Tilly Shackley is an Associate Medical Writer with Real Science and has reflected on her first three months working as a medical writer in MedComms.
It is always challenging to know what to expect when entering into a new career, especially if it is in a niche field, such as medical communications. 3 months ago, I had my first day as an Associate Medical Writer at Real Science Communications, fresh from the labs after completing my MPhil in clinical medical research. Since then, I have been on a very steep learning curve and I have loved every minute of it, despite some challenges. I had a think about what advice I would give to myself on my first day and compiled six points that I wish somebody had told me.
1 Nobody expects you to know everything straight away
Regardless of the therapeutic field you are working in, there will be a lot of detailed information to absorb. This will not only include the mechanisms of disease pathophysiology, the standards of care, the treatment guidelines for each country, the on-going clinical trials but also broader knowledge of the pharmaceutical and medical industry. Do not be disheartened if (when!) you do not know it all straight away, nobody expects you to. It is highly likely you will surprise yourself with how quickly you pick it up, so do not get overwhelmed.
2 A team working together is worth more than the sum of its component parts
I have been extremely lucky to join teams full of motivated, friendly and dedicated individuals, with a wealth of experience and knowledge they are happy to share with me. I have realised how essential this was when I started, as they really made me feel at-home, patiently gave sound advice and welcomed any questions (no matter how silly I deemed them). Have a think about what you bring to the team and any weaknesses you are aware of, so you can share these with colleagues to flag places where you can help each other out.
3 Do not be scared to speak: too much is better than not enough
Leading on from point number two: do not be scared to ask for help or to keep people posted about where you are with a project. I felt reluctant to email colleagues, as I did not want to annoy people or inconvenience them. However, I have learnt that it is always best to ask a question (if you have used your initiative to try to answer it yourself first). It is also okay to email people and tell them how you are getting on with a project. Team members will happily answer your questions and will welcome your updates warmly, it saves needing to chase you for them!
4 You are not as good at grammar and punctuation as you think you are
I thought I was okay at grammar before starting in medical communications. It turns out there are many rules of thumb that I had not been taught at school. I did not know when to use a hyphen and when to use an en-rule, but the in-house training has been wonderful to show me the ropes. However, I do wish I had brushed up a little more before joining!
5 PowerPoint, Excel and Word can sometimes work miracles: prepare to be amazed
The same applies for Microsoft office programs: full of clever tricks, which really do save a lot of time. I wish I had looked online before starting this job to find out about the most up-to-date shortcuts one can take on these programs. If you do this, you will ensure you are working as efficiently and optimally as possible right from day one (but someone will surely be there to show you if you don’t!).
6 Enjoy it!
Do not be scared to throw yourself into every opportunity you are given right from the word “go”. It will help to make the most of being in a career where you can constantly be surrounded by an expansive variety of projects and knowledge.
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