After spending more than three years doing cancer research in a lab for my PhD, I knew that it was time for a career change. Although I loved the people, my research, and the ability to put “Dr” on every online form I could get my hands on, I felt myself gravitating more and more towards opportunities to explain science to wider audiences. As a result, I made the switch to MedComms and started work as an Associate Medical Writer at Publicis Resolute. Here are a few of my favourite things about the move from lab life to working in a MedComms agency.
1. No living beings depend on my round-the-clock care
There is an ‘always on’ nature to working in the lab that cannot be understated. The laws of molecular biology bend for no one, and cancer cells growing in a dish are crushingly indifferent to birthdays, blizzards or meteor strikes. The fact that my translucent pets stubbornly insisted on growing, replicating and dying over very rigid timelines meant that staying late or coming in at the weekend to capture data, feed them, or sing them lullabies was pretty common. This stubbornness also meant that dropping an experiment on the floor could come with the sentence of losing a week or more’s worth of work and starting from scratch.
Now, although there are still some spreadsheets that I treat like children, as long as I remember to press save, I can shut my laptop at the end of the day and know that nothing too catastrophic will await me in the morning.
2. I no longer feel like an extra in Groundhog Day
Although there were certainly days spent poring over complicated data and button-bashing calculators, my PhD did involve a significant amount of tedious repetition. Many biology experiments essentially consist of transferring various volumes of liquids into various containers, sometimes hundreds of times in a row. For me, creativity came in short bursts with long periods of meticulous repetition of experiments. I eventually discovered writing was what excited me the most and gave me the biggest mental boost.
Now that I work in MedComms, I can tap into that creativity on a daily basis. I’m always thinking about how to solve new problems, craft the perfect sentence, or design materials to be understandable. I often feel more ‘switched on’ than I used to, and I get to finish every day with a sense of achievement, something that, for me, only came in small nuggets during my PhD.
3. The outcome of my work is mostly in my own hands, not the Biology gods
It takes a lot to make it in academia. Those who can make genius deductions from seemingly incoherent data and find patterns among the mess will always have my respect. Unfortunately, as most researchers will understand, fantastic ideas executed perfectly can still sometimes be wrong. As a result, people can spend years investigating a false idea and be left behind professionally by those whose predictions paid off.
In my current job, I get to see the fruits of my labour recognised regularly by my managers, my team, and my clients. I know that working hard always leads to a proportional pay off. It is exciting to see materials that I’ve developed go out into the world on a regular basis, whereas in research, it can take years to see your hard work come together.
4. I get to learn what’s happening in many disciplines, instead of becoming an expert in one protein no-one’s ever heard of
I think it’s excellent that there are people out there willing to devote their lives to studying niche subjects – without them we would not be uncovering new treatments that change the trajectory of healthcare for humankind. But, for me, my love for my target protein, RIPK3, started to burn out very early on. I realised that my true passion has always been to learn as much as I can about as diverse an array of subjects as possible. Working in MedComms allows me to do exactly that – one day, I might be writing about immunology, and the next day, liver disease, mental illness or even aesthetics!
5. I can eat food at my desk without fear of death
Keeping track of all the deadly chemicals and viruses, and making sure they were disposed of properly, certainly added a layer of stress to my life. Now I can move about the office, eat where I like, and even work from home without a second thought – definitely a level of freedom that lifelong office-workers take for granted!
These are just a few of the differences that I’ve noticed after switching careers. I still look back on my time as a PhD student fondly, and I’m happy that I chose to gain that experience before switching to MedComms. The exposure to cutting-edge science and initial opportunities to flex my writing skills have helped set me up for what I hope to be a long and successful career in MedComms.
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