James outlines his flawless strategy of self-searching, LinkedIn research and networking to bring gems of clarity to the question “Is medical writing right for me?”Virginia Chachati – Editor at Write Clinic
Without ever thinking about it, I had always wanted to be a researcher. I wanted to get a PhD, be a postdoc and become a respected neuroscientist at a university. But after years of rejections, I knew I had to start again. I had to actually consider what I wanted for my life. After career coaching, medical communications emerged as my top choice, and here’s how I got there.
What I like
The first step was to focus on what makes me happy. I made a timeline of my career, and I wrote down what drove my decisions. Why a BSc in biochemistry and not pure neuroscience? Why an MRes and not an MSc? What did I enjoy most, and what did I hate?
Four factors came up that drove my decisions:
1. I like variety – in the things I learn and the things I do.
2. I like challenge – I get a kick out of pushing myself.
3. I like novelty – I love to engage with and explore the unusual.
4. I like science.
What I can do
With my “likes” clarified, it was time to uncover my strengths. Humility is one of them, so this was a lot tougher. I extracted strengths from the things I enjoyed, and took online surveys. I analysed my biggest accomplishments and what it took to get them, and I listed some top strengths:
1. Attention to detail
2. Love of learning
3. Empathy and desire to help others
Bringing it together
I now knew what I liked to do, and what I do well. The next step was to see what careers would let me do both.
I brain-dumped a bunch of ideas and picked my top three. I was instinctively drawn to medical writing, clinical trial work and lab research. The next step was to turn these career paths into a list of top companies.
Careers to companies
It was time to open Excel and start compiling a list of companies that are in my chosen fields.
First, I had the companies I already knew. Then, I found it easiest to turn the fields into job titles and search them on LinkedIn or Indeed. Any companies that looked interesting went into the list.
Along with their name, I ranked each company from one to five depending on how excited I would be to work there. One quick sort and I had the top 5 companies I’d be most excited to be a part of.
Companies to people
The best way to clarify if I would enjoy and excel at a job was to get the insider perspective. LinkedIn is an invaluable resource for this. With a search it’s a database of people, doing what you want, at places you want to do it. I needed to find and connect with these people.
Medical writers, clinical research associates, research assistants.
If they had a relevant job title and were in one of my 5 top companies (and they looked kind), I had to send them a message. I wanted to dive deeper into their roles, their companies and their fields: so I invited them to a quick chat to discuss their experiences. My goal was not to ask for a job, but to explore theirs.
Medical communications steps up
One informational interview stood out to me. A scientific team lead and ex-medical writer at Springer Nature. She kindly walked me through a day in her job and affirmed all the great points I wanted to know. Medical writing is varied, interesting and challenging. She also offered insight I hadn’t considered.
Managing your time and workload is a must, as is having a thick skin. You also get to travel to other countries. She recommended the wonderful course, ‘Writing in the Sciences’ on Coursera.org and told me of an upcoming event in London.
The event, “Working in and Around #MedComms” in November 2022, was my final deciding moment. It revealed to me the breadth of Medical Communications beyond being a writer.
You could be an account executive: cover the details and keep the plates spinning. You could be an editor: using eagle-eyes to spot errors and inconsistencies. And, of course, there’s the writer: a versatile communicator.
Excited employees filled the booths and each was eager to highlight their company. I came away with one clear message, “If you like science and want an exciting and varied challenge, join medical communications.”
It took a lot of work to decide on medical writing. But I found that it’s a field that works for me – it involves what I enjoy, and it plays to my strengths. I learned that a good self-assessment can bring you clarity in your career search. I hope that if you follow the steps I took it can help you bring some clarity for yours.