My name is Clement Weinberger, and I am a freelance medical writer. I retired as Director of Medical Communications in the Medical Affairs Department of a biopharma company about 6 years ago, and started a freelance business.
Of course, my professional life didn’t start there. In this, and in forthcoming blogs, I’ll tell you how, and why my career path led from postdoc to where I am now, hoping that you will find some of my experiences both interesting and useful.
Maybe the shortest way to sum it all up is with a quote from Douglas Adams, who wrote “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be”.
What are the common threads here? All my jobs required a PhD, MD or PharmD degree, as well as clear written and oral communication of research rationales, results, and significance. By the way, with the possible exception of research, I never held a post for which I’d previously had job-specific training.
After my PhD in cell biology, the plan was to find a faculty position as an Assistant Professor, continue with my research, and begin a teaching career. It all actually began with a postdoc in a basic research lab in the Netherlands. It was great fun, a new experience in a new country, and there were publications.
The surprise was that the researcher who ran the lab I worked in, had changed what they were doing after they offered me the post, but never said so. First lesson: a PhD prepares one to deal with new challenges.
The subsequent 7 years as an Assistant Professor at a couple of universities were on the same career path that my PhD mentor had followed. However, despite supporting successful graduate degree candidates, publications, and a National Science Foundation grant, it seemed clear that tenure would not be forthcoming.
I did not want to move to another state in pursuit of that “holy grail,” and I thought it would also be nice to make more money. So, like many of you reading this (but maybe for different reasons), I began to look into other opportunities open to PhDs in biology. Second lesson: avoid self-imposed limits. Another way to say this may be “have an objective, but be prepared to change it.”
This search started before the Internet or the Web existed. Most non-faculty jobs were advertised in newspapers or journals. The flow of information about open positions has changed, as you can see at biocareers.com, but you still need to find relevant postings, answer them, get invited to interview, and sell yourself into the position.
My first step away from academia was landing a job with the marketing department of a large biomedical device company. They were looking for a PhD to deliver balanced, non-promotional presentations to clinicians on the medical rationale and research that supported their products, and the clinical studies that had evaluated them. Third lesson: You can help others benefit from valuable research results even if they are not your results.
Next steps, next blogs? Writing for medical communication agencies, working for a medical laboratory, writing for biopharma medical affairs, and the transition to freelance work.
Cheers for now,
Clement Weinberger, PhD
The Stylus Medical Communications