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For many, becoming a biomedical writer is a rumination that develops at USciences through the Department of Biomedical Writing. While didactic requirements instruct, show, and tell methods of inquiry into the art of biomedical writing and offer assignments, projects, and capstone deliverables, there is often limited opportunity to do real-world work. This leaves future employers gun-shy at taking on novice biomedical writers or only opens the door to entry-level positions doing fact-checking, referencing, formatting, or copy-editing while vetted writers get to be lead on projects, manuscripts, reports, and other types of biomedical communiques.
This begs the question of: “How does one get experience in biomedical writing and showcase talent, aptitude, and skill?”
I asked myself this question as a student in the program several years ago. I was a seasoned scientist with a few published writing credits, yet still learning the trade. For those of you in my shoes today, I would like to share what I did to break into a career in biomedical writing.
First, I created a portfolio. I took many of the writing tasks and assignments I did in my USciences classes and polished them. This involved summarizing what the objective of the writing was and providing a professional example. I used samples from Professional Writing in Science (BW701), researching (BW703), statistics (BW705), regulatory writing (BW704), and my elective classes. I showcased my skills with a simple PowerPoint presentation delivered on CD-ROM where any interested party could click through and link to the writing pieces in PDF format.
Second, I joined mailing lists for writing opportunities in the area I was interested in. As I started receiving employment notices, I read them carefully for the skillset in demand and did research if I did not understand something. I saved the adverts that spoke to me and drafted a tailored resume matching the skillset I had to the position’s requirements.
Third, I crafted a cover letter that highlighted my documented skills, interest, and put forth a proposal. I mentioned that I was a student and would be willing to take on any opportunity on a limited engagement as an intern or contractor with the option to hire upon completion at the end of the engagement period. I send my letter and resume and waited for responses.
I got one response from a small, local company of former pharmaceutical employees that started a biomedical writing business. I met with them and walked them through my PowerPoint presentation, sat and fended questions, and closed the deal for a limited engagement. I negotiated the salary as commensurate to their expectations and started immediately on a part-time basis, on-site. The exposure to various types of documents, writing styles, and mentoring within the writing company, led to contacts with the pharma client they contracted with. This led to direct employment with the client while I was still an USciences student in the Biomedical Writing master’s program. Things were a bit hectic as I continued as a student, worked, and expanded my portfolio. Nevertheless, I landed a job in regulatory affairs in a pharma company that believed in me as a writer and gave me responsibilities beyond entry-level work.
Through the years, I have used my three-steps to pull in and negotiate writing contracts in areas where I want to continue to build my skillset. While knowing your worth is important, limited engagements let you meet many people, get mentored, and build your skills. I now have my own writing company where I am fortunate to be an asset as an analyst/scientist/writer and consult. I hope my post will give you insight and spur ideas as you try to ask the question, “How do I get in a position that speaks to my interest, talent, aptitude, and skill?”
Rita Francis is a 2010 graduate of the biomedical writing program at USciences who now teaches courses in the program. Her strong educational background in biology and chemistry has allowed her to flourish as a medical writer in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. She is currently working toward completing her PhD in general information technology, with a focus on U.S. regulatory markets related in information governance, analytics, and metrics, and is on track to graduate next year.