My First Month as a Medical Writer

I’ve been at my medical writer job for about a month now.

It’s been an amazing experience so far. The work is interesting, the people are nice, and things run smoothly.

Maybe you’re a grad student, or a postdoc, or just someone else who’s interested in what it’s like to be a medical writer. I totally remember that feeling because just recently I was wondering that too. How’s the day to day? What kind of stuff do you write, actually? How much work is it? Is it easier or harder than grad school?

Well, I don’t think I’m qualified to answer all those questions very thoroughly yet. It’s only been a month since I started my job. But I do have a better understanding of how things are going to be at my job.

Keep in mind: it’s not the same everywhere! Medical writers make all sorts of products and it’s usually not just academic papers or grants. It’s way more than that.

So anyway, I’ll explain a bit about how things have been going!

What I Work On

I don’t want to expose myself but like I’ve said on my Twitter a few times, my work deals with various diseases and drugs that our clients want us to make informational materials about. I get assigned a certain disease or drug and then make our product by doing literature review on it and consolidating the data and information, as well as visuals.

It’s seriously right up my alley because I love nerding out about certain topics for short periods of time and then moving onto new things. I’d say each assignment takes a few weeks to a few months depending on the client’s needs, so to me it’s reasonable.

I can’t say much more about it now because I haven’t done much yet. I’ve done maybe 2 assignments and I’m still getting trained and learning the ropes! Oh, and it’s remote, so I’m home all day.

Training/On-boarding

I think this really depends on the company. Mine is pretty chill; there’s a huge spreadsheet of things that have to be done when someone is hired and I just make sure to check those things off. People take turns meeting with me to tell me about their responsibilities and answer any questions I have, and those meetings check off a lot of the things on that spreadsheet. I get more and more work every week and things have been falling into place over the past 4 weeks.

The first week or so was really just paperwork, payroll enrollment, meeting with HR about questions, reading instruction manuals, watching video tutorials, meeting with people in my role, etc. VERY low work. They literally told me to enjoy how slow it is! I sure did.

The subsequent weeks were a bit more work and I started getting assigned things to do that the company actually needs but are still low-stakes and don’t bother the others too much. I think I’ll be introduced into more important projects soon.

Overall, the process has been manageable and really good.

Workload and Difficulty

I think the hardest thing about my job and the actual assignments I’ve been getting (about the drugs or diseases I’m working on) is that I RESEARCH WAY TOO MUCH! Like, I’m SO THOROUGH with my research that I start wasting time. In academia we’re expected and trained to know EVERYTHING about a topic. In industry, there isn’t time for that. You just have to find the info, make sure the sources are legit, summarize/present it, and then move on to the next thing.

But otherwise it’s been a good amount of work, as in, definitely enough work, but not too much either. The work honestly reminded me of the kind of blog posts I used to write – the science-y ones (my personal favorite was the one about MSG) where I gather info from sources and weave it together into an informational product.

I Tweeted this recently but a funny thing that I wasn’t prepared for was…I didn’t know how babies look at various ages. Specifically, 2 year olds. I have no experience with babies and children in general (aside from tutoring) so looking through the photo database I was using, I couldn’t tell which ones were 1-ish, 2-ish, 3-ish, etc. I needed pictures of 2 year olds for this project I was working on (because that’s the age they tend to get diagnosed with something). Anyway, I guess I know better now.

Remote Work Lifestyle

I work 40 hours a week including lunch & breaks. My schedule is a little unique in that I have a half day on Fridays. So I work 9 hours on Monday through Thursday, and then just 4 hours on Friday, which adds up to 40 hours. My company gives us 30 minutes for lunch and then two 15-minute breaks. I usually do a 45 minute lunch and take a 15 minute break somewhere else in the day, because I usually don’t feel like I got a real break with just a 30 minute lunch.

But obviously because I work from home and don’t have classes or teaching, I can do whatever I want and all that is very flexible.

I also really like the half day on Fridays, because since I was in grad school, on Friday afternoons I kind of crash from the week and zone out. That’s one time in the week I’d nap, too, if I was really tired. I’ve been going on walks every Friday afternoon which has been nice.

That’s also when I set aside time to figure out what to pick up from the grocery store for meal prep on Saturday morning and Skype my parents abroad. So it’s nice to have that time on Friday and not stuff it all into the weekend.

Working from home is great because I can use the restroom as often as I need. I have Overactive Bladder, so I’m very symptomatic in the mornings and after meals. Having the restroom just a few steps away is very convenient. I feel super lucky. If you’re wondering, I use the restroom about once every 15 minutes to 1.5 hour depending on how long it’s been since I last drank water! I have a whole blog post about how I developed Overactive Bladder during grad school if you are curious about it.

As for what I wear, it’s usually comfortable pants, like sweatpants, yoga pants, or soft shorts. On top, I wear something that’s presentable in a Zoom meeting – mock neck/turtleneck tops, button down short sleeve tops, T-shirt/tank top and knit cardigan, knit long sleeve tops, stuff like that. Not much makeup either, just slapping on some moisturizer and touching up my brows.

Lunch Routine

I meal prep (have been doing so since grad school!) so I am pretty prepared when it comes to lunch during the work day. I just pop my lunch in the microwave and am able to eat in a matter of 3 minutes or so. Food doesn’t go bad in the fridge for the whole week if it’s cooked and in proper containers – meal prepping is really convenient!

I don’t eat or drink things throughout the day because I wear clear retainers all day long (finished Invisalign treatment in January) and it’s easiest to just eat 3 big meals. After you finish Invisalign you’re supposed to wear your clear retainers all day long for like…months…before you can go without anything on your teeth. Because your teeth need to settle into the positions they’ve been forced into, or else they can revert. I’m TERRIFIED of that happening!

Anyway, that was a tangent. The point is, lunch is easy because I have it meal-prepped, and I don’t snack or eat anything else aside from my 3 main meals.

Work-Life Balance

It’s great. Everyone is on the same page and has stuff going on outside of work. No one seems to live to work.

Everything for work is on my work laptop, which was sent to me. I open it in the morning and close it at night. Nothing work-related is on my personal laptop or phone. No one at work uses my phone number and I don’t know anyone’s phone number from work.

Everyone respects boundaries. It’s pretty great.

Miscellaneous Reflections

  • People don’t care if you have a Ph.D. or not. Some people in my position have Ph.D.s and others don’t. We all have backgrounds and experiences that make us useful to the company, and we all do the same work. It’s not about what degree you have. It’s about if you can do the work they need you to do. My tutoring experience and my Ph.D. experience just so happens to match up to that.
  • Everyone that was involved in the hiring process for me keeps on saying that they loved the fact that I had tutoring experience. No one mentions papers (or my lack thereof), no one mentions fellowships, no one mentions the conferences I went to or the fact I didn’t TA. None of that matters.
  • Nothing I’ve worked on so far has been related to the research I did for my Ph.D.
  • Meetings go fast. Sign in, hello, short chit chat, reason for the meeting, confirm everyone gets their assignments, k bye. I love it.

Conclusion

Well, hopefully this post gave you an idea of how my job’s going. It’s only been a month so I don’t have all the answers yet. I’m sure it’ll ramp up but I’m looking forward to the challenge!

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