A few months ago, Emory University hosted a career symposium  entitled “From Pipette to Pen”. It introduced graduate students and post-docs to the many opportunities within science communications. I was invited to speak at the symposium along with 4 other esteemed panelists from a wide spectrum of communication backgrounds, including journalism, science writing in an academic setting, and medical writing in a commercial setting.

In this month’s post, I provide a recap of key points from each panel member, with highlights on success factors to be considered if interested in pursuing a similar path.
Alana Reed, PhD – Medical Writer at ArticulateScience

Alana’s path to medical communications begun in 2003 when she received a BS in Biology from Georgia Tech, followed by a PhD in Molecular and Systems Pharmacology from Emory University. After a post-doc, she landed a job as a Medical Writer at ArticulateScience, a medical communication company that is part of Nucleus Global. She now focuses on creating commercial and sales training deliverables in the oncology therapeutic area for pharmaceutical clients.

During her Career Symposium presentation, Alana provided students with an overview of key opportunities within medical communications at Nucleus Global. She explained that every day as a medical writer is different and involves a mix of activities such as research, meetings and writing of abstracts, posters, manuscripts (primary, review), educational/training materials, slide decks and modules.

Success Factors
For anyone considering a career as a medical writer within a medical communications agency like Nucleus Global it is important to:

  • Have a biomedical background
  • Possess excellent writing and researching skills, with an eye for details
  • Demonstrate strong PowerPoint skills
  • Be confident as a presenter, versatile, proactive, and independent
  • Be a team player
  • Be adaptable—able to learn new therapeutic areas and work with deadlines

David Kroll, PhD – Blogger at Forbes.com. Twitter @davidkroll

David’s 20-year journey from scientist to journalist took many turns along the way. He earned a BS in toxicology from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science and a PhD in pharmacology and therapeutics from the University of Florida. He later spent time working with a museum on social media approaches to science communication and also served as adjunct associate professor of English at North Carolina State University where he taught graduate students science writing for the media.

Even while a tenured pharmacology professor at the University of Colorado and North Carolina Central University, he developed an interest in digital media and started blogging in 2005. He has since parlayed that interest into being a regular contributor of Forbes.com where he focuses on increasing the public’s understanding of science and medicine

During his Career Symposium presentation, David acknowledged that communication skills are becoming more important for doctoral students, given that the employment market for traditional academic positions has been lagging. But even for those who stay in academia, David believes that the active engagement of scientists with the general population–by giving science café talks, writing op-eds, and engaging the public and policymakers on social media and elsewhere–is an essential component of the modern scientist’s toolkit.

Success Factors
For anyone looking to follow in David’s footsteps as a freelance science and medical writer, educator, and speaker, here are some success factors to consider:

  • Ability to communicate complex scientific topics to a lay audience
  • Demonstrate familiarity with digital media
  • Be able (and willing) to ask the right questions

Quinn Eastman – Science Writer at Emory University School of Medicine

Quinn’s career begun with a decade spent in biochemistry labs learning how to run gels, purify proteins and grow fruit flies. While he was a post-doc, he realized that he liked explaining science more than trying to be on the cutting edge of it.

He made a transition to writing with the help of the Science Communication program at University of California, Santa Cruz. Following a 3-year stint at a newspaper in San Diego County, he moved into a career at Emory, where he writes about medical research advances.

His message for graduate students who want to explore writing: try it out now, before you feel trapped. Start a blog, write for a departmental newsletter, or get together with others for science outreach activities.

Success Factors
To be a successful science writer within an academic context, it helps to be proficient in:

  • Writing quickly and succinctly, like in press releases, and more descriptively and informally, like in magazine articles or blog posts
  • Thinking about what media organizations would be interested in and making your university’s research accessible to them
  • Producing videos
  • Working with a team

Gregg Orloff, PhD – Professor and Cancer Educator. www.cancerquest.org

Emory Alum Gregg, received his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology before doing a post-doc at the CDC in HIV/AIDS. He came back to Emory in 1993 to teach in the Biology Department and is now an Assistant Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the university. In 1998 he founded the award-winning CancerQuest website following his personal
experiences as a cancer caregiver. Gregg serves as the Director of the CancerQuest Education Project. By leveraging his position in academia, Gregg has been successful at providing reliable information about cancer biology and treatment.

Success Factors
Greg’s success as a cancer educator has been made possible in part by his ability to:

  • Explain the biology behind the disease and treatment (know your audience)
  • Create comprehensible, but not dumbed-down, content
  • Utilize fully referenced information with links to PubMed
  • Incorporate animations and graphics where possible
  • Form collaborations to translate content into multiple languages including Spanish and Traditional/ Simplified Mandarin
  • Just do it! Don’t wait. Look for opportunities to get work out there.

Karen Ventii, PhD – Medical Communication Specialist. www.thegoldstargrp.com

Like Alana, Karen started out as a Medical Writer within a medical communications agency after receiving her PhD in Biochemistry from Emory. After 4 years in the agency world, she transitioned to life as a freelance medical communications consultant specializing in oncology.

Beyond her efforts in consulting, Karen has been partnering with universities nationwide to empower the next generation of medical writers through the development of training materials and support tools.

Success Factors
For those interested in the business-side of communications, a career as a freelance medical writer or consultant may be ideal for you. Success factors to consider include:

  • Communicate clearly and concisely to physician and pharmaceutical audiences
  • Network and develop client relationships
  • Seek new business opportunities