When I was in grad school and my postdoc, I didn’t have a good sense of what medical writing entailed.
I honestly thought it sounded kind of stuffy and mundane. I probably imagined a bunch of scientists sitting at computers typing away on manuscripts and documentation.
I’ve been pretty open about how medical writing isn’t one type of job, and that medical writers work on all sorts of products and materials. I’ve also shared a few times that I work on medical education materials, to help inform patients and medical professionals about relevant drugs and diseases.
Now that 3 months have passed since I started my job as a medical writer, there were a few legitimately pleasant surprises that I experienced that I want to briefly share.
I wanted to make a really clear distinction between this post, about genuinely surprising things, and my last post, which was about 3 lessons I learned in my new job.
1. There’s less work than I expected.
I generally try not to have a ton of expectations for anything I attempt, so I wasn’t entirely sure what would be coming when I started my medical writer job. I was just really happy to be out of the lab and away from my toxic former PI. I recall feeling a bit worried that my job might be a bit hard, because it’s obviously a big transition to go from spending my entire adult life in academia to a fully corporate, non-ac job where I was regularly working with topics that are new to me.
Thankfully, though, it turned out I’m doing way less work overall than I was during grad school or postdoc.
If you’ve read my blog for a while or follow me on Twitter, you know I don’t have a first-author research paper and didn’t particularly like reading papers in grad school. So, I didn’t do a ton of work during grad school and kind of cruised through the way an average or below-average student does.
Even with that said, I don’t have as much on my plate now.
So what do I exactly do as a medical writer?
At any given time, I’m on ~2 client projects. These are pretty time-sensitive, but I’m always on a team so I don’t feel overloaded and I know exactly what I need to do. These are about specific diseases or drugs that the client wants us to make informational materials on. I don’t do EVERYTHING related to the product – I only do the background research and writing part.
I also have ~2 non-client projects as well, which are what I work on when I have down time between client work.
These projects are all assigned to me by the project manager who knows what people are working on and how much more they can take on at any given time.
I always have something to do at work, but it’s never scary, stressful, or unmanageable. If client work is slow, or we’re waiting for them to give us feedback, I go to my non-client projects and do research and reading on things that I’ve been assigned.
It’s kind of nice to be sitting back and reading review papers about stuff that changes up every few weeks. My Ph.D. project was related to neuroscience, so I’ve been assigned a lot of neuro-related projects. I’ve learned about so many neurodevelopmental conditions in the past few months, stuff I’d NEVER imagined I’d get to learn about but are super important to be aware of as a member of society.
There’s not a huge rush on the non-client projects, either, so it’s not a TON of work.
Other that that, I don’t have anything I’m responsible for. I don’t have to be worrying about other things in the pipeline, deadlines looming in the future, projects I “should be doing”, and stuff like where I should go next – which is something I know a lot of grad students and postdocs (and academics in general) worry about.
It also feels pretty good that I feel absolutely none of that “I should work on this a bit longer” at the end of the day.
2. The work’s fairly easy.
Like I described in my blog post, “The Only Skill From My Ph.D. That I Use In My Industry Job“, I do a ton of literature search and information consolidation.
To me, it’s not hard; it’s just tedious at times.
Finding info that I need for the project, consolidating it, writing it in the way that’s appropriate for the project’s target audience, and moving on.
I can’t do it with my eyes closed, but it’s not any harder than the work I was doing in grad school and my postdoc, where I had to do literally everything related to my research project and felt like my brain was being pulled in multiple directions at all times.
You can probably relate.
When I was in the lab, I had to understand the context in the literature of what I was doing, find the right reagents or kits to get, understand why they were the best choice, manage placing the orders, set up experiments to replicate things that have been established to test the protocol, think about controls, troubleshoot because things never go according to plan, iterate, think about the best ways to analyze the data, so on and so forth.
Yeech, I don’t miss it at all.
What’s cool too is that other than what I have on my docket, I literally don’t have to think about anything – it’s not my responsibility.
There’s less diversity in the way I’m intellectually challenged, so in that sense, the work feels easier.
I’ve always just wanted to do straightforward work that helps people in the way that I can, so this is perfect for me.
3. Everyone’s good at what they do – no “trainees” anymore!
Another pleasant surprise was just how GOOD everyone is at their jobs. I know, it sound kind of like a given, but this is actually my first time in a company setting. I’ve only worked in labs until now.
University labs, at that.
I guess I personally don’t mind the more obviously money-centric thinking of industry.
It pays to be good at your job.
The writers are great at what we do, and we’re fully trusted to get everything right and convey facts in written form well. Most of us have Ph.D.s or tons of pharma experience, so we know what we’re talking about and have tons of experiences that help us get the job done.
The project manager’s really incredible at their job. They communicate very efficiently, use the project management software flawlessly, and is always just on top of their stuff. They seem to know everything about everyone’s projects!
My own manager is really encouraging but always says what she needs to say to keep me on track and focused. She’s so nice and lets me shift my schedule if I have a sudden appointment I need to get to.
The artists and designers are SO good at what they do; it’s so impressive and I feel so lucky to work with them. I don’t understand even 10% of what they do, the software they use, anything about their workflow, but the products end up looking really cool. Seeing my writing in the products is one of the coolest feelings.
It’s nice to be surrounded by competent and nice coworkers. Bonus surprise is how available everyone feels, even though I haven’t met any of my coworkers. Everyone responds very quickly or within a reasonable time to chats and “can you hop on a call” is definitely a thing.
Obviously, our time is respected, and we’re not expected to drop everything we’re doing at a moment’s notice every time we get a chat, but it’s nice to know my coworkers are just a message away.
But that does’t mean mentorship and teaching isn’t a thing in industry! I feel like that’s something a lot of academics get VERY wrong about non-ac jobs.
Obviously, you can mentor newer employees and former colleagues from academia and previous non-ac jobs. I also teach patients through my work every day, and there’s an entire blog post I wrote dedicated to some of the awesome ways you can still be involved in teaching outside of academia: Teaching Outside of Academia!
Keep in mind, these are just my own experiences and I’m sure there are plenty of jobs that are hard, or use more brainpower, than mine.
Also, medical writer jobs are NOT all the same. Here’s a list of all the things medical writers can work on, so you can see how different workplaces and projects can potentially be: https://info.amwa.org/ultimate-guide-to-becoming-a-medical-writer#what_do_medical_writers_write
It’s also possible that work can ramp up in the fall, and as I gain more experience.
But for now, I wanted to share these 3 things that have genuinely and pleasantly surprised me about working as a medical writer.
If my complete lack of criticism towards industry bothers you, well, too bad.
I know that with time I’ll discover things I don’t love about my job, too, because no company’s perfect, and no job’s perfect.
But after 6 grueling years as a grad student, I’m happy to be where I am today doing work that feels more fulfilling and impactful than anything I did in grad school, and so far, I have no major complaints.