How to get started in science writing and communications

There was another interesting discussion over at ask.metafilter this week.  This time, the conversation was about scientific communications.

As I enter the (hopefully) final year of my PhD, I am thinking hard about what’s next for me. My soul searching has recently led to the realization that my passion isn’t necessarily in my particular niche of science as much as it is for science in general. Great discoveries, elegant methodologies, and the philosophy of scientific inquiry all tie my stomach in knots with excitement, and I dislike the idea of limiting myself to my sub-sub-specialty of science. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I would love a career communicating science to the public. Whether I actualize this goal by writing books, discussing with students, hosting a scientific tv show, writing a science column, or just talking about science to the person next to me in line at the supermarket counter, I think I could be an excellent liason between the scientific community and the general public.

So, how does one go about developing a career as a science popularizer? Whether you want to be the next Carl Sagan — or Bill Nye — the ask.metafilter discussion provides a lot of great ideas and links.  A user named ChuraChura posted a link to a blog called “Through the Looking Glass“, which features an excellent post on the realities of a job in science communications and some thoughts on getting started. The “Black Hole” blog, which is focused on issues affecting science training in Canada, also has a great post on the topic entitled “So, you want to be a Science Writer when you grow up…“.

Some of the links from these resources are great, so I’m going to pull them out and share them here, along with some others I’ve discovered:

Fellowships and Internships in Science Communications

Professional Programs, Courses and Workshops in Science Communications

Professional Associations for Science Writers

Even if you don’t want to make science writing your career, you should take a look at some of this advice if you hope to find a job as a medical science liaison, medical education specialist, or any other role where being able to clearly communicate scientific concepts to mixed audiences would be valuable.

Good luck in your search!


Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Great advice for getting started as a medical writer

I’ve been meaning to post a link to “Chain the Wolf“, a great blog about Medical Writing, for a while now.  I’ve emailed back and forth with the author a few times over the past few years, and I was thrilled when she started putting some of her thoughts about her career path in medical writing and medical education to screen.

In her own words,

I’m currently a full-time freelance medical writer and consultant (2.5 years and counting). Most of my clients are medical communication companies and the projects are usually in the area of oncology, although I also dabble in neuroscience from time to time.

But how did I get here and why do I have this blog? I really struggled at a few points before getting to where I am now. (. . .)

I eventually thought about medical writing, so once again I had to seek out information. How does one get a job in that industry? Would it or would it not be a good career for me? I did everything from post angst filled questions on a forum board (Hi Ask Metafilter!), conducted many informational interviews, and after taking a few more steps, I was hired at a medical communication company.I still wasn’t quite happy as my real goal was to eventually become a freelance medical writer. For some reason, making the leap from fulltime employee at a company to an independent freelancer was difficult. Sometimes it was facing a fear. I also had to learn new skills and few people have training in how to run a business, even if it is simple. I was able to successfully make the jump but again, I do wish there had been useful resources for me. I still look for “how to run a business” type resources, and there isn’t really high quality information out there.

So I am creating this blog as a resource for people who like me, had questions; in a way, I am trying to pay it forward and put up this information for other people like the old me.

‘Chain the Wolf” (a phrase which refers to managing your fear) is fairly new, but has already featured many useful posts on getting started in medical communications, freelancing, and alternate career paths for PhDs.  It’s a great resource and I am very happy to recommend it.


Posted: August 7th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Starting at the bottom rung

This post was prompted by some conversations I’ve had recently with recent PhD graduates at industry networking events.  These kinds of events are great opportunities to meet people working in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors. You can learn about the day-to-day reality of the industry, get insight on recent developments, and sometimes get leads on new opportunities.

However, I’ve met a few people at these events who make a terrible impression. They pout and complain about the challenges of the job search, and generally appear shocked that biotechnology companies didn’t knock down their doors with fabulous offers after they graduated. It’s an attitude of entitlement that is very off-putting.

Look, I get it.  You’ve spent years of your life, and probably tens of thousands of dollars in real and opportunity costs to earn a specialized, rarefied degree that places you among the elite of the educational system. You’ve worked incredibly hard, spending long hours in the laboratory and developing advanced skills in technically challenging fields.  You’ve managed complex projects; you’ve published in prestigious journals; you’ve presented at conferences with leading experts.  You’re self-directed and motivated. And then, when you get that degree and walk out of the lab, looking to put your smarts to work away from the bench… employers aren’t interested.

It’s a shock to the system to realize that after spending years developing your skills, managers consider you unseasoned and inexperienced. If you’re lucky, they will offer you something with entry-level responsibilities — and a salary to match. It’s a blow to the ego — and frankly, feels insulting. It’s especially toxic when you compare yourself to successful new lawyers and MBAs, or to the lucky few PhDs who manage to step from the lab into high-paying roles, such as medical science liaisons. Believe me, I know — I’ve been there.

My advice is: Get over yourself.

There’s no shame in starting at the bottom rung — and employers are right: the business world is very different than academia. There are different stakeholders, different pressures, and different priorities. Getting your feet wet at the entry level gives you a chance to learn those differences and then prove yourself. All those skills and personal strengths you developed in grad school — project management, determination, perseverance and communications — will let you advance quickly once you’ve had a chance to adapt.  The thing about post-PhD careers in the pharmaceutical industry is this: getting in is the hardest part. Once you’ve opened that door, you will have the opportunity to follow a very satisfying trajectory.

Don’t settle for something terrible — but don’t let your ego stop you from taking a first step, either. You may have earned a PhD, but in the business world, you’ve still gotta pay your dues.

Good luck in your search.


Posted: July 15th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

Happy Pride! Being LGBTQ in the pharmaceutical industry

It’s LGBTQ Pride Week here in Toronto so I thought I would share a collection of interesting articles about being ‘out’ in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry.

You might also be interested in checking out the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals.


Posted: July 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Top pharmaceutical and biotech salaries

‘Big Pharma’ has been dealing with a lot of challenges lately. You might be curious to know what the people at the top of the pharma career ladder are earning to manage those challenges.

FierceBiotech — which is a great resource for keeping on top of rumours, news and developments in the pharma / biotech sector — has published their annual list of the top ten 2010 pharma CEO salaries. Suffice it to say that the CEOs are doing all right! In position #10, John Martin of Gilead Sciences brought home $14M, whereas Bill Weldon of J&J earned twice that much to take the top spot.

Of course, very few of us will reach these stratified heights. Once you move a few steps down the ladder, salaries quickly drop from 8 figures down to six. For example, I recently came across salary information for a VP of Research for a small firm developing a new molecular diagnostic test. His salary? $225K, along with a very generous relocation package.

If clinical research is your focus, our previous post “How much does a CRA earn?” might interest you.

Why don’t research scientists get paid more?  We discussed biotech scientist salaries in a previous post.

Good luck in your job search!


Posted: June 19th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »