Amanda Gallagher, Medical Writer at Nucleus Global, Manchester, UK
After her PhD in Immunology Amanda stayed at the University of Manchester and undertook a postdoc position involving immunology and biochemistry for 3 years. She made the decision to not apply for another postdoc position. “It wasn’t an easy decision as there are aspects of academia that I really loved, but ultimately I decided that I wanted a permanent job with a more well-defined career progression.”
Amanda stayed in Manchester but since November 2014 she has bee working as a Medical Writer at Nucleus Global. Not surprisingly she finds the corporate environment to be very different from academia. Some differences are good, “I love the efficiency of my job; I like having a big list of things to do that I can tick off throughout the day. No more frustrating afternoons where you realise your PCR controls haven’t worked and you have to repeat everything again!” She says she also enjoys the variety of projects she gets to work on, for example, “I might start my day working on infectious disease and end it with oncology or neuroscience. It is a challenge learning about a new subject area on-the-go, but it’s very rewarding to put together a piece of work for a client and get positive feedback from them.” Another pro that Amanda has noticed is the teamwork element. “I’m part of a team, and we are often in meetings or having informal chats about how we can move a project forward or what we can do to create something truly innovative for the client.” Another pro that’s really important for her is job satisfaction. “Working with clients and having lots of deadlines to stick to may be whole new experience for most people coming out of academia. But again completing a piece of work to a great standard and getting praise from the client is really motivating.”
But after 3 years of being a postdoc, there are some things she misses. These include a good pension scheme and a generous holiday allowance (if you do your postdoc at a UK university). She also warns that if you’re leaving academia after a postdoc you may expect a pay cut for a while. However, she accepts it as part of the job and there are other company perks to balance it out. “The fact that you have a permanent job should help soften that blow.” She also misses discussion about lab-based science, working out new ideas and the best way to answer a scientific question. “There are opportunities to be creative in MedComm (medical communications), and discuss science, but it isn’t quite the same.” Another thing that she misses is the flexibility with managing her own time but does see that this can sometimes be exploited in academia. “You have to remember that someone is paying your company for you to complete a job for them (and they pay by the hour), this means there just isn’t much time of mischief. You have to account for all your time, so there aren’t those half hour breaks in the day (while you are waiting for incubations) where you can mess about on the internet or head out for coffee in the afternoon.”
Here’s Amanda’s advice for getting into the medical communications industry:
- Most MedComm agencies will employ associate writers with a Masters degree or a PhD, and with postdoc experience you might be able to skip a level (like Amanda did) and be employed as a medical writer.
- There is likely a writing test when you apply. “This is definitely worth putting some effort into and make sure you ask someone to proof read!”
- As you’ll be employed as a trainee and will be given training on the job, there’s not really any other essential experience you’ll need “but it doesn’t hurt to have evidence of things you have written to show that you are good at it and equally as important, that you enjoy it. In your CV and cover letter, talk about papers you have published, posters you have presented or anything else you may have done (newspaper articles, blogs, etc).”
- The interview process will be different to academia so prepare well and develop answers for most commonly asked interview questions (Google can help with this).
- Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and there are recruitment agencies out there just for MedComm jobs, so you can also register your interest with them. Here are some useful websites for people that are interested in getting into MedComms that Amanda would recommend are MedComms Networking and Next MedComms Jobs.
So, would she recommend starting a PhD? “Go for it! I had a great time during my PhD and learnt a lot. Be prepared for some hard work and keep your chin up when things don’t go your way. Remember that the point of a PhD is to do something that has never been done before, so chances are not everything you do will work (at least not the first time). Perseverance is essential, and I would recommend making use of your lab and PhD friends to discuss your science. Some of the best ideas are formed in the pub on a Friday night.” She says if you’re not thinking of pursuing an academic career after your PhD, even if your supervisor looks a bit disappointed, don’t be disheartened. “You’ll do a lot of growing up in the 3 or 4 years of your PhD and if you are lucky, you will figure out what it is that you want to do in life. Some PhD graduates might go into something where they never use their science again (some people go into accountancy/banking and love it), and that’s okay. Other equally as important skills learnt during their PhD will have got them the job. Your PhD is not just to train you how to be a scientist; it trains you in project management, in communication and gives you mentoring/teaching skills. All these things are essential skills in most graduate jobs and you shouldn’t ignore opportunities to develop these during your PhD.”
This post is part of a mini series on post-PhD careers.