Charlie is wearing blue sunglasses and a blue fleece. She's at the seaside, there are boats behind her, she's smiling.
Charlie, Exeter alumni, and big fan of creative communication.

I’m Charlie, and I make PowerPoints for a living.

At least, that’s what I tell people when I meet them for the first time. If you’re confused and wondering how this is a viable career, you’re not alone; my job is pretty niche! Let me explain a bit more. I work for a presentation design agency called BrightCarbon. We create clear, compelling and persuasive presentations, eLearning, infographics, and much more for a wide range of companies around the world. If you’ve ever sat through a deadly dull presentation, full of bullet points and with no real structure (I know you have!) then you’ll realise why my job is needed.

Within BrightCarbon, I’m a Communication Consultant. This means that that I work out what story clients are trying to tell, and help them tell it by transforming reams of text into elegant visuals. Then, I work with our design team to make the deck look beautiful.

How I got into presentation design

Most people are surprised to learn that I didn’t study something creative at university. In fact, I studied two scientific degrees – BSc Biological Sciences, and MSc Global Sustainability Solutions, both at Exeter. But my science background is actually very useful, because although we work with a range of companies, the client I work with most often is a diagnostics and pharmaceutical company. That means sifting through slides full of medical information to create a concise, well-structured and compelling story with visuals that help to explain the message to the audience.

When I was deciding what to study at university, I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated. At A-Level, I’d studied Biology, English Literature, Geography and Fine Art – a broad mix of subjects! But although I loved being creative and doing art, I struggled with the pressures of studying it for A-level, and I was pretty sure my creative side would remain a fun hobby.

I ended up studying biology at University. While I enjoyed the theoretical aspect of my studies, it quickly became obvious that I would never enjoy lab work. I was most interested in knowing how living things work at the cellular and molecular level, but I could only infer that in the lab, not see it. I enjoyed the nitty gritty of learning about signalling pathways, but learning how to pipette felt boring to me. It was clear that any future career in research was out the window, and I resigned myself to the thought that I’d probably never use my biology in my work life.

As the end of my third year approached, I decided to stay at Exeter and do a Masters in Global Sustainability Solutions programme. I’d become increasingly concerned about the climate crisis, and wanted to put myself in a position to make a real difference. Therefore, I firmly expected to get a job in sustainability when I graduated, but when I started to look for jobs, I was struggling to find suitable opportunities that didn’t require experience I didn’t have.

One day, after another fruitless search on Indeed, I remembered something that my undergraduate tutor had once said. After I’d submitted a particularly strong essay, he suggested I consider science communication as a career. I searched for science communication jobs instead, and I was immediately interested in an advert for a ‘Communication Consultant – Life sciences focus,’ from a company called BrightCarbon. I was intrigued by the advert, and I felt that the qualities and skills they were asking for fitted me better than any other advert I’d seen so far. I was practically ticking them off as I read – visual thinker, independent worker, grasps ideas quickly, likes learning new things… I started to get excited about having found my perfect job – until I saw that the closing date for applications was the previous week. I decided to send over my CV and cover letter anyway, and asked if they could let me know if any similar opportunities came up in the future. To my surprise, I was invited to an interview. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Applying skills from your degree to your career

About 23% of biology grads enter scientific roles, and another 48% go into further study. This means that more than a quarter of biology graduates end up in jobs that aren’t science-based. The idea that you might not use your degree can feel demoralising – why am I putting so much time and energy into something I’ll never use again? But the truth is, even if you never need to remember the cell cycle or the structure of a protein, you’re still learning valuable skills that you will likely use every day in your future job. These are some of the skills that have been most important to me;

  • Written communication: Our Biosciences essays were pretty short (often only 1000 words), so I had to learn to communicate complicated concepts quickly. The skills I developed from structuring and writing a clear, concise essay are ones I use all the time in my job, for making sure that clients’ presentations make sense and have a strong, persuasive message. Related to this is the ability to skim and quickly make sense of large volumes of information – critical for writing a well-argued essay, and essential when a client sends over pages and pages of background information to be condensed into a 10-slide deck.
  • Visual communication: One of my third year modules, Living in a Microbial World, was more focused on science communication and broader academic skills. Our lecturers showed us how to make infographics and animations in PowerPoint, which blew my mind at the time. Then in my Masters, there were several modules that required us to produce infographics or videos, which again I created largely in PowerPoint. These experiences introduced me to how much clear and effective visuals can help to communicate your point. Visual communication is at the core of my work now, but even if I hadn’t gone into such a creative job, I still think I would have brought this knowledge forward into whatever job I was doing.
  • Receiving feedback: Perhaps a less talked-about skill, but you’ll definitely be practicing receiving and responding to feedback while you’re at University. Not just from your lecturers and markers, but also from your peers; if you don’t already swap essays with your friends, I’d really recommend it! It’s likely that you’ll be getting and giving feedback throughout your career, and it’s important to be able to do this well.
  • IT skills: It probably seems really obvious to you that you know how to use Microsoft Office programmes – but this is a genuinely useful skill that you should be telling employers about!

Tips for science students who don’t want to do science jobs

Although I’m glad I use my scientific knowledge in my job, I wouldn’t regret studying biology even if my career turned out to be nothing to do with science. I enjoyed learning more about something I loved, and that enabled me to have a much better university experience than if I’d studied something I didn’t enjoy for the sake of a future job. So based on my experience, here’s a few tips for science students considering other career paths:

  • Don’t be afraid to widen your job search beyond what you were originally looking for. The perfect job for you might be just beyond your horizon!
  • If you’re interested in a job or company, but the application deadline has passed or they aren’t advertising at the moment, send in your CV anyway. The worst they can do is ignore your email.
  • Take modules that have a broader focus or play to your strengths. If you don’t want to work in a lab, and you know you write a good essay, then choose a literature-based dissertation in your final year. In general, not having a clear idea of where you’re headed after graduation can give you the freedom to study the modules you want, without feeling under pressure to study those that are most relevant to a future career.
  • It’s ok to not know exactly what you want to do after University. It can feel like everyone else has their future all mapped out and you’re the only one who doesn’t have a plan. But trust me, there are plenty of people who don’t know either, and you will find a job. You don’t have to work at the perfect job the second after you graduate – you’ll still be gaining useful skills and experience.

Where next?

I’m not too sure where my career will go in the future, but what I know now is that my creative side is one of my big strengths in the workplace, and I definitely want to keep using it wherever I’m headed next.