during science classes, so I was thrilled to read a BSc (Hons) in Zoology (Marine & Fisheries) at Aberdeen University. During the four-year course, I edited the Honours yearbook and spent several months in Borneo on an expedition (mostly catching mosquito bites). However, during the Honours thesis research I discovered a thermophilic denitrifying bacterium within Scottish estuarine mud and that hooked me: it would definitely be fieldwork & science writing going forwards!


Luckily, two jolly clever Professors spotted my potential and invited me to the historic Marine Biological Association in Plymouth to complete a PhD in phytoplankton ecology. Working closely with passionate committed scientists (going back to the lab to tweak a plankton experiment when everyone else is going to the pub or beach is not easy!), I amassed a small mountain of papers related to biogeochemistry. My favourite to this day has to be Banse K. Limnol Oceanog, 1990;35(1):148-153 (still unsure if it’s valid). Memorable road-trips included a scholarship grant to Bermuda to study Biological Oceanography, and delivering “Death-Defying Dark Deeds of Dunaliella” to a hot, humid, packed room at the Second European Phycological Congress in Italy.

Following an internship with the American Society of Plant Biologists in Maryland (USA) learning all about journal production and peer review, I was whisked back up to Aberdeen for a 5-year post-doc on long-term monitoring projects at the Fisheries Research Services Marine Laboratory. Happily, this involved copious amounts of travel, living on fishing boats, microscopic analysis and writing science reports and posters. Less happily… midges.

When the projects ended, I decided to move closer to my family, but unfortunately there were few plankton vacancies in Buckinghamshire. Over the next few years I enjoyed a variety of “industry” roles, working with strong commercial mindsets and providing value-driven materials at very short notice, then I transferred into pharma and found a home in the Medical department as a product specialist. Having previously been terrified of public speaking, this was when I discovered that communicating a drug’s mechanism of action is actually quite fun. I also loved receiving complex (“juicy” I would say; “nerdy” colleagues would say) medical enquiries from healthcare professionals, and doing intensive research to squirrel out clinical data and real world evidence in areas of high unmet need. From a green point of view, I found great satisfaction helping local primary schoolchildren learn to read, and secondary schoolchildren develop their STEM, teamwork and personal transferable skills.

One day, the phone rang. On the other end was a creative director from a healthcare agency, and all of a sudden I found myself as a senior science writer within a successful and dynamic studio team with off-the-chart banter and a Friday treat trolley. Inside one year I delivered (with full highlighted ref packs): sales aids, eDetails, leavepieces, training slide decks, online training modules, workshop games, animation storyboards, media ad campaigns, exhibition stand copy and iPDF wireframes across oncology, immunology, antibiotic and infectious disease therapy areas for a huge range of pharma companies and patient groups. Phew! I was also lucky to line manage two very excellent science writing associates, both of whom taught me a great deal about leadership, planning and development. And as ABPI Code Compliance Champion for the company, I delivered regular ABPI training to new starters, snoozing the zzzz’s with a gamified “Breach or No Breach” interactivity.

Then, one day – the phone rang again... would I like to work within a small writers collective delivering top-quality medical and science materials, in a converted church where dogs are so welcome they have permanent bedding laid out? When they threw in a pension and a pot plant, I was sold.

Conclusion

So this is how I came to join RubyDuke in March 2020. It’s been a trip so far, one I’ve hugely enjoyed, but in my few short weeks with the team I can already see this is the right next step. I’m delighted to have joined, and look forward to the future!

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