How to Start a Science Writing Agency w/ Kristen Slawinski

How to Start a Science Writing Agency w/ Kristen Slawinski, PhD, Founder & CEO of Biofluent Communications

Do you think you’d feel fulfilled working full time as a freelance writer or running your own agency? Kristen Slawinski is the founder & CEO of Biofluent communications. Her journey has included completing her PhD in Biology, working in genomics and studying novel cancer treatments, and finally launching her own science writing agency.

We talk about the benefits and challenges of entrepreneurship in the life sciences, her experience working for BioRad and AmGen, and how reading narratives about people in the final stages of life can cause personal growth and a massive shift in perspective.

Connect with Kristen on LinkedIn
Visit BioFluent’s Website

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The Reagent Podcast is brought to you by OnePointe Solutions, the leader in laboratory design and construction.

Transcript

Matt 0:18
Hello, hello, welcome welcome to episode five of the reagent podcast. The reagent podcast is brought to you by one point solutions. We’re a premier lab design and construction company. Today’s guest is Kristin Slowinski, founder of bio fluent communications. Kristin has had an interesting journey. After graduating from UCLA with her bachelor’s in chemical engineering. She went on to work at Amgen for a few years before completing her PhD at UC San Diego. From there she built a career in communications and eventually decided to venture into entrepreneurship with bio fluent. We talked about her career journey, what it’s like shifting from research to entrepreneurship, innovative new cancer treatments, and the Meaning of Life. Here’s my episode with Kristen. Want to share for those who aren’t familiar with bio fluent what you all do and what your whole backstory is?

Kristen 1:07
Yeah, absolutely. So bio fluent, like you said is a writing agency. We mostly specialize in marketing writing. And the way it came about was, I was actually a marketing specialist at bio rad for a few years. And I really learned how important writing is and how important it is to have a writer that understands your scientific products or services. So, after buyer ad, I was a freelance writer for three years, and I learned so much about the industry about different clients and different types of products. But I wasn’t actually able to serve all of my clients because some of them needed specialists that understood the regulatory process or clinical trials process. And that was isn’t really where my specialty lied, it was really my specialty is more in like scientific molecular biology. So I didn’t want to have to turn anyone away. And which led me to creating bio fluent as an agency. And so the goal of the agency is to be able to service all clients in the life science industry, whether you have a service that’s for, specifically for patients, or for doctors, or for other scientists, or if you’re just writing something that eventually will be seen by venture capitalists, because you’re looking for money. Those are the types of things where now we can service everyone, because I have about 15 writers right now that I work with and we’re growing, and they all have different backgrounds. So now I’m able to pair a writer with a particular company where it makes sense They have that correct background to be able to write those articles or those web pages or those blogs that are really needed to help spread the word about your company. Cool,

Matt 3:10
cool, um, want to talk a little bit about that transition between going from a freelancer to an agency.

Kristen 3:17
So it was a little bit scary to be honest, just because this is my first time creating a business. But once I really started looking into what it takes to, you know, start a business in the government sense where you need to file certain applications and things. It’s actually a lot more simple than I thought it would be. It just requires, you know, 75 bucks and sending in a couple of forms. And it’s not a huge deal. So once once I got past that it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time I’ve I’ve kind of always wanted to start a business and just didn’t have a great idea yet or no one I wanted to do. But after freelancing, I saw the need in the market and how I was able how every single company out there needs a writer. And especially in the life science industry, you need more technical specific writers. And I was filling that need as a freelancer. So I could see that there was this hole in the market for this need, and how my company could fill that. And also I went, and I researched what other companies are doing that. So there are actually a lot of medical writing companies. So I purposefully did not try to specialize in medical writing. And that is why we’re doing it. We’re sticking with marketing writing. Gotcha. Because there’s really no other companies out there that are doing it.

Matt 4:49
Yeah. So you found your niche, and then you just stuck to it. I like that.

Kristen 4:52
That’s right. Mm hmm. For now.

Matt 4:54
Yeah, for sure. I think these things evolve Of course. Yeah, exactly in your area. experience what is what are some of the biggest mistakes that either science companies or organizations make in their communications?

Kristen 5:09
That’s a good question. One is not having a plan on what you want to do with those pieces that you’ve created those pieces of content. So, you know, you may be smart enough to hire a good writer. You know, that’s another mistake is hiring a writer that doesn’t know the subject because you are going to end up spending hours rewriting it or editing it or just throwing it out the window. But once you actually have that piece of content that you’re happy with, now, what do you do with it? And I’ve worked with several a lot of companies that don’t know what to do with that piece. They don’t really have a plan behind it. And you want you know, you you may spend a few thousand dollars creating this piece of content, and you need to have more money backing, how you’re pushing it out, you know, just putting it on. Social media isn’t gonna be enough for eyes to be on it unless you have 100,000 followers, which is unlikely. So do you have an email list? Are you going to use the email list of other publications? Or do you have, I don’t know, other kinds of avenues to push this out. A lot of magazines will allow you to post content that you’ve created on their pages. So what are you going to do with this piece of content? And I think not having that plan ahead of time can lead to a big waste of money.

Matt 6:37
Yeah, I definitely agree even as a marketer and like in my experience, that creating the content feels like it takes so much work that you sometimes overlook, actually distributing it and promoting it and making it digestible. Exactly. So having worked in the sciences, what was the road like for you? You know, when you first started out and you went to your Ph. D. program,

Kristen 7:00
So one thing that I liked that I did was right after my bachelor’s degree, I didn’t go into a Ph. D. program. I worked for a couple years at Amgen. And my bachelor’s degree was in chemical engineering. And I knew I didn’t love chemical engineering. I knew I didn’t want to do that. At the time, there was no such thing as biomedical engineering. I would have absolutely joined a biomedical engineering program. But this was in you know, I think I started college in 1999. It just wasn’t a thing. So chemical engineering was the closest I could get. And I took some biology classes as well. But I knew from those bio classes that that’s really what I loved. And so when I worked at Amgen, I was doing a lot of cell biology. And I didn’t realize how I knew I wanted that background. I needed to know more about cell biology. do a better job at what I was doing. And so that’s when I decided to get my PhD in straight biology. And so I ended up going to UC San Diego. Yeah, and I think a lot of people jump straight from bachelor’s degrees right into a Ph. D program. And sometimes, you know, if you know what you love, then that’s fine. But it’s helped me in so many ways. Having worked before going there, I understood what it was to work at a company, how the structure works, how bureaucracy even works, and how it feels to be managed. Things like that, you know, how it feels to have your own health insurance even have your own income. So I think it was a huge advantage. Plus, when I graduated with my PhD, the fact that I had already worked at a huge company like Amgen, it was really good for me and opening the door to other places because clearly, I had You know, Amgen trusted me to do work for a number of years, so they should trust me as well?

Matt 9:05
Do you have any major mentors or people that guided you kind of through through that part of your journey?

Kristen 9:10
You know, back then I didn’t focus on mentors. Now I very focused on having mentors and using mentors, but then I really didn’t realize that that was an important thing. I just, I got lucky, honestly, in deciding what that path was going to look like. I think both of my parents have higher degrees. My dad’s a pharmacist, my mom’s a lawyer. So getting that higher degree was sort of always in the path, just because I saw them do it. And I kind of wanted to be like them, I think. So in that way, they were mentors, but they kind of didn’t mentor me in my career. That really came later in life. So I would say that I really didn’t have mentors then and I wish that I had And I wish that I had paid more attention to that because I think I could have gotten some great advice. Interesting. Interesting. Well,

Matt 10:05
yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to cut you off there. I was just curious about that.

Kristen 10:10
No, that’s okay. Yeah, I can continue on about grad school. grad school took me a long time. And it was hard. It wasn’t just the work that was hard. The work was actually kind of fun. It was more the pressure and being there all the time and feeling guilty by not being there all the time. Yeah. And how did how just to manage your work life balance, you know, when you’re kind of young in your 20s and you just don’t know what you should expect in this kind of process. And I know some people that have have a great experiences in grad school, I did not have a great experience. I came out of grad school with a ton of knowledge, but not a lot of self esteem. Not a lot of Knowing what I wanted to do next. So once you kind of get out, then you have to figure out okay, what do I actually want to do? And I didn’t know. And I think that if I had maybe a better experience in grad school, I would probably be a research scientist, probably back at Amgen or something. That was kind of my goal all along. But, you know, after spending seven years in the lab, you kind of don’t want to do bench work anymore. You don’t want to have that pressure on you, either. So I, I ended up choosing to go into marketing. A few years after that, I was in public relations for a little while. I am glad I did that because I learned the value of public relations. But it wasn’t what my passion was. And I’m really glad that I got to experience marketing too, because that allowed me to see the value in sales. Which in grad school, you know, they call they call biotech the dark side. And they also really don’t have respect for salespeople. And, you know, you almost learn to disrespect salespeople, which I think is so awful. Now looking back, because salespeople are the ones that are going to show you what tools are available to you, what new exciting things can you use in your lab to make your research better, to look at more things, and to discover more. And I learned at my job in marketing a buyer rod that that is so important. You could have the best instrument in the world that tells you 100 different things about yourself. And if nobody knows about it, then it’s useless. So marketing is super important.

Matt 12:56
Interesting, yeah, that was actually something I wanted to touch on is kind of the value there. And I think you summed it up very nicely. So what are your views kind of shifting gears a little bit on the future of science and the biotech industry, and the types of organizations that you currently serve?

Kristen 13:21
I am really excited about the future of biotech. I think we’ve just gotten started within the past 10 years, I’d say, was kind of the beginning. And part of that is because of the Internet, and new computing technology, and I think those two things have allowed us to share knowledge faster. And because we can share knowledge faster, we can, as scientists gather knowledge faster and know more, and be more informed when we go out and do our research. And I’m really excited about things like gene therapy and cell therapy. I think Finally, they’re coming out. We’ve been talking about gene therapy for 20 or 30 years. And only, you know, I think last year, the year before we finally had our first gene therapy, come to market that was used to cure a disease that would cause blindness. So that’s like I’m so excited about about these kinds of things. What I think is going to take longer time is things like cancer therapies. We have a lot of, you know, talk about precision medicines. And I’m a big advocate of precision medicine. However, it’s difficult, especially with cancer, because cancer can mutate. So you know, you might have a precision medicine that targets a very specific mutation. But what happens is That the cancer ends up developing a new mutation to get around that. And now you have a whole separate cancer. So one of the companies I work with is called mission bio. And they do single cell genomic sequencing. And because I’ve gotten to see a lot of the work that’s come out using their sequencer, I’ve gotten to see how cancer is actually I mean, we knew it was heterogeneous. But with single cell sequencing, you can actually see the clones and see how there could be a 60% population have one clone, and 10% of another clone. And then after you treat that patient with drugs, it might decrease that 60% clone down to nothing. But then that 10% clone is now at 90%. It’s grown. So it’s really neat to be able to see that progression firsthand. See what mutations are developing in what clones and perhaps that clone already existed and it was just really small, or maybe it developed a new mutation. But these new technologies allow us to see that. And so I think in the future, what we’re going to see is combination therapies. Because we’re going to be able to see what clones you have, what mutations you have, and be able to give you, you know, three or four different precision

drugs to be able to get rid of all the clones at once.

So that’s, I mean, that’s just one type of future cancer therapy that I see there are lots of other types. One that I worked on was an oncolytic add no virus when I was in grad school, and I see oncolytic virus therapy as being huge. I think it could totally cure cancers. I mean, I’m a little bit biased because I you know, we’re on that, sure,

Matt 17:02
but I think what the beginning what does that mean exactly? For someone like me, so

Kristen 17:07
it’s been a, it’s been a virus will actually infect those cancer cells and kill those cancer cells. So

Matt 17:15
it’s like a virus in

Kristen 17:17
this mini machine. Yeah. So you engineer it specifically, so that it only kills cancer cells. So it might actually like the one we were working on, it would infect your normal cells also. But the normal cells wouldn’t be affected because it’s an attenuated virus, it’s, you’ve taken out some of the important genes to, so it won’t replicate in normal cells, and it’ll only replicate in the cancer cells. And then the end of the viral life cycle is that it bursts those cells open. So then, and what’s neat is it’ll release more viral progeny. So you don’t have to keep re injecting the person with virus. The cancer cells will make more virus for you. So it’s new, it’s, it’s a little scary because, you know, when you’re telling a cancer patient, we’re going to infect infect you with virus, you know, it could be a little scary for patients. So I think clinical trials in this space are going to be really important, taking our time to see how this affects people in the long term. But I think it’s a really cool avenue that that could lead to a curative option, potentially.

Matt 18:29
Wow, that is really fascinating. And it’s, I mean, something I definitely want to do more research on after this. So, to kind of wrap things up, I think you’ve, you’ve talked about a ton of interesting areas. What is one recent book you’ve read that has helped you?

Kristen 18:52
That’s funny because I don’t actually really read books. So I was gonna say, um, so I had two answers. So this question, one is not a book, but I like to read articles about people on their deathbeds and the top 10, or top five regrets that people have on their deathbeds. And this has really helped me hone in on what’s important to me in my life, and what I want to focus on. So, one of the top five was, I wish that I could have been I would have had the courage to be my full self and who I really am. One of them is that I wish I spent more time with my children when they were young. And you know, you never hear anyone say, I wish I started a business or wish that I Well actually, you know, having the courage to do things that you wanted to do that kind of falls under there.

Matt 19:53
Yeah, I think it’s something that can give you more autonomy you know, and something to help you live life on your own terms. So I couldn’t really see it

Kristen 20:01
exactly, exactly 100% way to said,

because then once you establish what’s important in your life, then you can try to find the jobs or the career path that you want that fits into what your life vision is. And so family is something that is super important to me that maybe wasn’t as important in my 20s. And as I’m getting older, it’s becoming more important. Also from reading those things, you know, things on your deathbed. Some people wish they spent more time with their parents before they had passed away. So I’m, I’m really trying to live life as as I want, as I think I should be living,

Matt 20:49
that’s great. It really reminds me I read a book, I think four or five years ago by a really famous psychotherapist named Irving alone, and it was called creatures of a day and it Just went through four or five case studies of his actual patients that he saw that had terminal diseases. And he just goes super deep on that stuff to be completely honest, I don’t really remember too much of it, but it had a really great impact on me. And sounds like a really similar way to get this kind of reading has for you.

Kristen 21:22
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

And then, you know, like I said, I don’t really read books. I just don’t have the attention span, I think but I read a ton of articles every day. Yeah, not only you know, to see what’s out there. But I love to know what’s new and what’s next. And,

you know, to stay excited about our industry.

Matt 21:46
Yeah, and full disclosure. I honestly don’t read too many books either. But I am a big audio book and podcasts guy. So I mean, if that’s not the most cliche thing you could say in 2020

Kristen 21:57
in your own font, yes.

Matt 22:00
So, the last question I have for you, is there a tool that you recently started using can be in your work or in your personal life that’s brought you value it can be something like a peloton bike or a Garmin watch or something like that.

Kristen 22:15
Right. So, you know, I would say nothing to do with my business really in my personal life. The one tool that’s kind of revolutionized my life is Spotify. Um, I love music. Music is a huge part of my life and always has been, I don’t play music, I can’t sing or anything, but I just love listening to music. It calms me down. It just makes me happy. It makes me feel things. So having Spotify available to make playlists to save all the music that I’ve ever wanted. I just I love that it’s there. I use it every single day and I appreciate it. The makers of Spotify, which sounds funny, but I just yeah, I’m so happy that it exists because I used to have everything on tape. And now you know that it was CDs. And now I just love that I can listen to anything. And I do pay the monthly subscription, but it’s absolutely worth it. I love that.

Matt 23:21
Yeah, it is. Um, all right. So where can people find out more about you and your business?

Kristen 23:30
So my website is bio dash fluent.com or I’m on LinkedIn. So look me up Kristen Slowinski on LinkedIn and connect with me there. I’m on LinkedIn, 24 seven. And so I respond to all messages. Awesome.

Matt 23:48
Well, that about wraps it up. Unless there’s anything else you want to say. Thanks for coming on the show.

Kristen 23:56
Thanks for having me.

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