Kolabtree’s freelance scientific writer Catarina Carrão on going down a ‘path of adventure and knowledge’, her most challenging freelance science projects and how the pandemic has offered businesses a different perspective on hiring freelancers
A freelance scientific writer, Catarina Carrão holds a PHD in Biochemistry and offers expert freelance writing services across several niche domains such as Cardiology, Neurology and Molecular Biology. She has several publications in prominent journals, performed in and won science slams and been awarded prestigious research grants.
The latter is a testament to her ability to break down complex ideas into effective, engaging content for a diverse audience. She also prides herself on her versatile writing styles and general adaptability, such as the time she went to live in Germany without speaking a word of German, a period she describes as ‘one of knowledge and adventure’.
As part of the ‘Spotlight‘ series, I had the chance to interview Catarina in order to understand her academic and career paths, personal journey and what motivated her to start offering on-demand expertise on Kolabtree.
NM: What prompted you to explore science writing?
CC: I love science and I love writing, so the combination of the two seemed a good way to move forward.
NM: You provide a variety of services ranging from clinical research to scientific writing. What style of writing do you enjoy the most?
CC: I like all styles of writing, because they involve different ways of creative thinking. Clinical research needs a very precise language, where one sentence entails huge amounts of information, whether it’s related to data obtained or regulatory concerns. But it needs to be very clear and clean, so the reader/evaluator is not confused and doesn’t reject the manuscript/report with the first look.
This is a challenge I like!
On the other hand, scientific writing for a general audience, explores the simplicity of the language; and, the usage of metaphors and analogies. This, I find very interesting, and the ways I can use the language fascinates me.
All in all, it’s like constructing a puzzle of information, putting all pieces together to make sense in the end, and providing a clear “image” of the story to the reader.
NM: You have publications in quite a few reputed journals. Can you elaborate on some of them, and their significance to the wider community?
CC: It’s funny that looking backwards, my previous research tried to show how an apparently “bad character” in biochemistry/biology can actually be a “good character”, when you look at it from the right perspective. So, some of the publications explore how Reactive Oxygen Species, which are usually thought of as damaging, are actually essential to help grow vessels under stress.
Also, there’s an idea that everything that comes from fat is bad, but some of the publications show how this is not exactly true. For example, Adiponectin, a hormone derived from fat, can also be expressed in certain types of muscle cells, and is essential to keep these cells with a healthy profile. Later on, I looked at the nucleus and how a certain nucleoplasm protein, LAP2alpha, which was known to be involved in the proliferation of cancer cells, could actually be an on-switch to keep the muscle cells of the blood vessels contracting.
NM: Your European Science Slam video is amazing! In fact, you even received an award for it. What is your source of inspiration for creativity in science communication?
CC: Thank you for your kind words! I think my creativity comes from everyday life and how everything is interconnected.
NM: Why do you think companies have traditionally been reluctant to hire freelancers?
CC: In my opinion, the word freelancer carries a bias, because it is usually seen as cheap labour (or connected to a bohemian life); and, that usually comes hand-in-hand with “Unqualified” and “Can I trust this?” from the client/company point of view.
Contrary to that view, freelancers are highly skilled independent professionals with entrepreneurial minds, offering specialized intellectual or knowledge-based services; and paying taxes/social security in the form of a self-employment business in the country where they live. Lawyers and medical doctors, for example, do exactly the same thing, but are not seen in derogatory terms.
I believe it comes down to each one of us to change this narrative and promote our services with the expertise that we offer, choosing terms that support a more trustworthy image. We should be able to choose the words that better define us.
NM: How do you think the pandemic has shifted the perspective on remote working? Do you think this development is here to stay?
CC: I do think companies will be more flexible towards days-in/days-out for those workers that find home-working the best. But hierarchy runs deep in many companies, and daily interactions are appreciated by many workers that can’t really focus in a home environment. I think there will be a place for all, as long as the work output is productive.
NM: How has the pandemic affected you as a freelancer? Did you notice a rise in demand for specific kinds of medical writing?
CC: There was an increase in science awareness and fact-based writing, that I believe was already in place before. There is also a surge in demand for reference-based writing, which is what I always offer.
NM: In your profile, you mention that you lived and worked in Germany without speaking a word of German. What was that experience like?
CC: Confusing, yet invigorating! I have a positive and resilient attitude, even when encountering problems or when things go haywire. The passion and drive for biomedical research, led me on a path of adventure and knowledge. Learning a new language was part of it.
NM: Can you tell us about a project that stands out as your most challenging so far?
CC: All projects are challenging, because they are usually so different from one another. That is what I like the most, is the variety of issues that I can work on. In basic laboratory research, the view is focused on just one deep issue, to such an extent that perspective gets lost.
In science writing, I get to switch from working with a small start-up just developing new diagnostic equipment that need help with the background research or regulatory approval, to high-level conference reports where the newest therapeutics are presented. It’s phenomenal!
NM: How did a piece of content or copy you write help the client position themselves in a crowd and attract prospects? Do you think the varied target audience makes this more difficult than writing a piece of technical regulatory content, for instance?
CC: The most important is the message that needs to come across, whether in professional or layman terms. Defining that message is something that needs to be outlined by the client in the beginning, or with the writer throughout the writing process (e.g., revisions). Sometimes companies have very specific ideas of what the message is, and that makes the work much easier.
always request that the client writes a couple of bullet-points of their objectives for the text, who is the reading-target and where it is going to appear (print or web). It’s always good when we can avoid ambiguity, and can help the client move their position forward.
NM: What advice would you give to researchers seeking to become medical writers?
CC: Do you like reading and writing? Then give it a shot!
This piece is part of Kolabtree’s Spotlight feature, where we showcase the lesser-known aspects of our extensive network of freelance scientific writers, regulatory specialists and other PHD-qualified experts who are available for on-demand hire