In 1984 I visited the Job Centre (are they still called that?) as a 19-year-old secretarial college graduate and selected a few cards from the many rows of vacancies lined along the wall. I applied – got the interview – got the job. Every two years or so, I would change one employer for another: one year to learn a job thoroughly and one year to get bored with the repetitiveness of it all before moving on to the next challenge.
MEDICAL RESEARCH TO MEDICAL WRITING
Fast forward to 2016 armed with a Ph.D. in chemistry and the story is entirely different. A lack of opportunities in your specialty area, age (too young/too old) and qualifications (under/overqualified) are all hurdles to overcome in the search for a fulfilling professional career.
A PERFECT FIT
I believe I have a portfolio career, or so I’ve read. What’s that? Well, I can tell you what it’s not, and that’s having a 9-to-5 salaried contract. As a freelance scientist and medical writer, I work on short-term contracts and projects. I have the freedom to identify the right opportunities that come my way and am on a constant buzz working in different areas of medicine, writing for varied audiences. Medical writing work is challenging and puts my Ph.D. skills to the test – I wouldn’t have it any other way – but best of all, it’s a perfect fit. The type of work I do now is entirely suited to my work ethic, my personality, and my salary expectations. Of course, as a freelancer, I’m also the boss, and there are no restraints to the direction my personal development can go. This I like!
To start with, it wasn’t a choice. It arose out of necessity because a new research contract was going to be difficult to get without relocating (again). But you get out of life what you’re prepared to put in, and keystroke by keystroke you build a new skill set for yourself.
FIND YOUR NICHE
A chance opportunity offered by a former colleague helped me branch into academic skills training. My professional experience in medical publishing coupled with a solid scientific background was ideal for delivering specialised workshops for postgraduate chemistry students. Being freelance allows me to work on a variety of scientific-based projects and my editorial experience gives me a unique insight into the real world of academic writing – one that I draw upon to provide relevant, subject-specific training for students.
ONLINE SCIENCE SKILLS
After three years of delivering various skills workshops, I find myself looking to change and improve how I deliver the content. Career pathways are rarely linear, and as a keen supporter of MOOCs and online education (having started with the Open University in 1996), my personal yellow brick road is now forking off on a new digital learning path. For me, the next step will be to develop my workshops as online courses under the RossWrite brand. Thanks to the University of Edinburgh for the prod!
After a stint of postdoc research contracts, I began with proofreading and copy-editing services to get myself established in academic writing and editing. I had no idea that I would end up teaching, far less running my own medical writing business. That’s the exciting part of working freelance. You never know where things will lead you. Something that appears to be a small project can suddenly provide you with new ideas and contacts to boot.
As a freelancer, I’m looking for opportunities to expand my medical writing business. The last few months have been exhilarating creating my brand, RossWrite, and establishing myself in CME work. I love what I do, and do what I love.
I think that’s important.
Freelance Projects and Clients
Patient – online medical platform informing the public of evidence-based health matters
KirsopLabs: co-founder and editor or an independent, voluntary teaching project.
Scientific Writing Skills Workshops: Design and delivery of workshop content for senior chemistry students of University of Edinburgh (since 2013)
Royal Society of Chemistry: proofreader and copy-editor for academic textbooks (since 2011)
Cambridge University Press: proofreader and copy-editor for school textbooks (since 2012)
Photo Attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/unsureshot/