Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Approximate salary range for your type of role: £20,000 – £30,000
I received a biology degree from Humboldt University in 2007 and a PhD in molecular medicine in 2012. As I had lived in Berlin all my life, I decided to go abroad and take on a postdoctoral position at the University of Sheffield (Department of Neuroscience) to examine mitochondrial transport in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. However, during that time, it became clear that an academic career wasn’t going to be for me. The reasons for wanting to leave academia were very similar to those of other ‘leavers’ who I talked to at the time: even though I loved science, I just didn’t feel passionate enough to put up with the fact that my work-life balance was way off, and that I was facing a career that involved constant struggling for funding or moving from one short-term contract to the next. About two-thirds into my contract, I started looking for opportunities outside of academia: I attended career seminars, engaged in science outreach and blog writing activities, and signed up for the University’s mentoring programme, all of which helped me to get an idea of the general possibilities, and of what I did and didn’t want to do.
I am now a medical writer at SIRIUS Market Access in Newcastle upon Tyne, and have not regretted the transition once. In the beginning, the move away from what I had known and done for so long felt difficult and a bit overwhelming: I had to learn about health economic concepts, terminology, and processes in a very short space of time. However, after about six months of working on a wide range of projects and receiving support from my line and senior management, I felt confident that I had a good understanding of what I was doing, and that I was delivering decent work.
The company works with global pharma companies, facilitating the communication of the benefits of their new drugs. We develop market access and pricing strategies, produce value propositions and value dossiers, help with evidence generation (e.g. systematic and targeted evidence reviews, as well as clinical trials packages), design health economic models, and give scientific advice. To put this more simply, we analyse large data sets, extracting key learnings and strategic insights in order to aid our clients with their market access and reimbursement activities. Most of what we do is secondary research, but we also conduct interviews with decision-makers and clinicians, thereby generating primary evidence.
Realistically, we’re talking about a desk job with extensive usage of Microsoft Office software, but then I don’t think this description does the job justice. I really enjoy the variety of projects and disease areas I get to work on, and I get a much greater sense of achievement than I used to get from lab work. A typical month is shown below but as activities and responsibilities shift, this schedule is fluid, and some months involve more travelling than others.
I believe that doing a PhD (and in my case also doing a postdoc) has proven beneficial to the job that I’m doing now, as I have gained numerous useful skills through these positions. Sure enough, some of the transferable skills that SIRIUS look out for in potential candidates include:
- Experience of sourcing and working with published literature, as well as generating evidence.
- Ability to use referencing software.
- Ability to analyse and synthesise a large evidence base, and draw conclusions post analysis.
- Ability to stay motivated and on track in the face of a large project.
- Curiosity and not being intimidated by new scientific concepts.
- Capability to work independently with minimal supervision.
As I’ve said before, I’ve not regretted changing careers once – but do I get what I was hoping for? There is currently a considerable need for medical writers, and several writing hubs have evolved in London, the larger Manchester area, and Oxford. Therefore, there are not only multiple options to choose from, but these options also offer long-term job stability as well as personal and career development opportunities. While an initial pay-cut is unavoidable, especially when moving from a post-doc position, salaries will soon level and (at least in my experience) the overall job satisfaction will outweigh this temporary disadvantage.
Finally, my career tip would be to not be afraid of or feel stigmatised for wanting to leave academia. A multitude of alternative careers has become available, so all you need to do now is to get talking to people and find out about the skills you might want to acquire (get some writing experience, if you’re thinking of becoming a medical writer!), and to try different things so as to explore what you might or mightn’t like to do instead of academic research.