Ask the writers: Transitioning from academia to medical writing

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Are you finishing a PhD and wondering what to do next? Or are you approaching the end of a postdoc and growing tired of the lab?

Healthcare communications or medical communications (commonly referred to as med comms) may not be an industry you are aware of, but it might give you an opportunity to shine. Med comms agencies like us work with pharmaceutical companies to enable them to raise awareness of their medicines. The work is hugely varied and involves creating content for meetings, promotional materials, training materials and manuscripts (to name just a few).

Here at Porterhouse Medical, we have seen many great writers join us from academia and thrive as they apply their scientific expertise to a myriad of exciting therapy areas and project types.

So, how did our talented writers find the transition from academia and what advice would they give to future members of our scientific services team?

The end of a PhD marks the end of an era, and many people find themselves questioning whether they want to stay in academia.

Tom O’Sullivan, Medical Writer, recalled his feelings as he approached the end of his PhD: “Although I enjoyed working in a lab day-to-day, there were many aspects of working in academia that I didn’t like and because of these, I couldn’t see myself pursuing a career in this field. These included the long working hours and lack of work/life balance, temporary contracts (and job insecurity) and constant pressure of competing for the next grant.”

Jen Shepherd, Senior Medical Writer, wanted to broaden her scientific knowledge, and the lack of career progression and job stability was also a worry: “As much as I enjoyed my time at university and doing lab-based research, I wanted to leave academia so that I did not continue to become very focused on just one area of science. I also enjoyed writing and felt that positions in academia were somewhat hard to come by and fraught with difficulties surrounding obtaining grants that only fund researchers for a set amount of time.

Transferrable skills
With these sentiments being echoed by so many of our writers, what was the appeal of med comms for them? Alex Stainer, Senior Medical Writer, explained: “It felt like med comms was a great way to stay in the scientific field, and increase my experience and knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry, whilst removing the aspects I enjoyed less (such as lab work). It seemed a great way to fulfil my passion for writing, whilst staying both scientific and creative.

Tom succinctly concluded that “A career in med comms could provide many of the positives of academia, without the negatives.

The transition from academia into med comms can be surprisingly smooth because of the transferrable skills gained from years of planning experiments, analysing data, problem-solving, presenting data and writing up. Alex agrees that many of the skills he uses in his role as a Senior Medical Writer were already well honed before joining Porterhouse Medical, explaining: “Number one was certainly the ability to plan and organise complex pieces of work and to stick to timelines. It felt quite natural making the shift, as a lot of skills carried across – team working, solo working, ownership of projects, scientific writing and reading skills. Also, the ability to become familiar with new scientific topics quickly – this is something that’s definitely proved useful more than once!”

Valuable writing experience
As well as these core skills, many academics will already have accumulated years of valuable writing experience, including grant applications, slide and poster presentations for scientific congresses and, of course, their thesis. For those who are midway through a PhD and are already looking ahead to a potential move into med comms, there are many other opportunities to develop writing skills along the way. Emma Conran, Principal Medical Writer, concurs: “I wrote articles for newsletters and gave presentations to members of the public. I also started writing grant and ethics applications, and really began to enjoy using the same scientific information to write for different audiences, such as fellow scientists, patients and carers.

No regrets
If there’s one thing our writers all agree on, it’s that they have no regrets since joining Porterhouse Medical. “The variety of work available ensures I never get bored! I also enjoy being able to dip in and out of multiple therapy areas,” explained Jen. Luke Smith, who joined Porterhouse Medical in 2020, also highlighted the variety of work: “The job is better than I expected, which is photo of Luke Smith _Medical Writer_Porterhouse Medicalpartly down to the nature of the work and partly the people. The work is stimulating, and I’m supported to grow and develop within my role. One aspect of med comms that people always mention is the variety, and that’s because it is true and may be a bit of a contrast with what a lot of people experience in research.

Closely supported
Our new recruits immediately join an experienced team who help to support their transition into their new role. To supplement their training, we have developed an online learning platform called the Porterhouse Academy, which offers a valuable overview of med comms and the key skills underpinning medical writing.

Furthermore, the support for our new starters didn’t falter during the pandemic, despite many of us working remotely. “I was unsure how starting my first ‘proper’ job during a pandemic would go, but everyone at Porterhouse has been great and made me feel very welcomed and supported at all times,” agreed Tom. As well as training, we also embrace opportunities to socialise (albeit virtually right now), with plenty of virtual coffee breaks and remote social events. Our company values, particularly ‘Together as a family, we grow and flourish’, underpin the supportive environment that we proudly cultivate among our staff, which helps new recruits settle into their roles and reach their full potential.

So, what advice would our writers give to people considering joining us? Jen had some excellent suggestions, advising: “I would say take up any opportunities to practice scientific writing beforehand. I took the opportunity to write content for a website during my time at university and I also wrote small articles on a variety of scientific topics (usually summarising recent publications) for a website before becoming a medical writer.” Alex added: “Don’t be afraid to reach out to us on LinkedIn for a more informal introduction.”

With Porterhouse Medical continuing to grow, there is never a better time to join us. Please visit our careers page at porterhousemedical.com/careers or contact Jan Coetzee  to find out more about our vacancies and follow us on LinkedIn.