Interviews with Scientists: Dr Lucka Bibic
In the next in our Interviews with Scientists series we caught up with Dr Lucka Bibic, a content product manager who hails from Slovenia and is now based in the Netherlands. We last spoke to Lucka back in 2018 when she was still working on her PhD at the University of East Anglia, UK. She has since gone on to enjoy a varied STEM career as a science writer, communicator, creator, product owner and even a TEDx speaker! She is now settled into a role with Labster, one of the world’s leading platforms for virtual labs and science simulations, and we caught up with her to find out more about the role and her advice for those wishing to pursue alternative STEM careers.
Great to speak to you again Lucka! Please can you tell us a little bit about your current role at Labster?
I’m enjoying being a content product manager with Labster! I liaise between our business stakeholders and our squads on the first fronts, a.k.a our developers, designers, artists, quality assurance folks, and scientists. And my doctoral training, coupled with my experience in start-ups, helped me become familiar with the process of experts and how they communicate. So now, I’m using my experience as an ex-academic, scientist, and communicator to improve our virtual lab simulations that help students build the skills and confidence they need for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. And I just love how the gamification of the scientific experience is supporting the development of both hard and soft skills in the next generation of scientists!
You have enjoyed a varied science career so far! What do you enjoy most about working in STEM?
There are so many reasons I could think of right now! But let me highlight two of them – first, I get to live and work on the cutting edge. Plus, I get to hang out with other cool STEM professionals such as software developers, earth scientists, chemistry teachers and many others. Each of these occupations is pushing our understanding of the universe and literally building the future. Just think about it – STEM folks built the Hubble telescope to peek into the universe; created the internet, built the tallest buildings in the world, and continually push our understanding of diseases and medical treatments. Then, my other reason for loving STEM so much would be – I can find that there is something for everyone. I feel that the thing that ties all STEM fields together is the focus on solving problems and creating new knowledge, and in that, there is something for everyone.
What advice would you give to an academic scientist who is considering alternative career paths?
It’s all about skills. So my suggestion would be to first look into your academic curriculum and try to identify your current core competencies. Try to ask yourself questions such as, ‘What are my personal strengths? What do I enjoy doing at work the most?’ Core competencies do not necessarily relate to the activities on which you spend most of your working time but rather, to the activities that allow for achieving some sort of a flow state.
Then, my next suggestion would be to think of industries, professions, and positions where these particular skills are wanted, and try to map them together with your core competencies. Maybe even discuss that map with your colleagues and your friends in industry as a sanity check.
You are passionate about science writing and communication - why is this so important to you?
I’m someone who believes very deeply in science and the importance of understanding science, understanding how it applies to our lives and why it matters. And I am driven to write stories about science that gives people information that they would not otherwise have.
What qualities does someone need to become a great science writer?
From the top of my head, I would say – remember that the intended reader is not an expert. Yet they are curious about science. And exactly that curiosity is one science writer’s alley.
What's the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?
Trust your gut and go your own way. By that I mean - dare to adopt an often unpopular perspective and make it work for you. Instead of conforming to conventional or practical approaches, education or post-PhD academic paths, try to seek alternative means to career fulfilment.
For me, that meant realising that there is more than one post-PhD path to success (and it’s more than OK if it’s non-linear), getting comfortable with being uncomfortable (even, and especially, when I failed), enjoying the long game and trying to be outspoken about taking an alternative path – since you never know who you may inspire to do it as well.
What has been your proudest career achievement so far?
I learned how to implement better boundaries for myself. Six or seven years back, I gave work my all. I gave it all so much that I lost track of my personal life and my relationships with others. But through a series of trials and errors, I was able to cultivate a routine that works for me and helps me achieve that balance while still going after realistic goals. Well, saying that, I am still learning how to set better boundaries so from time to time those goals are still quite stretched.
You have worked in several different countries during your career. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced when taking on new roles abroad?
I’m not sure my biggest challenge has been ever linked to the country I’ve worked in since more and more businesses are operating internationally. So communication, for example, was never an issue. However, I do think that working with people from all walks of life has helped me to keep an open mind to new ways of thinking. And as I keep learning new things about the world and the people around me, that helps me grow as a person.
How do you see your career developing in the future/where do you see yourself in 10 years?
To be honest – I have no clue. I feel that not only my goals, interests and dreams are changing as I am growing and maturing through the years, but also – the environment I am surrounded by is changing. So I choose to enjoy the ride and let the trajectory (and my curiosity) be my guide. Well, at least for now. Maybe in a few years time I‘ll have it all figured out. But not today.
Women remain underrepresented in all fields of STEM. What more do you think could be done to improve the gender balance in science?
Allyship training! Which I can see can be two fold; first, on a more personal level - raising boys, and later men to be women’s allies, and vice versa – raising girls, and later women, to champion other women and men. And second, on a more professional level – offering training to complement implicit and unconscious bias by offering instruction and guidance on how to combat those in the workplace.
What advice would you give to a fellow female scientist hoping to climb the ranks within science?
Keep good routines going, keep surprising yourself and don’t just climb those ranks – move them!
Thank you so much for chatting with us again Lucka! It was great to find out how your career has been progressing!
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