During graduate school and throughout a post-doc, I found myself continuously writing. From grant deadlines and manuscript drafts to lecture materials, there was always something that was due on top of the experiments I needed to perform to be able to write most of these documents in the first place. At times, writing was more of a chore, than a joy, something I squeezed in on the weekends when I wasn’t at the bench. I did not realize how much I enjoyed writing until it was my main responsibility- no bench work, no lectures. If you like to write and you like science, please read-on.
I entered my postdoc still loving life at the bench, but I was pretty sure that I was not going to be in charge of my own lab one day; the NIH budget cuts were less than inspiring. I think many recent Ph.D.s find themselves asking the same question: what do you do with a Ph.D. if you do not want to be a principle investigator? Specifically, for me, I wanted to continue to participate in research without spending late nights and weekends in the lab.
I had only first learned about medical writing as a career option as a postdoctoral scientist; I guess I didn’t have extra time to search out alternative career paths until I was faced with making my own career transition or stay a postdoc forever. It seems as through both postdoc and graduate programs are getting better about supplying guidance and resources for alternative careers to science Ph.D.s, but there is definitely room for more structured programs. I was happy to see that American Medical Writers Association posted a web page introducing the medical writing as a career path (http://www.amwa.org/default.asp?id=382). This is the precisely the type of information that would help someone contemplating a career in medical writing.
During graduate school, I got the feeling that I would be throwing away my Ph.D. if I did anything but become a PI. In every project that I have completed as a scientific writer, I have readily used the skills obtained during my Ph.D. I am continuously learning about new diseases, new techniques and new regulations and I get to work with different types of people from MDs to research participants (although I do spend a good number of days working from home with only my Labrador retriever sleeping at my feet). Plus, I typically complete a project every week and can cross it off my list (that rarely happens in research!). I recently searched out other scientist to writer transitionees on LinkedIn and found that everyone has a different story. From disgruntled postdoc to successful freelancer, from writing book chapters to web-design; they all seem to conclude with scientific writing as a great career decision.
It has been frustrating trying to break into the medical writing field with little clinical writing experience. I feel scientifically qualified, but all resources tell me to take more classes (and even though I agree with them… the last thing I want to do after spending the last 10 years of my life in school is take more classes). Luckily, I fell into a great writing gig that not only helped confirm my career choice as a writer, but will allow me to (eventually) acquire the experiences I need to make me feel at home in the medical writing field. Here is my career advice: don’t worry about the norm. The main thing is that you are challenged and you enjoy what you do. Period.