Having a job is an essential part of our adult life, and it is definitely something we need in order to survive. It is something we depend on. If we think about it, most of us will spend most of our productive life working, so looking for a job or staying at a job that we are unhappy about might not be the smartest idea.
Chances are good that if you have considered moving into a communication heavy career, someone has at some point suggested you keep a writing portfolio. If you are like me, you nodded sagely and left confused. What is a writing portfolio? And what do I put in mine, if I am working as a scientist?
As a graduate student, I completed my dissertation research in a laboratory external to the chemistry department in the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) at Emory University.Due to this, I nurtured a relationship not only with Emory University’s main career center, but also one with career services at the public health school. I needed and welcomed any guidance available.
The topic of career planning is something that I discuss with almost everyone I speak with, regardless of whether they are a graduate student or industry professional. I emphasize that regardless of where someone is in their career, steps can be taken to develop the hard (e.g. techniques) and soft (e.g. management) skills necessary for career advancement. Since successful careers develop over years, even decades, the earlier someone starts to plan, the better. Even as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow, ample opportunities exist to develop skills.
You see it all the time—in a popular news article about a groundbreaking research study to even the primary literature—that so-and-so researcher is the “first” to make some brand new discovery.This claim makes me cringe every time I see it. Why? Well to be honest, it’s highly unlikely to be the absolute first at anything with millions of scientists around the world, many of whom are working in similar fields on similar problems.
Chances are good that at some point in your career, you will need to teach people something in a formal environment like a classroom or lecture hall. You might get assigned the entire first year of intro bio (with labs), or you might just give a guest lecture in some graduate seminar where you are visiting, but it is a common responsibility for scientists.
Years ago, during my grad school interviews, the late Seymour Benzer told me that I would be forced to decide in grad school whether I would “run with the herd,” or instead become one of the few scientists who would be comfortable operating more independently. That succinct statement encompassed all of his advice to me—a clear yet puzzling challenge. I have reflected on this comment during and beyond grad school.
Believe it or not, but being a scientist leaves you with quite a few career choices in both science-related and unrelated fields. You do want to choose carefully, because moving back into a field that you previously left definitely has some challenges. However, in some cases, it can work to your advantage as well, since you will likely have acquired skills that are both valuable and rare, once you return. When I accepted a position as a scientific recruiter after I completed my postdoc, it was for a few different reasons.
Before I begin, let me say that there are several types of medical/science writing roles, and the projects one works on within each role, can vary.I work for a healthcare communications agency on the commercial side of an oncology product. Projects I work on can be physician-or patient-facing, for sales training (so the sales reps can actually get physicians to use the drug), or for the marketing team (so they know what they need to know to market the drug effectively).