What is your current profession/job? What did you study at Yale? When did you graduate?
I am presently a Scientific Director at Infusion Medical Communications, an Ashfield Healthcare Company. My primary duties fall under medical writing where I specialize in developing instructional and strategic materials that leverage medical data (therapy specific [branded] and disease state [unbranded]). I work primarily with presentation materials (eg, slides, brochures, reports) where I take data that is in the public domain and metabolize it into digestible and elegant forms. Other areas of medical writing involve publications and regulatory writing, which I do not do.
I was a PhD student in the Cell Biology Department in the laboratory of Michael Nathanson, MD, PhD where I studied calcium signaling in a neuronal development context. I graduated in 2011 and have been with Infusion ever since.
What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and/ or rewarding?
There are a number of things I like about my role, but if I had to pick one it would be that I get to foster/leverage my creative abilities to bring medical information to life. It isn’t enough to just show medical data, it has to tell a story and be engaging, which are challenges I enjoy. Other aspects of my job that I like are the fact that it is quite diverse; in a single day I can work on projects that touch many different therapeutic areas (eg, multiple sclerosis, hemophilia, schizophrenia) and involve completely different deliverables (eg, competitive intelligence assessments, promotional presentations, meeting slides). The work we do is also very team centric with colleagues handling complimentary tasks, which is a setting I thrive in.
Being a service industry, the biggest challenge is dealing with clients. They have their own needs, wants, and pressures, which can translate into complicated and difficult situations. Being able to effectively execute another person’s vision on a deadline with quality can be very tricky and you have to learn to adapt and be comfortable in a reactive state.
There is also a fair amount of travel in what I do (once or twice a month), which has pluses and minuses. It can seem romantic to go to Europe or San Francisco multiple times a year, but you are basically working a majority of the time (much more than when you’re in the office) and don’t always have an opportunity to take time for yourself. That and you are away from your family which is obviously a bummer.
How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory?
One of the things that drew me to Yale was that it fostered holistic growth, rather than singularly focused development. Other universities I visited prioritized course work and research productivity at the expense of extracurricular pursuits. At Yale I felt that I had the capacity and opportunity to develop lateral skills that ultimately played a major role in my ability to pivot outside of academia. As a graduate student, I was an active sports blogger, had part time jobs as a freelance writer/editor, and also served on the board of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Had my graduate work been demanding to the point where I could not pursue these peripheral interests, I would not have been in a position to step out of the lab and into the office.
Since graduating, I have remained in Connecticut and developed strong ties with the university as a career mentor. I have had the privilege of watching organizations like Career Network for student Scientists and Postdocs at Yale (CNSPY) mature into powerhouse networking hubs that have drawn the attention of companies like Ashfield Healthcare. I am thankful to remain associated with the university and I look forward to co-evolving professionally with my fellow graduates.
What are the main skills that you acquired as a PhD student which help make you successful in your current career?
The soft skills associated with research are quite marketable and form the bedrock of my professional abilities. The process of investigating, interpreting, and effectively communicating scientific information in the lab is no different in the office and I still use many of the same tools (eg, PubMed). Learning to develop slides, critically evaluate data, and passionately defend a position (either with the written or spoken word) were skills I acquired as a graduate student and I rely on them extensively today.
Looking back, lab meetings and journal clubs were great opportunities to present my and other’s data and I am glad I approached those situations with care and purpose. I basically do it for a living now.
Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school?
As an experienced writer, I found multiple part-time positions through the Yale Career Link. One was providing editing and research support for a forensic psychologist and another was performing common language summarizes of biomedical research articles on autism for a cohort of mothers with children on the autism spectrum. Both opportunities taught me how to hone and sharpen my writing/editing skills, challenged my comfort zone of expertise, and gave me experience navigating as a professional with clients and colleagues.
I started a small service helping graduate students and postdocs with their written and presentation materials (ie, I put up fliers offering English Help). These were mostly non-native speakers and I coached them through their slides and/or helped them find the right words to articulate their exceptional work. I was fortunate enough to serve on the board of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, which gave me the chance to critically scrutinize biomedical research and discuss manuscripts with like-minded individuals in a publication capacity. This gave me additional training on being professional and insightful on how information enters the public domain.
Public speaking at various Research in Progresses, student symposia, lab meetings and journal clubs gave me the opportunity to build my confidence as a speaker which is invaluable for client interactions and pitches.
The accumulation of these activities allowed me to make a lot of professional contacts and friends, which I leverage to this day. You never know when you’re going to need a favor and people are usually willing to scratch your back if you’ve already scratched theirs.
What advice would you offer PhDs who are interested in your line of work?
First and foremost, I would encourage students interested in medical communications to write. About science, about art, about anything; finding your written voice is critical and the only way to do so is to just do it. For those looking for a specific approach, writing summaries of random biomedical articles from the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Neurology etc is an easy way to get your feet wet. These summaries can even be posted on platforms like Linkedin and can serve to expand your knowledge base while building your writing portfolio. The main challenge facing applicants in my field is being able to demonstrate strong writing capacity outside their area of expertise (ie, writing test). Like any skill, writing is something that has to be practiced and challenging yourself to be better, more concise, and more diverse with your capabilities is invaluable.
Speaking more generally, I always give burgeoning professionals the same three recommendations: 1) resumes should be one-page. No one ever got a job because of their resume, it only gets you an interview and being crisp and concise (especially by effectively using white space) is the sign of a competent professional; 2) proof-read everything. Emails to your advisor, text messages to your parents. Every piece of communication you release should be clean and polished so that when the time comes for you to step up to the plate, you can feel confident in your routine, rather than having to rise to some unknown standard (a trick when doing this is to read the words out loud); 3) when the job offer finally does come (and it will) negotiate your salary. Practically speaking, my advice is “don’t be afraid to be a coward.” You don’t have to negotiate in person or over the phone. You can do it via email and an easy way to go about it is to write, “Thank you for the offer. Is $XX,000 your best offer?”, (proof read), send. If they come back with a better number, great; if not, no one loses face.