Transitions programme – an update! Part 1

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So: I got the job!

I start work in Leeds as a medical writer for Covance, a large contract research organisation (CRO), in January.

It all happened a bit quickly, didn’t it? I was hoping to gradually introduce you to some of the career paths I have become interested in during my job search, but I ran out of time. Perhaps I should rewind a little, and explain to you how all this came about.

Medical writing involves writing up the results of experiments, typically clinical trials, and sometimes writing marketing materials, patient information leaflets and similar documents for the pharmaceutical industry. Medical writing has always been the closest thing to a ‘Plan B’ I have ever had. It was a career I first heard about during my PhD, and at the time I vaguely thought that it sounded interesting – if I couldn’t secure a postdoc, that is. But I didn’t really look into it properly because I was determined to try my hand at an academic career, and I eventually found the perfect postdoc, which would keep my mind off medical writing for the next two and a half years.

However, I didn’t forget about medical writing completely. I felt it was vital to have a backup plan in place, in case my illustrious career as an academic should fail to materialise. It’s a competitive game, after all, and only a small proportion of PhD holders actually succeed in obtaining a permanent position. So during my postdoc I wrote as often as I could, and I gradually improved my writing skills and built a portfolio of my work – ‘just in case’. I wrote an article for the British Neuroscience Association magazine, I offered to proofread colleagues’ work, I started a blog…. These efforts helped me to realise that I really enjoyed writing about science, and convinced me that I could be happy in a job where I did this every day. Gradually, I decided: medical writing was my second choice career.

There were just two problems. The first was identifying when it was time to ‘let go’ of academia. My instinct was to keep looking for that next postdoc, try to advance my career and publish as much as I could, and hope that I made it. It took some time before I accepted that this was never going to happen. It was only when the end of my contract neared and my CV was almost as bare as the postdoc job boards that I knew I had to give it up.

The second problem was that, having made that decision, I discovered that very few companies were hiring medical writers in Yorkshire, where I wanted to live. The nearest major hub for medical communications agencies was Cheshire, which would be a mammoth commute, and there were only a handful of pharma companies and CROs in the whole North of England – and how many of those would be recruiting medical writers? It seemed like my second choice was just as unachievable as the first!

This is where my confusion really began. I now had to choose a third choice career – but everything I came up presented the same geographical obstacles! Medical information? – few opportunities outside the south-east. Science writing? – would need to move to London. Journal editing? – mostly based in the capital. It seemed hopeless. Plan A had failed, and now I had no Plan B either! It was at that point, disillusioned and confused, that I turned to the Career’s Service and Transitions to help me clarify my options, decide on my priorities, and find ways to root out the few opportunities that Yorkshire might have to offer me.

To be continued…


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