A Career in Science Communication & Engagement: The Intersection Between Science and Society

Aug. 7, 2019

Dr. Barbara Natalizio
Dr. Barbara Natalizio oversees science engagement at the Rita Allen Foundation.

Dr. Barbara Natalizio is the Officer for Science Engagement and part of the Communications team at The Rita Allen Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports early-career biomedical researchers and works to increase public engagement for civic science. Natalizio has been passionate about history, performance, teaching, science communication, and basic research. Building on these passions, she used her varied interests to design a fulfilling career.

A Winding Path from History to Science Communication

Natalizio dual-majored in history and biochemistry for her undergrad. During her graduate studies in Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University, Natalizio also became a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). After graduate school, she wanted to explore other career possibilities and immersed herself in both patient care and classroom teaching.

Then she returned to basic science research as a postdoctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University, where she had an "Aha!" moment in her career. Natalizio participated in one of the very first workshops hosted by The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. "I was always a huge advocate for effective science communication. Attending the Summer Institute at the Alda Center allowed me to meet and be surrounded by people who were passionate about the same things I was passionate about." Following her postdoc, she became a Science and Technology Policy Fellow through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) where she was placed at the National Science Foundation. Then, she worked as a Program Officer with the Board on Higher Education and Workforce at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Communications and Science Engagement

In her current role in communications and science engagement at The Rita Allen Foundation, Natalizio promotes early-career scientists' professional development and strengthens efforts at the intersection of science and society. She supports strategic communications and approaches for developing collaborative communities and partnerships. She is responsible for assessing the current landscape, staying abreast of national trends, relevant policies that affect science and society and evaluating the needs of the science communication and public engagement community.

"In many ways, my job is not that different from doing research. I use my research skills frequently, especially when I need to become familiar with a particular field, like science communication. As I did with RNA research, I read the literature, stay up-to-date with the latest news in the community, and go to and present at conferences." Natalizio enjoys having a role that closely aligns her interests and passions. "It is very exciting to see how the field of science communication has evolved over the years. Having the exceptional opportunity to be part of a team that values supporting organizations that actively work in science communication and engagement is extremely rewarding to me."

The Pursuit of Multiple Interests

Having the opportunity to pursue multiple interests is key for Natalizio. In her free time, she volunteers with several organizations that are committed to improving science communication and building communities of educators and scholars. Natalizio serves as the Vice President for Finance at the Association for Women in Science, Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Chapter. Also, she is the Co-Chair for the Cultivating Ensembles 2021 conference, a conference that invites STEM educators and professionals to celebrate the integration of sciences, technologies, arts, and the humanities.

She is also very passionate about enhancing professional and career development opportunities for postdoctoral scholars and graduate students. Therefore, she is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA). "A part of designing a fulfilling career is finding your community. I remember, my first NPA conference and feeling as though I had found ‘my people.' It's all about seeking colleagues and friends who are inspired and passionate about the same things you are."

Tips for Career Success in Philanthropy and Science Engagement … and Beyond

Natalizio's advice for microbiologists looking to transition to a career beyond traditional research is to be flexible and seek opportunities, even if they are outside your comfort zone. "When I finished my Ph.D., I certainly wasn't thinking outside-the-box enough to envision a rewarding career path that merged my disparate interests. However, now I realize that career paths and passions are constantly evolving. It is crucial to stay flexible and continue to explore opportunities," she said.

Networking is vital to career success. "Meeting different people can lead to unexpected connections that can help you move your career in unforeseen directions."

Building your skills and expertise through volunteer opportunities is critical for career transitions. "Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! Be strategic about your volunteering experience. Think about what kind of experiences might be useful for the career you envision 3, 5, or even 10 years in the future. Seek out volunteer experiences that complement your skill-set. Be mindful that not all volunteer experiences work out as anticipated. Value it as a learning experience and refocus your energies," she noted. Natalizio suggests that self-reflection (and experimentation) is all part of the journey to finding your fulfilling career path – it's really about identifying what inspires you and how to innovatively transform that love into a career.

Author: Natalia Martin, Ph.D.

Natalia Martin, Ph.D.
Dr. Natalia Martin is a trained microbiologist turned project manager for the American Chemical Society in the Graduate Students & Postdoctoral Scholars Office.