Career case studies of former Bath research staff and doctoral students - find out what they're doing now and how they're using the skills from research.
Vicky Sherwood – Medical writer at Prime Global, UK
What do you do day-to-day in your current role?
The bulk of my working day is spent developing written content for an array of communications products used by large pharmaceutical companies (medical communications). These materials range from scientific publications, posters, abstracts and review articles that academics are very familiar with writing, to other types of documents; newsletters, education tools, meeting plans (conference and symposium planning), some promotional materials (for marketing purposes), and storyboards for short animations (amongst other digital products). The array of products delivered by my team means that no two-days at work are ever the same.
All data used in the materials I produce is provided by the client - medical writing does not involve data generation (it’s not a research position), but does include data analysis and interpretation. Often, your starting point can be a large table of data, which you need to rework to make a striking visual or distil into a few sentences to provide a ‘top-line summary’ for readers. So if you like the data interpretation and writing aspects of your research project, medical writing might be a suitable career choice for you.
Other activities that I can be involved with on a weekly basis include training, client calls, internal team strategy meetings (aimed at delivering projects on time and within budget), and pitches for new business development.
Give a brief overview of your career history to date, and any steps you feel were important to you
I completed my PhD at the University of Nottingham, before moving to Bath as a postdoc under the supervision of Dr Andy Chalmers in developmental biology. Following this I then did another postdoc abroad, before returning to the UK to start my own lab. Most recently my lab was based at the University of Dundee where my group were focused on studying Wnt signalling in skin cancers.
A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted some commercial experience and chose to leave academia to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Medical writing appealed to me because I enjoyed the writing aspects of my research work and felt I could easily repurpose these skills in an industry setting.
Since entering the medical writing profession, I’ve been able to progress relatively rapidly due to the research skills and project management skills I honed as an academic.
How do you use the skills from your doctoral/postdoctoral experience in your current role?
The scientific writing skills that I developed as a research scientist are essential for producing documents that are accurate, clear and concise - all essential qualities of a good medical writer.
Aside from this, I use data interpretation, project management and research skills on a daily basis to analyse the project data and find relevant information related to the work. Being able to understand the scientific needs of my clients allows me to efficiently deliver projects to the scope and spec requested.
These are all skills that I learnt as a research scientist and I use them every day. For this reason, PhD qualified scientists are in demand by many employers.
What advice would you give to researchers interested in working in similar roles, and suggestions on where they could look for vacancies
I get asked this question a lot from people looking to make a career move into medical writing. As such, I have a lot information available for people interested in medical writing as a career (amongst other career opportunities), on a blog that I write about career options for academic researchers (www.biomedbadass.com).
Medical communications (med comms) is a growing sector and there are lots of opportunities available once you have experience. It can be tricky however to land that first job without prior experience, but help is out there:
If you want to learn more about a career in medical writing, here’s a link to a couple of useful resources:
(you can find why I enjoy working in med comms on page 29)!
Another good place to learn more about if medical writing might be for you is to check out the MedComms Networking site:
Here you can learn more about the Medical Communications industry, and also sign up to receive industry updates and keep an eye on the latest jobs.
There’s an affiliate site that also offers lots of tips and advice for entry level roles and how to break into the industry without prior experience:
They also offer free career events (FirstMedCommJob meetings), where you can learn more about working in med comms and network with employers searching for new talent in the academic research sector. I went to a FirstMedCommJob meeting when I was first thinking about making a career transition and found it very helpful in identifying suitable employers.
Feel free to contact me at my website if you’re interested in learning more about medical writing as a career option:
…and good luck with your career decisions!