"Be mindful of your journey but focus on the destination, you can be a medical writer"

For those of us that fell into medical writing by chance rather than design, there was likely a definitive fork in the career road, a crossroads even. Each direction would arrive at very different destinations, via hairpin bends and sleeping policemen.

My journey began in a research laboratory, which, during my Ph.D. studies I found a tad repetitive and demoralising. I crave variety, challenge, contribution, achievement. While I love science and medicine, I knew I needed more than a laboratory to remain engaged, motivated and focused.
Google has become the friend to all who seek knowledge and inspiration. I asked, "What career can I do with my Ph.D.?" One interesting suggestion was a Clinical Research Associate (CRA). Shortly afterwards, I bumped into a real live one and was able to pick his brain. Science, travel and communication with the outside world were what I needed and so began 6 years as a CRA.

Then someone threw me a curveball. "How about working for me as a scientific communications specialist"? Well, why not? I loved my work but long hours, regular traveling around the UK and Europe were no longer conducive with family life. I became a scientific writer.

During this period, continuing my theme of craving challenge and achievement, we emigrated from the UK to the Ariège, considered by the majority of French citizens as "the outback of France". I decided to take a career break. I am now mindful that I should consider this interruption part of the career journey. Different experiences develop different skills, all of which are transferable.  

It was easy to become distracted by the beautiful landscape and wonder of this new life. A niggle started in me. What was my focus? I needed to get back to the scientific challenge.

Then the journey seemed to have a big STOP sign. How many of you have struggled going back to a career when you've had some time away? Is there a sexual bias for those that have taken time to be a stay at home parent? Does it vary between industries? Over time, the mindfulness of my journey went out of the window. The crossroads now seemed like spaghetti junction. For those of you outside of the UK, I refer to a notoriously complicated motorway intersection in the city of Birmingham. From above it resembles a plate of spaghetti.

Or was it worse, had my career journey just driven off the cliff?

At this point, we must believe in ourselves. I knew that I:
- Understood science.
- Understood clinical trials and their processes.
- Can write.
- Am motivated.
- Have credibility.

I became entangled in my spaghetti junction of job applications, job refusals or more frustratingly, radio silence. Losing all focus.

Selling isn't a natural attribute of mine but stubbornness is. I posted my credentials on a couple of local social media groups, asking any professionals in the pharmaceutical, scientific industry to get in touch. That's where my EMWA virginity was lost, through a recommendation. I was soon signed up and at my first conference, with a big dream bubble above my head saying "I don't know where to start, eeek"!

As the hours passed, I started to find the focus that I had lacked. Meeting like-minded people. It was reassuring to know that all that I had previously learned, had not been lost. Making new contacts and also mutual contacts of people I knew from my clinical past. My spaghetti was beginning to unwind.

Figure: The career path. With stop signs and spaghetti junctions…….finally the focus.

I can still only say “beginning to unwind”. There is still a lot for me to refamiliarise with and more to learn from scratch.

The purpose of sharing my journey is to give others encouragement in a story that I believe to be very common but somewhat taboo. The challenges of returning to a career after a break. After you have heard every reason under the sun why you will not be given an opportunity, it can be soul destroying. How many people resign themselves to giving up their career. Personally, I know a few.

When you find yourself at spaghetti junction: persevere, network and focus. Be mindful of where you started, where you travelled, what you learned and where you want to be.

We are writers, as you think about your journey, start writing. This provides an outline from where you will find your focus.

From starting with nothing, within a month I secured 3 clients and more work is beginning to come my way.

With my untangling career path, what is my short-term focus?

- Complete EMWA Professional Development assignments.
- Complete the Stanford School of Medicine, scientific writing online course.
- Continue to attend EMWA webinars.
- Familiarise myself with CONSORT statement.
- Review ICH GCP guidelines .
- Improve my personal branding, LinkedIn, Facebook,  Twitter, Website & Blog.
- Publish something.
- Increase my client base.

Where will my writing career take me this year and beyond?

Heather Mason

Upcoming Conference

Cascais Save the Date

The 52nd EMWA conference will take place on 4 - 6 November 2021 at the Hotel Cascais Miragem.