Why you DON’T need another degree to become a medical writer – Rebecca Tadokera

I spoke with Dr Rebecca Tadokera. PhD, from Cape Town, South Africa about how she went from academic in a lab to medical writer with her own business, ScieHealth Communications.

Virginia Chachati spoke with Rebecca Tadokera from ScieHealth Communications for Write Clinic’s podcast “Medical Writing Uncut”

Virginia (00:01.734)
Hello, my name is Virginia from Write Clinic and here with me today is Dr. Rebecca Tadokera from South Africa, who is a medical writer and consultant. Thank you for joining me today, Rebecca.

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (00:14.306)
Thank you for having me this afternoon Virginia. I’m really excited to be here.

Virginia (00:20.706)
Thank you so much. I’m excited for you to be here too. So let’s get started. What do you do and how did you get into it?

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (00:29.286)
Right. So I am a scientist by training. I’m a doctor of science, not medicine. So I did a PhD in clinical science and immunology and I also trained in public health, after which I worked for quite a while in academia and science, scientific research for over 12 years. And I decided to make the pivot into scientific communications and medical writing where I am right now. So now I’m the founder and the CEO of a growing scientific writing company based in Cape Town South Africa called Scie Health Communications. So that’s what I do now most of my time.

Virginia (01:15.066)
amazing and what kind of made you go towards that direction in your career?

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (01:22.87)
Right, no, that’s a very interesting question. I ask myself the same question every day. But to be honest, after I finished my PhD, one of the things I spent a lot of time on was actually trying to figure out what else can I do with my PhD because I realised that I enjoy doing work that has a tangible impact.

And that’s also one of the things that drove me to doing a master’s in public health, because I didn’t know how else to get out of the lab and do something else with the skills that I had. So yeah, I would say it was more, it was a lot of serendipity, trial and error along the way, figuring out what resonates with me, what are my core values. So that in itself, it’s been an ongoing search.

And when 2021 came around with the COVID pandemic, a lot of things changed. And one of the things that changed was the funding for TB work that I was doing. So that kind of was like the catalyst that pushed me into scientific communication and medical writing about two years ago. So it’s been a couple of years now in this space. This first half was working for an agency before I decided actually I like the independence, I’m gonna try out what it’s like to work for myself. So that’s how I ended up founding ScieHealth

Virginia (02:58.722)
Amazing. So how do you, you know, how do you find your clients to, to work with now that you are your own boss?

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (03:07.47)
Right. I think that is where the road hits the tar, right, when it comes to finding clients. Because the writing part, the technical part is the easy part. Because I’ve been doing that kind of… Well, I’ve been writing and thinking like a writer and a scientist for years. But running your own business is a different ballgame altogether.

And I did tend to find that the bulk of your time you spent looking for clients, marketing yourself, putting yourself out there, and then maybe just a fraction of the time you spend doing the actual writing. So for me, I found that drawing on my networks was a huge help. I probably miscalculated that when I started off because I thought, oh well, I’ve been a scientist for like 14 years and I know a lot of scientists who could use my writing services, right? So…

It’s not going to be hard to find clients. But I must say I was surprised that the uptake was not that great because people need the service, but at the same time, especially here in South Africa, medical writing, scientific writing is quite new. People are not used. Academics are just used to sitting and writing their own papers or their own grants in between the bits of time that they have. So.

It was not as easy getting business from there. So that’s when LinkedIn came in really handy for me. I built a robust community on LinkedIn and networks and connections. And most of my clients and most of my knowledge that I’ve learned to become a better writer it’s been from my network. And then as most of the clients were referrals either directly or referrals from clients, from connections on LinkedIn.

Virginia (05:06.034)
Amazing. So it’s really interesting to hear that, you know, you, you saw the opportunity on LinkedIn to kind of reach an international audience, and then you started networking and, you know, building out that community for yourself, and it’s really paying off. And so I would say, you know, what would you, what do you know now that you wish you knew earlier?

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (05:28.134)
Yeah, quite a bit. But I must say, coming back to LinkedIn, I think that for anyone who is trying to pivot into new fields, I feel like LinkedIn really levels out the playing field. And I think that is really the one beauty of networking on LinkedIn. You have access to a whole lot of community beyond your immediate network. So I think that is the one take away in the one piece of advice I would give to anyone who is trying to pivot be it into medical writing or to any other career that is new to you. Right. Because when you’re starting out, you only know the people in your network. I only knew academics because that’s what I knew. But, I have to say that, no one told you two things. Two things I would say. One is a lot of learning actually happens on the job.

Virginia (06:25.582)
Yeah, I agree.

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (06:26.23)
That’s one thing I’ve learnt from my experience. So when I finished my PhD, I think I mentioned earlier on that I thought, oh, well, I want to pivot into medical, public health kind of work. So the best way I can do that is go and do another master’s, a three-year master’s degree. And lo and behold.

I was wrong because when I look back now, I probably use only like 10, 20% of all the things that I learned from that, from that degree, right? I mean, it was useful. I learned, I enjoyed that, but you don’t, not everything that you need to learn is going to be, it’s going to require a degree. A lot of it is going to require you to actually just try things out, learn as you go, course correct if you need to.

And figure it out. So when I started this part now of scientific writing, medical writing, and writing, starting my own business as well, because I wanted to make it into a professional business, I thought to myself, oh, maybe I need to go and do an MBA. And I was this close to registering for an MBA, but I was like, wait one second, I’m going back the same path that I went. So…

No, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to learn as I go and read books, watch resources, learn from other people. I will learn as I go. So yeah, I always advise even the coaching clients that can work with us, you don’t need to have a degree for everything. Just figure out, go, figure it out, try out, and then see where the gaps are in your knowledge and then figure out if you need a degree for it. You know, so yeah.

Virginia (08:14.146)
I love that, that is so true. And I, you know, that’s definitely the way that I pivoted as well. You know, just basically trying stuff out as soon as possible and seeing what you like and the gaps in your knowledge to quote what you said, it’s so important to identify those early and then just accept the gaps and then fill them in by, by doing the work. Yeah. That’s amazing. So what next?

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (08:34.568)
Yep. Yes. Fail forward. They call it fail forward, failing forward.

Virginia (08:42.926)
Yeah, failing forward, I love that. So, what’s next on the horizon for you?

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (08:50.114)
So, I’ve been through, so this is, it’s really coming to a year now of running my own business. So it’s quite exciting, it’s the day coming up. Yay! But I guess with, it’s still in the spirit of course-correcting and adjusting as you go. I’ve been doing a lot of different things, trying out, seeing what works and what doesn’t work over the past year.

And seeing where the gaps are, because that’s part of what you learn as well, the mindset shift from being a scientist who’s just doing experiments, to being a business owner, figuring out where the opportunities, where is the need, where are the gaps? And so for me, part of that is in learning really, and also where are my interests, because interests and passions, those also evolve over time.

And I’ve been, I must say I’ve learned a lot in the past year than I probably would have learned in one year of an MBA class, for example. So with that in mind, I’ve really learned that I figured out that there’s a lot of, there’s a huge, okay, the opportunity and then there’s also challenges. In terms of where the opportunities are right now, I feel like in South Africa, well, globally,

COVID is, if there’s anything that COVID brought up, it’s just need for innovation, technology innovation in the med tech space. And there’s a, right now there’s quite an expansion drive globally in terms of innovations coming to the market and needing funding and that sort of thing. And I must say that Africa is lagging behind in that. We are slowly picking up, especially the biotech space in Cape Town, South Africa right now, it’s picking up.

And so that is a huge opportunity. But then the challenge comes now with coming to get the funding resources needed to scale up those kind of technologies. And for me, I found that is a quite an exciting space for me to be in. So I’m increasingly working in that space where I’m actually working with clients, biotech or pharma companies that are trying to scale up technologies.

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (11:14.11)
look for funding, you know, to find the next phase of innovation and to take it to the market. So that’s where I am. And I think I see myself doing more of that kind of work in the future. Yeah, so it’s really an exciting space to be. It’s almost like business meets science kind of space, really. Yeah.

Virginia (11:36.01)
I really like that. And it sounds like you just really enjoy what you’re doing. And you’re just really looking forward to growing your business beyond, you know, the first year. So congratulations on your one year mark. That’s really amazing. An thank you so much for coming on the show today and we will see you next time. Thank you so much. Bye.

Dr Rebecca Tadokera (11:48.846)
Thank you.

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