I Want to Work in .... Science Writing and Medical Communications

INCLUDING TECHNICAL AUTHOR AND SCIENCE PUBLISHING CAREERS

 

If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.

Einstein

 

PROFILE: Technical Author/Science Writer

INVOLVES: Producing manuals & literature in paper or electronic form, for products from cars to computer software. Writing documents in a lucid style so that users can easily understand them. Arranging for translation into other languages. Liaising with printers. Indexing & cataloguing.
EMPLOYERS: manufacturing companies, computer companies, technical publishers.
RELATED JOBS: medical writer, editorial assistant: publishing, journalist, information scientist, IT trainer, applications programmer.
SATISFACTIONS: Providing a finished product on a regular basis.. Combining writing with science/ technology. Translating technical jargon into clear unambiguous language. Very varied and interesting work. Learning new things every day. Creativity (interaction with graphic designers etc.) Good chance to work freelance/part-time/work from home once experienced.
NEGATIVES: Promotion prospects are limited. Lowish salaries. May be working on your own.
ADVANCEMENT: Limited promotion but may move into related jobs or go freelance.
DEGREE: Any degree subject is possible but a science/engineering /IT degree combined with good English is ideal. Several postgraduate courses are available but not essential for entry.
VACANCY SOURCES: (See below)
TIPS: Get writing experience in student journalism or other settings. Send speculative CVs to technical publishers. Visit a technical author to see what they do. Foreign language skills increasingly in demand.

Skills Required

Medical Writers

These have to write protocols, clinical trials reports, and patient information for the pharmaceutical industry regulatory authorities. They also have to write, design and develop marketing literature for medical sales representatives, posters and presentations for conferences. They are involved in the design of training and learning resources and articles for journals. You may get the chance to attend conferences in the UK and abroad. Salaries can be very good.

What skills will they be looking for?

They are currently in demand. Many writers have a PhD. It is an excellent career move for a postdoctoral research assistant who is not able to obtain a permanent contract. You can get in with just a BSc in the life sciences, but would need to have good evidence of relevant skills, for example writing regularly for the student newspaper and other publications (even writing a blog), organising events for student societies or fluency in a second European language.

Jobs are available with pharmaceutical companies, contract research organisations and medical communications agencies (see below). There are often jobs in Europe for experienced technical writers whose native language is English.

Medical Communications Agencies

These are the main employers of medical writers, they are also called medical education or MedComms agencies. Their main role is to produce materials for medical professionals about healthcare innovations such as the benefits of a new treatment. Writers may get involved in the documentation of clinical trials, public relations, conference presentations, materials for exhibition stands, regulatory affairs, and advertising. There are also jobs for events managers who would not necessarily need a science background, just evidence of excellent organising abilities and an ability to stay calm under pressure. A science PhD is often needed for entering these jobs.

 

2011 Report: New skills and ways of working in healthcare comms
www.inpharm.com/news/150573/new-skills-and-ways-working-healthcare-comms

Scientific Writing and Publishing

A number of organisations , such as Harcourt and the Royal Society of Chemistry (see below) recruit graduates for this. You need to be an excellent communicator and team workers comfortable with making decisions, organised and able to work under pressure.  Other essential qualities include excellent English and a keen eye for detail. Increasingly much of the work is on-line and publications in electronic format rather than on paper.

Getting in

First you need to produce a good CV. This would be a hybrid of the science CV and the creative/media CVs in our CV examples

Grammar and spelling are extremely important in this work, so check your CV thoroughly! A good style and layout would also help.

Your covering letter would need to show evidence of a lively and fluent writing style.

Many of the web sites on this page will regularly advertise vacancies or you can send a speculative CV and letter direct to the companies, asking to be considered for vacancies that arise.

You may be given a subbing or writing test to test your writing and editing skills.

See our science interview page for help with interview skills.

Organisations such as Network Pharma run scientific careers events where you can meet agencies recruiting medical writers.

Vacancy Sources

Nina ‐ Science Writer (Microbiology degree). Graduate Career Story from HECSU

How did you become a science writer?

‘When I finished university I temped for a couple of months before travelling to Brazil to work as an intern in a microbiology laboratory (a family contact found the post for me). I spent seven months in Brazil working on a research project investigating tuberculosis and then returned to the UK. I then applied to be a bio safety microbiologist for a public body, where I did some research into the transmission of disease, coughs and sneezes. After I had been doing the job for a while I was invited to get involved in writing some literature reviews. I hadn’t really done any writing before, but I really enjoyed it so when the opportunity to go on secondment as a science writer came up my boss put me forward for the role. After six months the organisation decided to make the position permanent and I become a full‐time science writer. In my current role I coordinate funding proposals, write concept papers and help scientists to write editorial for publications. I’ve been doing this job for about ten months now and am really enjoying it, although in the future I’d like to combine my writing with some project management as well.’

How have you drawn on the experience you gained at university in your subsequent work?

‘Obviously having a background in microbiology is very important. I don’t really use any of my lab skills, but having a basic knowledge of the techniques is very useful. Participating in seminars, giving presentations and writing essays stood me in good stead when it came to writing for publications and presenting at conferences.’

Do you have any careers advice for the students who graduated this year?

‘Don’t rest on your laurels in your holidays – it’s the perfect time to get experience. Consider volunteer work if you can’t get paid work (I wasn’t paid in Brazil). Do something to broaden your CV – whether that’s learning a language or undertaking further training. It’ll all help when you’re applying for jobs and you never know who you might meet or who can help you. Unfortunately when you’re applying for jobs a good degree isn’t usually enough – you need to have something interesting to say. When I first graduated I really didn’t have much to say about myself until I went travelling. Taking myself out of my comfort zone gave me the confidence I needed to apply for jobs and answer interview questions. My key tip is to look at online application forms or interview questions for the roles you might be interested in, and if you can’t think of a good example to demonstrate your ability to meet the criteria make sure you go and do something that will enable you to!’
Graduate Career Story from HECSU

Further Information

 

Also see our Journalism and Writing page and our Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs page

 

Clinical Trials Careers Chart

Last fully updated 2012