If you have followed some of my previous postings here on Bio Careers, then you may know that I am a freelance writer. My career path didn’t start there, however, and it took a few unforeseen twists and turns. I suppose I could say that I may not be where I’d planned to go, but I think I am where I need to be. So how did I get here? How can you get here too, but faster?
When I earned my PhD, it was my intention to find a faculty position, begin a teaching career, and continue with my research. I didn’t consider a career outside of academia until it became clear that despite supporting successful graduate degree candidates, publications and a National Science Foundation grant, it seemed clear that tenure would not be forthcoming. My first big step away from academia was with a large biomedical device company. They were looking for a PhD to deliver presentations to clinicians on the medical rationale for their products and the results of the clinical studies that had evaluated them. It was an easy transition from academia. What did I write? Scientific oral presentations, abstracts and posters, FDA submission documents, training manuals and some marketing literature. A benefit? Learning to work with – and write about – research results that were not my own, but ultimately were as familiar to me as my own had been.
The next steps were writing for medical communication agencies and then working as the director of communications in the medical affairs department of a biopharma company. Currently, most pharmaceutical research publications are planned and managed by their medical affairs departments, the people who actually design and manage the clinical trials. The last step was the transition to freelance writing. The biggest adjustment along the way was learning to write clearly about research done by others – learning to avoid the trap of not being able to see and appreciate something because “it wasn’t my research problem.”
So how did each change happen? The first resulted from responding to a job posting. The second happened because a grad school friend of mine who had started a medical communications agency offered me a job as a writer. It turned out not to be a great place to work, so I got the name of a “headhunter,” AKA recruiter, from someone who was leaving, and in a month I was working in another agency. Agency to pharma? Another headhunter found my CV on an internet jobs site sort of like BioCareers.com. I got into freelance when I retired from the pharma job. A point to make here is the importance of contacts. Much of the writing work that I get now comes from contacts that I made in previous jobs.
How can you short cut that? I think there are a few ways. Be visible in relevant Linkedin.com discussion groups and be clear that you want to get into medical writing. Get in touch with recruiters. Note that there are different recruiters, job descriptions and “cultures” for managing publication of clinical studies or regulatory writing, e.g., clinical study summary reports at pharma companies and for medical writers at communications agencies. Finally, a great source of information and jobs postings is: Hitt Medical Writing (http://www.hittmedicalwriting.com/hmw/the-hittlist/).
Stay tuned for the next installment on leveraging your expertise to get into medical writing while you’re still a postdoc. I can’t put that here because it deserves to be at the beginning of a blog and not at the end.
Cheers for now,
Clement Weinberger, PhD