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Case Study: My Transition from the Lab Bench to Regulatory Medical Writing

July 28, 2016 | Nancy Smith, PhD, Senior Manager, Medical Writing and Submissions Management | Medical Writing Services

The love of science is what gets most of us through the long days of graduate school and post‑graduate research. What happens when you still love the science, but not working at a lab bench?

There are alternative careers that allow you to be a scientist every day, but without the frustrations associated with academic research. This is the story of my transition into regulatory medical writing – a fulfilling, collaborative career that fuels my passion for science outside the academic arena.

In addition to my story, further posts in this 5-part series are intended to help you understand whether medical writing (regulatory or otherwise) may be right for you. Interested? Read on!

My story…

In graduate school, I loved the days of being at the bench. Even when the project meant getting to the lab early or staying late into the night, I still loved the thrill of science and the hope that this would be the experiment – the one that resulted in that oh-so-perfect figure for publication.

Then I started my postdoc. The love of science was still there and was still thrilling. What was not so exciting was the bench work. I was in a very solitary isolation lab, working with infected samples, suited up and performing assay after assay.

A new project came along that called for collaboration across labs and across countries. I found myself on conference calls for the first time and I was often called on to summarize my data and my techniques. (Note: They don’t teach you about conference calls in graduate school!)

Surprisingly, I found it was the collaboration and teamwork (and not the lonely data gathering) that excited me the most on this new project.

I soon realized that what I thought I wanted to do for the rest of my life – academic research – was not, in fact, so appealing.

But what else was there? Didn’t everyone “publish or perish” and move from University to University (sometimes packing up your family to do so) hoping for tenure?

As it turns out, no, that’s not what everyone does.

Image courtesy of scottchan at

My transition…

After a few Google searches, I soon realized there was an entirely different sector for scientists like me. I searched for things like “scientists away from the bench,” and “careers outside of academia.” And the more I searched, the more terms I found.

Sound familiar?

A job posting for a Clinical Research Scientist (one of the many titles for a regulatory medical writer), in particular, grabbed my attention. While preparing for my interview, I quickly realized I had a lot to learn about medical writing and the many non-bench options in the pharmaceutical industry.

What is medical writing?

If you noticed, I mentioned regulatory medical writing above – that’s because the term “medical writing” encompasses many different types of jobs.

Using the most basic definition, a medical writer is someone who articulates complex medical information in a clear and concise manner.

As you’d expect, this means that medical writing includes a wide array of positions – including, but not limited to, educational writing, publication/grant writing, science journalism, marketing, and the type we do at IMPACT: regulatory medical writing.

(We will discuss who hires each of these types of writers in a later post, stay tuned!)

Image courtesy of hywards at

What is regulatory medical writing?

Regulatory medical writing is the subset of medical writing that has the ultimate goal of achieving approval of a new drug, biologic, or device by any given regulatory agency (eg, the FDA).

Regulatory medical writing occurs primarily in two arenas: pharmaceutical companies or contract research organizations (CROs). The types of documents are the same in either arena; however, the atmosphere is different in each.

The most important difference to consider when you are looking to get into the field is that pharmaceutical companies write about their own products and programs while CROs work with multiple clients and thus write about different products and therapeutic areas. Working at a CRO typically provides exposure to a wider array of projects in a shorter timeframe.

Want to learn more?

During the course of this blog series, we’ll explore a lot of the questions I asked during my first interview and that you may be asking yourself now:

  • What does a regulatory medical writer do all day?
  • What makes a good regulatory medical writer?
  • Who hires regulatory medical writers?
  • What about medical writing for non-regulatory writers?

This series will be followed by further posts outlining the resources available to help you transition into a medical writing career.

My story continues…

I’ve been a Regulatory Medical Writer for almost 8 years now and have grown professionally and filled new roles as the years have gone by.

Looking back during my time in graduate school, did I see myself outside of academia and off the well‑traveled tenure track?

Absolutely not.

Am I glad I veered off that path and found my way to a rewarding career as a medical writer?

Every day.

I hope you’ll find this series helpful, as this is not only my, but also other IMPACT writers’, way of paying it forward to the next crop of scientists trying to move away from the bench but who may not be sure how to achieve this. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Category: Medical Writing Services,
Keywords: regulatory medical writing, regulatory medical writer, alternative science career

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