According to my peers at the time, I was “one of those annoying PhD students whose experiments always worked” (apparently this isn’t common?), I had an excellent supervisor (still friends today) and I was between two departments so everyone always assumed I was in the other building (handy when it came to the need for a long lie in and a late start). So, all hunky-dory. It came as a bit of a surprise to me when I started to write my thesis, I was really enjoying it! This was the first hint.
Then there was my viva. Three hours and 45 minutes: 3 hours of chat, 5 minutes of “You’ve passed, well done, congrats” and 40 minutes of me asking the examiners what they thought of my creative input and writing style (the topic was lipid oxidation and atherosclerosis; I somehow had based the thesis on the theme of evolution). This was the second hint.
I kind of knew by this point that the pen-to-paper part was of much more interest to me than the pipette-to-platelet aggregometer part. However, everyone told me to give a post-doc a try (less pressure, more responsibility, more ownership, more freedom), and I did. The post-doc position was enjoyable. However, 14-hour days in a dark room waiting for a laser to scan a 280-μm z-stack over and over took its toll – and gave me time to think.
As it turns out, while I enjoyed talking about positive-ionisation electrospray mass spectrometry and multiphoton laser-scanning microscopy, I cared more for the compound adjectives in there than the compounds being oxidised or being labelled fluorescent green (respectively). Friends of mine in the medical communications business informed me of an opening for an associate medical writer, and I went for it.
Wow. Being in academia for 9 years doesn’t allow you too many interviews, but the one with CMC was by far the best. For the pre-interview writing test, I got to learn all about a new therapy area (without spending 6 weeks reading about it and having to write a ‘literature review’ for my supervisor), and I was able to use PubMed for something new for the first time in a decade. And then the interview itself. I must have smiled for 3 hours afterwards. I just couldn’t believe that someone actually tested me – as part of an interview and to assess me for a job that I would be paid to do – on writing an abstract and finding dodgy punctuation. Someone actually cared about the attention to detail. Wonderful. If only I had had my external viva examiner’s number.
So the interview part was okay. The (really!) tough part was making the decision to leave academia and move to medical communications. However, after considering the revelation of the interview and the exciting prospect of actually enjoying my work, I knew I never again wanted to see another pipette.
I started as an associate medical writer with CMC, an agency within McCann Complete Medical, in 2009. I quickly took to the nature of the business like a duck to water, and thoroughly enjoyed the new challenges (having clients, speaking with key opinion leaders, having to get to grips with new therapy areas, being part of an account). I was promoted to medical writer in 2010 and to senior medical writer in 2012, with new responsibilities, challenges and expectations at each stage. I’m now doing a secondment in the US, in CMC’s New Jersey office and I’ve just progressed to Editorial Team Leader. I’m working on completely different therapy areas, meeting brand new clients to the business and delivering new types of communications. Exciting times.
[Find out more about McCann Complete Medical here]
Note this Profile was first published in the March 2015 edition of the MedComms Networking careers guide, From academic to medical writer: A guide to getting started in medical communications, freely available from and published by NetworkPharma Ltd.