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Medical Writing Internship Experience, by Emma Hall

This blog post is a guest post from a UoE postdoc, Emma Hall, who secured an internship as a Medical Writer during her postdoc. Emma provides an insight into the experience having previously undertaken two 1:1 Career Development Consultations prior to securing the internship. 

Having recently completed a Wellcome Trust ISSF-funded 3 month internship outside of academia as a medical writer at Envision Scientific Solutions, Emma Hall explains what motivated her to apply for the position and what she learnt from the experience:

After having worked and studied at the University of Edinburgh for almost 20 years, imagining life outside this institution is hard! I am a postdoctoral researcher, studying rare genetic diseases termed ciliopathies, which result from dysfunction of hair-like projections from cells, termed cilia. I love my job performing and communicating research; I enjoy formulating and answering questions and disseminating this knowledge to a wide variety of audiences, including my colleagues (here and around the world at conferences), patients, funders and the public.

Despite a passion for research, I have never had the drive to run my own lab: the stress involved in applying for big grants on which my future and the future of others depends doesn’t appeal to me (although I enjoy formulating the ideas for grants and writing them in less stressful circumstances!).  Given the inherently unstable nature of a career as a postdoctoral researcher: perpetual short-term contracts, a lack of job security and a general culture where the role I covet (senior postdoc/investigator scientist) seems underappreciated and not clearly defined, I am always on the lookout for alternative career options.

Although I had attended many non-academic career seminars, it was hard to really get a feel for what a career outside academia would entail. So when the opportunity for University of Edinburgh postdoctoral researcher to participate in a Wellcome Trust ISSF fully funded internship as a Medical Writer at Envision for 3 whole months (!) was advertised I seized the opportunity to apply, immediately contacting everyone in my network who worked as medical writers to get feedback on the role and my application.

I arranged two 1-to-1 sessions with Eleanor Hennige at IAD who provided invaluable feedback on my application – first on my CV and subsequently with a really useful mock interview.  I found these sessions invaluable and would highly recommend that any early career researchers looking to apply for any opportunity utilise these services.

After successfully applying, I delegated my experiments as best I could and left the lab to embark on three months working mainly from home as a Medical Writer for Envision Scientific Solutions, with my salary covered by Wellcome. I went to the Glasgow office to meet colleagues for networking and socialising opportunities, but there was no obligation to do so, as all work could be performed efficiently from home.

From the placement I learnt three main things:

  1. What Medical Writing is?

In general, medical writing is the development and production of print or digital documents that deal with medicine or healthcare. In reality at Envision, the medical writing is quite “publication based”, which means I was mainly taking data from the client (often pharmaceutical companies providing clinical trial data or real-world evidence from clinic) and producing manuscripts, abstracts and posters for conferences. Other agencies can focus on more lay/plain language writing aimed at patients, more educational writing aimed at medical professionals, or more technical writing such as producing clinical trial protocols and reports.

In essence medical writing is taking complex scientific information and presenting in a form that is digestible, accurate and resonates with the audience it is intended for.

  1. What working outside academia can entail?

The culture shock of the shift to industry was real! The communication style and organisational structures were very different to academia – my life was much more controlled by my Teams diary and timelines and turnaround of projects was much more rapid than in academia. But I soon adjusted to the new way of working and actually felt I really appreciated the way they communicated; all tasks were very well defined, with clear deadlines and support available. Meetings were usually brief and to the point. I enjoyed the faster pace of working as I felt a sense of achievement when I completed a task.

On a daily basis my tasks were quite varied – producing abstracts, posters and manuscripts from scratch, editing other people’s drafts, annotating where the data came from and checking other people’s data sources, integrating comments from authors and attending team meetings.  I particularly enjoyed the team-work involved – all the medical writers were ex-postdocs and so had a similar background and outlook to me. The teams were global and I worked a lot with people in the US and Europe. There were non-writing teams to support with design, editing and client interactions. I found I enjoyed interacting directly with clients through email and video calls – I found the interaction with people in other roles interesting. But mainly what I loved was the huge breadth of science I was exposed to – I had to learn fast and condense complex ideas that were initially unfamiliar to me into simple language rapidly, and this higher-level thinking and data evaluation was by far the most interesting part of the job to me.

  1. I found the work rewarding and got excellent feedback – I enjoy Medical Writing.

Now I am back in the lab and still enjoying research, but it is so useful to know that there is another career out there for me; potentially in the future I will make the jump from academia to industry. For now, I will just spread the word about the opportunities in a career in Medical Writing to anyone who will listen!

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