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transitioning from research to medical writing

PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2004 12:12 pm
by marshaG
Hi,
I was wondering how difficult it is to transition from benchwork to medical or scientific writing. I have done a lot of writing as a graduate student, but I do not have any formal experience. I have been told that I am an excellent writer and that I have a good way of putting things. How difficult do you think this will be?

transitioning from research to medical writing

PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2004 2:17 pm
by Dave Jensen
Hi Marsha,

I am really hoping that our friend and frequent poster Dr. Jim Gardner will pop in and help us out on this one. He's the perfect guy to answer you! If he doesnt, I'll come back tomorrow,


Dave

transitioning from research to medical writing

PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2004 1:06 pm
by Jim Gardner
Thanks for the kind introduction, Dave.

Marsha--the level of difficulty depends on your educational level, your geographic region, and the quality of writing samples you will be able to provide interviewers.

If you have a doctorate, and live in an area with lots of large pharmaceutical companies, you're ready to look for a job in regulatory/clinical/medical writing. You just need to have writing samples. Journal articles are good, but it is nice to also provide some "raw" writing material. (Articles almost always undergo lots of editing by coauthors, the journal's editing staff, etc. The writers who will interview you ought to be aware of this.) Throw an abstract or other short summary into the package. It's good to show you have the ability to summarize. Craft your resume and cover letters for writing jobs with great care. They may receive more careful scrutiny than your writing samples.

To get started sans experience at a pharma company, it may be wise to work as a "temp". I started out this way (see my previous post on this forum). Contract Research Organizations (CROs) sometimes have high turnover rates and may be willing to hire you with less education and/or experience. Be sure to look for these opportunities. There are also Medical/Clinical Communications firms that specialize in medical and scientific writing.

If you have neither a doctorate nor experience, it could be difficult to get started. With a masters-level degree you may be able to hook up with a temp agency, CRO, or communications firm. With a batchelors-level degree, you need to find a way to get some experience. At my current company, which has a large writing department, we've had a few writers with batchelor's degrees, but they had substantial experience in the pharmaceutical industry before lateralling into writing positions. If you have a batchelor's degree and no experience and you do not want to go back to school, a good course may be to find an entry-level laboratory, clinical, or QA job to gain industry experience. After establishing yourself in your new position, seek out opportunities to write. In many departments, nobody wants to do the writing-related tasks so you may be able to amass experience and establish a reputation.

Finally, you should network to find unadvertised opportunities and to learn about your local market for writing jobs. Joining AMWA (www.amwa.org) is a good place to start. They have local affiliates that often have meetings and networking events. The membership directory is a useful networking tool as well. If you are still a student you may qualify for a reduced-price student membership.

OK, I've gone on far too long for one post. Post again if you have some specific questions and I'll try to answer those seperately.

Good luck!

Jim

transitioning from research to medical writing

PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2004 1:34 pm
by marshaG
Hi Jim,
Thanks for your advice. I had one question? I do have a masters degree and about five years experience in academic lab settings. Would you reccomend trying a pharmaceutical lab first or should I actively try to gain some writing experience through one of the other avenues you described?
Thanks again.
Marsha.

transitioning from research to medical writing

PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2004 5:42 pm
by Jim Gardner
Marsha,

Why not go for both? (I know--what a cop-out answer.) At the bigger companies your resume might be screened out and not make it past HR. To overcome this you need to network. Talk to recently hired writers at big pharma companies. If you can somehow get your resume on the hiring manager's desk--you have a shot. Create a resume that summarizes all of your writing-related experience at the top. Also, it very much helps to live in an area with large pharma companies. For entry-level jobs, the focus is usually on local candidates.

That being said, you should be a more competitive candidate to work at a CRO, biotech/small pharma company, or communications firm (assuming you have some good writing samples). Applying to job ads may work for you here, but networking can turn up some unadvertised (or not yet advertised) opportunities.

...and then of course there is "temping" as described in my previous post.

Jim


transitioning from research to medical writing

PostPosted: Sat Oct 16, 2004 7:16 pm
by mpb

I left academic research to work as a medical writer several years ago. In addition to working for a pharma/biotech company, which Jim Gardner described, I can think of at least 3 other employment settings that hire a fair number of former academics as medical writers.

The first, and maybe the largest, are "medical communications companies," which work with pharma companies to do all kinds of medical writing: everything from advertising and marketing to medical education for MDs/RNs, patient education, websites... anything you can imagaine. At least 90% of these jobs are within a 15 mile radius of Manhattan. There are about 300 or so of these companies; most of them are sweatshops. These jobs often require working with academic physicians, which can be a huge pain. Related industries (also almost entirely in the NYC/north Jersey area) are PR and advertising. Fewer PhDs, but some. There are good opportunities in these areas for someone who can write and speak well and has good interpersonal skills.

The second is societies and associations, such as the American Heart Assocation, American Diabetes Association, etc. All of these places do newsletters, statistical abstracts, etc, etc.

The third is medical publishing. These jobs are less likely to be writing, more likely to be project management/editing. These places hire quite a few PhDs to work on technical and scientific books, such as lab manual series and things like that.

There are recruiters in the NYC area who specialize these kinds of jobs; Bert Davis for publishing, Lynne Palmer Agency for medical communications/advertising. Or you can look for jobs in the NY Times classified (available online) under "editorial" or "publishing" (or sometimes under "pharmaceutical."