1. What is your current position?
Senior Medical Writer, AbbVie, Inc.
2. How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?
I began looking at my career options about a year before I accepted a position. The actual application process took about 4-6 months. I did not get very many people interested in my applications prior to my defense date. I was able to negotiate a short post-doc (4 months) in my thesis lab to give me time to find a job.
3. How did you learn about your current position?
I contacted as many people as I could about transitioning from academia to industry. The job I eventually took was referred to me by someone I had an informational interview with a few months prior to the opening. He was a former member of my thesis lab.
4. Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?
I used the Career Center at Northwestern for resume writing and interview prep services. I felt quite prepared for my interviews when they came. I also used LinkedIn heavily to connect with prior students from my graduate program who had made the transition into the medical affairs/ consulting/ medical communications industry.
5. What was your work or educational background before you were hired?
I had just finished a doctorate from Northwestern in Cardiology and Cell and Molecular Biology when I was hired.
6. Which aspects of your background (postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?
My job is writing clinical publications for products in development (clinical trials). I needed to have a background in writing abstracts, putting together posters and oral presentations, and writing manuscripts for peer reviewed journals. A secondary, and extremely important, part of my job is people and project management. I helped run the Chicago Graduate Student Association and organized symposia and seminars as part of a number of groups at Northwestern. These experiences also made a huge difference in being able to handle the expectations of my job.
7. How long after your interview did you start your position? Were there any barriers to starting your position?
I started my position within the month after it was offered. I had to undergo a background check and a drug test.
8. Was your mentor supportive of your career choice?
My mentor was supportive of my career choice, but he would have liked for me to stay in academia.
9. How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?
The interview process was intense. There was a 30 minute phone interview followed by an in-house interview day. I met with nine people from the publications team. Writing experience was necessary, but so were the leadership and project management experiences I have had working with different groups at NU.
10. Had you seriously pursued other positions or career paths prior to being hired?If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?
I knew I wanted to move into “scientific strategy” but didn’t know what that really meant. I found that clinical development and medical affairs both suited this goal. I am now in clinical publications, which works with the clinical team to publish and present clinical trial data for pipeline compounds. It is part of the medical affairs/ medical communications team.
11. Has your career trajectory followed the path you’d expected when you started graduate school?
No, I had always thought I would have a lab of my own. I started questioning this career path as I saw a number of my colleagues in graduate school face hard times. They worked very hard and had very few papers or conference presentations to show for their work. Many of them had unsupportive mentors. I found the “preclinical” or “discovery” aspect of science interesting but too risky especially given that there are other career paths I find equally fulfilling and ultimately more impactful to drug development.
12. Was anything about your job not what you’d expected before you were hired?
As a Senior Medical Writer, I expected to work with the clinical data to write publications (right?), but there is a very big people management component to my job. Medical writers are not authors. The authors are primarily external investigators running clinical trials around the world and we must document feedback from them on each publication while maintaining submission deadlines.
13. Are there any skills or experiences you wish you’d had before you started?
I felt quite prepared to start my job. There was a little lag time in learning the jargon of the clinical trial process.
14. How do you spend an average workday?
I am at a computer most of the day and my week is dotted with clinical meetings. I have “writing days” where I gather scientific background, assess statistics tables, and make figures. I have “follow-up days” where I am attempting to document and incorporate feedback from external authors. The deadlines are sometimes challenging.
15. What do you most like about your work?
I really enjoy working with the clinical data and the clinical teams on putting out a well-reasoned story about a compound and trial.
16. What do you find the most challenging about your work?
It is challenging to work with external authors who do not understand our publications process. We need quite a few signatures, reviews, and approvals before something can be submitted. It is nothing like academia. Abstracts can take months to properly vet and submit.
17. What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?
Scientific communication, attention to detail, and people management.
18. Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?
Yes, you must be outgoing and a good communicator. You are expected to be able to coordinate the review and submission of documents that may have dozens of authors, all of which need to provide feedback and approvals.
19. What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?
Learn as much as you can about the position you are interested in and the clinical trial process. I educated myself by taking classes through the NU-Clinical and Translational Science program. I read a book on regulatory writing. I talked to everyone I knew in medical affairs and medical communications. It helps if you know you want the job you are applying for and you can explain why.