Monday, 19 March 2018

Case Study - Chemist - EDF-Energy

Harry Greenwood came to the Chemistry; from concept to consumer workshops recently and gave us the benefit of his experience. In addition, he has very kindly written a Case Study about his work with EDF-Energy at Torness.

Name: Harry Greenwood
Degree: Chemistry (MCHEM), University of Liverpool, Graduated 2013
Job Title: Chemist
Current Employer: EDF-Energy

Brief career history
After finishing my degree, I took 6 months to find a job, and worked for William Tracey who are a waste management company, doing analytical lab work.  Although relevant to my degree I knew it wasn’t what I enjoyed, so I started applying for graduate schemes.  I got a deferred entry into the EDF Energy grad scheme, where after 16 months of doing 2-3 month placements, I ended up at Torness Nuclear Power Station working as a Chemist. I have been here for 3 years, and have worked doing Conventional (water chemistry) and Reactor (gas chemistry) as well as fulfilling roles such as confined space testing and COSHH management.

Where was your current job was advertised, why did it appeal, what attributes were the organisation looking for?
I found the EDF Energy Graduate Scheme on their own website which ultimately led to a permanent role. The job appealed to me as it seemed like getting experience in a wide range of roles. I had already done a brief stint in the industry during a summer placement at AMEC.
Although at the time being reluctant to join a ‘big’ company, EDF Energy seemed to have a real ethical stance, and was committed on sustainability, which is something I had a keen interest in.

Which other organisations offer similar roles?
Most companies in the energy industry do graduate schemes which were quite appealing. Read the description of the roles carefully, would you like to end up at the locations that the company works at?

Can you describe what your job entails or a typical week in your job? With your crystal ball, what does the future for your sector/job look like?
I work Mon-Fri 8:30-16:30
Typical Week (cue the no 2 days are the same cliché) :
- Data collection/Analysis – going into our labs around the power station and checking on the health of our on-line instruments (pH, conductivity, dissolved gasses). Once data is collected, it is checked against our technical specifications to make sure plant health is optimised and corrosion is minimised. This involves a lot of Excel based data trending.
- Giving advice to the control room and operations Chemistry procedures which involves some quite challenging conversations
- Operating plant – dosing chemicals into vessels etc
- Safety Chemist work – Testing confined spaces, giving COSHH advice
- Meetings – lots of meetings. It’s a fact of working life that never disappears. Meetings are there to align different departments and discuss actions.
- Longer term projects – writing documents, planning improvements, updating procedures etc

Best/Worst parts of the job
Best part of the job:  Doing problem solving and troubleshooting. E.g diagnosing faults using multiple data trends, and using this to help repairing plant or instruments
Worst:  Sometimes doing confined space testing involves getting into areas that you would rather not be, like when it’s pouring down with rain and you’re halfway up a 50 metre diesel stack.

How have you used the skills and knowledge from your degree in your job?
Most of the time the level of Chemistry knowledge I need at work is at a much lower level than anything I was doing in my degree. It’s all about having a sound understanding of the principles rather than having an incredible knowledge of one niche discipline, and being prepared to learn new stuff.
Having a good grasp of Excel and computers in general has really helped my career so it’s something I would definitely recommend brushing up on.

What extra-curricular experience (eg work experience, volunteering, societies, sports, interests etc) do you believe helped you get where you are today?
Work experience in any job is good – obviously the more similar to the job you are a applying for the better.  Apply for EVERYTHING you see just to get interview experience and refine your cover letters if you can.  When you get a work experience keep a diary, these moments really help in that job application questions ‘describe a time when you….”
I didn’t do loads of extra curricular stuff at university apart from being on the uni squash team, although any extra curricular could help you in your job application – particularly volunteering and team sports (think of experiences for the ‘’describe a time’’ questions).
Volunteering doesn’t have to be working at the charity shop down the road, you could get a volunteering job at Edinburgh Science Festival or another event. This also helps with RSC (Royal Society of Chemistry) Chartership further down the line.

One underrated thing that employers look for is how well you would fit in and how you come across.  You could have won the Nobel peace prize and a gold medal at the Olympics, but if the prospective employer doesn’t think you are a right fit on a personal level , then you won’t get the job.

Is there anything you wish you HAD done in your past to make it easier to get where you are today?
Hard to say, as there were times during my degree where stress got the better of me, and I think having an enjoyable student life and socialising is as important as studying hard so that you keep yourself happy. You can always push harder to get work experience outside of term times, which is probably something I could have done more.

What advice would you give to students wishing to enter your field of work?
My field of work has lots of different personalities, and some people aren’t sympathetic to graduates and students as they come from completely different backgrounds, and have contrasting views on life (and politics). Having a good relationship with all types of people only makes your life easier, so don’t shy away from having a chat or asking people from outside your normal social group questions, or getting to know them.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

RIP Stephen Hawking

  • “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
"The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can't believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. That would be like saying that you would disappear if I closed my eyes."

Stephen William Hawking 
(8 January 1942 – 14 March 2018) 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

LAUNCH.ed 3 day start-up

3DS is designed for university students with an emphasis on learning by DOING! The idea is simple: start enterprises over the course of three days. This high-energy weekend will give you a fast track experience of turning your ideas into reality and encourages cross-disciplinary work.

All students and recent graduates (two years) from the University of Edinburgh are encouraged to apply. From any school/course/year group. Good material for a CV and for answering tricky interview questions!

Read about 3DS here. Note that the closing date is the 11th March.  LAUNCH.ed are particularly keen to hear from females as they comprise only 25% of the sign ups so far.

Data Science - again!

Just realised that the UCAS Data Science Graduate Trainee Scheme (for any degree) I mentioned in my previous post has a closing date of this Monday (12th March). More information here.

If you want further information about the role of Data Scientist/Analyst, our information team has also posted a great summary on MyCareerHub - Your Future in Data Science.

I am not obsessed by Data Science honest, it's just that it's a hugely expanding field, and chemists and engineers have so many of the relevant skills...........

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Data Science and manufacturing

I attended the Chemical Engineering Industrial Liaison Board last week and heard something interesting from the manufacturing industry representatives attending......

The chemicals industry (Syngenta & INEOS were mentioned, but across manufacturing as a whole) is keen to hire engineers and chemists who can analyse and interpret the shiploads of data that are being generated on a daily basis from computers linked to manufacturing systems and plants.  Manufacturing employers currently do not have the manpower to get the most from the data.  They agree they could employ specialised data scientists to do this, but think it's unlikely they would have enough chemistry/engineering knowledge to glean the relevant information from the data.

An example of why data science is becoming more critical is illustrated by one (undisclosed) company who manufactured functional and specialty chemicals. It boasted a strong history of process improvements and its average yield was consistently higher than industry benchmarks. In fact, staff were skeptical that there was much room for improvement. “This is the plant that everybody uses as a reference,” one engineer pointed out.

The company decided to start using advanced data science to measure and compare the relative impact of different production inputs on yield. Among the factors it examined were coolant pressures, temperatures, quantity, and carbon dioxide flow. The analysis revealed a number of previously unseen sensitivities—for instance, levels of variability in carbon dioxide flow prompted significant reductions in yield. By resetting its parameters accordingly, the chemical company was able to reduce its waste of raw materials by 20 percent and its energy costs by around 15 percent, thereby improving overall yield. It is now implementing advanced process controls to complement its basic systems and steer production automatically.

In actual fact, manufacturing is a bit late to the party when it comes to Data Science - sectors like Energy, Finance, local and national government, NHS, Retail, Telecoms, Advertising, Utilities and Travel have been at it for years. 

So how do you get into Data Science? There are now  plenty undergraduate courses as well as Masters Courses. You might want to consider a Masters but is it necessary? Probably not, since many companies are interested in graduates from a range of degree backgrounds. Some run graduate schemes and are happy with any degree as long as you can demonstrate good numerical skills - see the UCAS scheme for example (Yes, the same organisation you applied to for university entry in the first place). And as mentioned above, Chemists and Engineers might actually have an advantage over pure data scientists if entering the manufacturing sector -  a competency to analyse data might be all you need.  Making a sideways move into another sector thereafter would be relatively easy.

How do you demonstrate competency in data science then? As well as gaining some experience through your degree, there are umpteen online courses that you could undertake - some free, some not. 

CodeAcademy - good place to start, eg learning Python if you haven't already

Coursera Data Science

LinkedIn Data Science

Bear in mind, in this burgeoning field,  data science enjoys a fair number of close relatives/aliases - you can take your pick from: Data Mining, Business Intelligence,  Machine Learning, Knowledge Discovery, Big Data, Data Analytics, and so on. It all used to be called plain old Statistics but that was just far too simple, and didn't take into account the massive power of computers. 

McKinsey  & Co (management consultancy) provide a good report on the use of analytics in Manufacturing.

There is a good intro to the career of Data Scientist on Prospects.  

Keep an eye on MyCareerHub, TargetJobs and Gradcracker for internships and graduate jobs. Even on a general vacancy portal like Indeed, there are plenty graduate level jobs for Data Science/Analysis.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

TWO summer placements for chemists and engineers in ENERGY sector - Deadline of one is TOMORROW!

EDF- Energy  BUT .......  Deadline 23rd February (sorry - only just notified!)

Business Unit Overview: Torness  Power  Station  is  based  near  Dunbar,  East  Lothian.  It  is  one  of  our advanced  gas-cooled   reactor   (AGR)   power   stations   and   is   capable   of generating  1225MW  of  electricity,  the  equivalent  of  supplying  1.5  million homes.

Vacancy – you will join a small team of experienced Chemistry Technicians and Engineers in Chemistry Department responsible for handling chemicals and collecting & analysing chemical samples.

Skills and Qualifications
The successful applicant should:
•     be proactive, enthusiastic and demonstrate a can do attitude
•     have a high level of skill in communications and presentation
•     be  proficient  in  a  range  of  Microsoft  tools,  including  Word,  Excel and PowerPoint
•     have completed 1 year of a university undergraduate degree (chemistry or engineering)

Salary Range: £16,500 pro rata
Employment Period: 12 weeks
Deadline: 23rd  February 2018
How to apply: Send  your  CV  and  covering  letter  to

Note that there ARE other details about this post, but Adobe File refused to attach properly, hence the scant detail. Contact Stephanie directly for more information.


Argent Energy - biodiesel manufacturer with a 10 week project to look at the physical properties of waste fats and oils. Potential summer placement student should have a knowledge of chemistry (particularly esterification and sustainable manufacturing).

See MyCareerHub for job advert. Closing date 6th March.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Case Study- Alliance Officer, Kyowa Kirin International

A great blogpost from Louise Waterston, one of our recent Chemistry graduates, who uses her degree in an applied way as an Alliance Officer in the pharmaceutical industry.

Degree subject and year of graduation
Masters of Chemistry with Honours Chemistry with Materials Chemistry and Industrial Experience, University of Edinburgh, June 2015.

Brief career history, including current job title & employer
After finishing final year exams I started working as a Scientist at Scottish Water, based in Heriot Watt Research Park, Edinburgh.  My role involved analysing 100-200 water samples (both clean and waste water) each day from various stages of the treatment processes; from reservoir samples to tap water and raw sewage through to final effluent which is released into our waterways.  After about a year at Scottish Water I had begun searching for a more challenging and varied role, when I found out about the graduate scheme at Kyowa Kirin International (KKI) (which was ProStrakan at the time), a pharmaceutical company based in Galashiels in the Scottish Borders.  In September 2016 I joined Kyowa Kirin as an Alliance Officer as part of their graduate scheme. Note that Kyowa Kirin offer short (1 week) work experience placements to undergraduate science students every summer - their CLOSING DATE has been extended to Monday 19th Feb 2018 12 noon (though it states 31 January on website). Apply for Work Experience here.

Where your current job was advertised/how you found it, why it appealed, what attributes the organisation was looking for?
I heard about the graduate scheme at Kyowa Kirin through word of mouth, a friend I cycle with knew I was looking for a new job and suggested I speak to her husband about Kyowa Kirin as it was local to me, which is quite unusual when looking for jobs in the scientific sector in the Scottish Borders, and he pointed me in the direction of their graduate scheme.  Whilst the job description asked for a life science degree I decided to apply as the roles looked interesting and the company was growing quickly (taking on 12 graduates over 2 years is lots for a company with about 150 staff (excluding sales force)) which indicated that looking ahead there would be opportunities to progress my career.  After an assessment day with various activities and interviews, I was offered a second interview for the position of Alliance Officer which I was ultimately offered.
The position of Alliance Officer appealed to me because it offered the opportunity to do something different and to work in a sector I hadn’t previously considered and therefore learn about a whole new scientific sector whilst working in a small team.  Additionally, the graduate scheme at Kyowa Kirin is structured such that each graduate spends the whole programme based in one department rather than rotating between departments which appealed to me.

Kyowa Kirin were looking for science graduates with an interest in the pharmaceutical industry but more importantly they were looking for ambitious, motivated individuals who were willing to learn and quickly pick up new information.  Specifically for Alliance Management, the most important attribute I use on a day to day basis is interpersonal skills as I work with colleagues based in all the departments within KKI and am also in direct communication with our Partner companies.  Alliance Management are the voice of the Partners within KKI but we also represent KKI to the Partners, which occasionally means having to find a middle ground to meet the Partner’s requirements without having a detrimental impact to KKI.

Which other organisations offer similar roles?
A similar role would be found in most major Pharmaceutical companies but often in other pharmaceutical companies partnering activities can be managed through different departments such as Business Development or Marketing/Commercial.

Can you describe what your job entails or a typical week in your job? With your crystal ball, what does the future for your sector/job look like?
The position of Alliance Officer involves working with our Partner companies.  Kyowa Kirin joins forces with other companies creating strategic alliances (partnerships) to promote continued growth of KKI products where the Partner company will provide distribution channels and marketing prowess in their territories. This Partnership spans the lifecycle of the product from knowledge transfer/product registration through to launch and commercialisation of the product in their territory.  

My job is very varied, often having to put aside the plans for the day to react to an urgent request from a Partner but on a week to week basis we:
  • work closely with our Supply Chain department and Partners to maintain continuity of supply in the Partner markets by gathering forecasts, entering the Partner’s purchase orders into our system and overseeing the collection/delivery of the product once manufactured.  
  • ensure that we maintain a high level overview of any ongoing projects such as product registration or manufacturing site moves by working with colleagues in KKI to get status updates and following up on any outstanding actions for KKI or the Partners with the aim of keeping the projects on track.
  • liaise with colleagues in KKI to request support with Partner enquires/requests e.g. passing on Medical/marketing requests, managing the artwork process for the product packaging.
  • hold regular calls with the Partners to discuss any ongoing projects or to review commercial obligations as well as building relationships with the key personnel in our Partner companies.
This simplest way to describe Alliance Management is a cross between project management and relationship management.

The future for Kyowa Kirin looks very promising with several new, innovative products in the pipeline and our business development department looking for new business opportunities to acquire/licence innovative products. At the moment I haven’t worked out where I’d like to progress my career to but working in Alliance Management gives me exposure to many of the different functions required to successfully run a Pharmaceutical company so hopefully I’ll still be doing this job for a good few years to come whilst I make up my mind, or decide to stay where I am and work my way up the ladder in Alliance Management.

Best/Worst parts of the job?

Best Parts
  • My colleagues and line manager
  • I work in a friendly, supportive team who work well together and  have a laugh along the way
  • My line manager is amazing and has let me take on as much responsibility as I feel capable of, sometimes persuading me to do things I didn’t think I could or didn’t feel experienced enough for, offering as much time/support as I need and is always willing to answer any question I may have, however big or small.
  • The variety of my job – on a day to day basis I never quite know what will appear in my inbox!
  • The graduate scheme at Kyowa Kirin is structured so that each graduate is based in their department for the full 2 years
  • We have regular presentations from each of the departments within Kyowa Kirin to expand our knowledge of our company as well as the wider pharmaceutical industry, and also give us an idea of where we could progress our careers
  • We also have external training sessions every 2 months or so on soft skills such as Insights – which introduced the idea of 4 different personality types and looked at the traits of each personality type but more importantly explained how to effectively communicate with each personality type which has given us the knowledge and skills to improve communication with our colleagues.

Worst Parts
  • Being sat at a computer or in meetings all day – I didn’t necessarily appreciate how difficult it would be to sit down all day!
  • I miss applying my scientific knowledge on a day to day basis in this role.

How have you used the skills and knowledge from your degree in your job?
My job isn’t directly related to my degree subject so on a day-to-day basis I don’t necessarily use the knowledge gained during my studies, but the transferable skills such as working to deadlines, perseverance when things don’t quite go to plan first time, logical thinking, data handling and critical thinking (problem solving) have been invaluable. Having a background in science is useful in terms of understanding the products that we market and the importance of these to patients.
Additionally, being able to present information, both informally at internal meetings and formally to external companies has been vital as well as the ability to work with others constructively is very important – those group projects might be painful at the time but are great practice for the world of work!

What extra curricular experience (eg work experience, volunteering, societies, sports, interests etc) do you believe helped you get where you are today?
As part of my degree I spent a year working in a research laboratory in Japan researching into the thermodynamic constraints of annealing conditions for the induction of superconductivity into undoped T’-structure Pr2CuO¬¬¬¬4.  This was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, travelling half way round the world by myself, to live in a country where I knew no one and didn’t speak/couldn’t even read the language for a full year.  The chance to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language was challenging but I gained so much from the experience and am much more resilient as a result.  The opportunity to work in a research lab, whilst I really enjoyed the year, allowed me to make the decision that for me it wasn’t the right choice to go into research and do a PhD, although I did really enjoy being in a lab every day.

I was involved in the university triathlon club as a participant, coach and also holding positions on the committee (Cycle Captain in my third year and President in my final year).   From my coaching experience I had examples of being able to summarise and deliver information clearly and concisely, and holding the committee position demonstrated good time management and organisational skills (it’s hard to have a life outside academics in 3rd and final years!) as well as the ability to both lead and work as part of a diverse team which made completing applications forms/answering interview questions easier when I had so many examples of recent applications of these skills.

Together, the experiences above helped me secure my job at Scottish Water as I could give examples to the competency based questions in the interview based on my experiences in Japan and being involved with of the triathlon club, even when interview nerves set it and made it difficult to think straight.  And in turn, the experience of working as a Scientist at Scottish Water helped me get the job at Kyowa Kirin.  As the saying goes; it’s easier to get a job when you have a job.

Is there anything you wish you HAD done in your past to make it easier to get where you are today?
The only thing I would have done differently is to get more involved with the triathlon club in first year rather than waiting until second year to join as being part of the club and gaining my coaching qualifications gave me so much confidence, I wish I had been involved with the club sooner.

What advice would you give to students wishing to enter your field of work?
I’d definitely recommend either doing summer placements or a year in industry as part of your degree as it makes getting a job easier when you have experience.  But away from the academics it is also important to be involved in extra-curricular activities from university clubs/societies to volunteering, employers are looking for well-rounded individuals in addition to academic qualifications. 

Friday, 9 February 2018

Studying Medicine after graduation

Have you ever thought about being a medical doctor after your chemistry or engineering degree? It's not so unusual - chemists and chemical engineers from the U of E have done it in the past.

And did you know you get accelerated courses for graduates? This makes the degree four years instead of five. You apply for both types of degree through UCAS. The closing date is in October, therefore most places for starting in September 2018 have already been filled. 


ScotGEM the new graduate entry medical degree course being launched this year by St Andrews and Dundee Universities now has 15 extra places. A second admissions cycle is taking place for 2018 entry. Applications can be made via UCAS from 17 January to 18 March 2018. You would need to be able to demonstrate an interest in the profession through work experience or voluntary activities.

ScotGEM is designed to develop doctors interested in a career as a generalist practitioner within NHS Scotland. ScotGEM offers a unique and innovative four-year graduate entry medical programme tailored to meet the contemporary and future needs of the NHS in Scotland and focuses on rural medicine and healthcare improvement.

For further information can be found at:

We have a good range of information on the subject on our website at

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Case Study - Medical Communications

  • Name: Gillian Hancey
  • Degree: Biological Sciences; BSc (Hons) Medical Biology, U of Edinburgh, 2009
  • Current Occupation: Senior Medical Writer, Porterhouse Medical

Great Blogpost from Gillian, who made the move into medical writing after her degree at Edinburgh

From graduation to now: I decided I wanted to become a medical writer during the final year of my BSc, but when I started looking for jobs, I quickly discovered that there were very few entry-level positions advertised and that it would be difficult to get into the industry without any relevant experience or a PhD. So, after graduating, I took a position as an assistant production editor for a scientific publishing company in London to allow me to develop editorial skills and gain experience that would be useful for moving into medical communications. After a year in this position, I was offered a role as an associate medical writer for a small agency outside of London, and I worked in this position for 18 months. I then moved to Porterhouse Medical in Reading, where I now work as a senior medical writer.

How did you find your job; why it appealed; what attributes were looked for?
My current job was not advertised; the company was not recruiting at the time, but they created a position for me. When I contacted the director, it was the third time I had applied for a medical writing position with the company, so they must have sensed I was determined. I wanted to move on from the small agency I was with because I felt that they didn’t offer the opportunities I needed to progress in my role. So I contacted Porterhouse Medical to ask if I could have an informal discussion about the structure of the company and the type of work that they focused on. Essentially, I interviewed them! I was impressed after the discussion, and it must have been clear to the director from the questions I asked that I had good knowledge of the industry; when I sent my CV in afterwards as a speculative application, they quickly invited me in for an interview and offered me a job the next day.  Medical writing is not a common profession, so it is quite unusual to find people with experience looking for a job.

Which other organisations offer similar roles?
There are a number of small medical communications agencies, predominantly based in the South East or North West, who employ medical writers, but the exact role of the writer varies depending on the structure of the agency. In some cases, medical writers focus only on writing, and all client contact is undertaken by an account manager. In other agencies, medical writers also have some responsibility for client communications. Some agencies offer hybrid roles, where all staff are project managers who do some editorial work and have some client contact. After working for an agency, some medical writers move on to do freelance work, and some agencies outsource most of their medical writing to freelancers.
The type of writing undertaken by medical writers also varies depending on the type of organisation they work for. For example, a medical writer employed in a large contract research organisation may predominantly work on clinical reports and technical writing, whereas the work of a writer employed at a medical communications agency is likely to be more varied and creative (but is restricted by industry regulations). Public relations and advertising agencies usually employ copywriters, who may have a similar role to a medical writer.

Can you describe what your job entails or a typical week in your job? With your crystal ball, what does the future for your sector/job look like?
Medical writers provide medical, scientific and healthcare-related information to a range of audiences (e.g. doctors, nurses, patients or pharmaceutical employees) and in a variety of different ways (e.g. via printed materials, such as leaflets; digitally, via iPad apps or online programmes; or through slide presentations at educational meetings). As well as actually researching and writing the material, medical writers must also organise and keep on top of other processes that are necessary to progress a project, including quality control checks, approval procedures, design considerations and communication with clients and colleagues by email or phone or at face-to-face meetings. Medical writers are also involved in coming up with ideas to meet a client’s needs and pitching for new business.

I now manage a team of medical writers, so as well as working directly on projects when needed, I also review the work of more junior writers, provide advice on tackling different projects and organise internal status update meetings to ensure that the work of my team is progressing as required.

The future for medical communications looks exciting. There will always be a need for healthcare, so the services provided by medical communications agencies will always be in demand, but the set-up of the industry may change as it adapts to the changing scientific and healthcare landscape. When I joined my company in 2011, there were about 20 employees; now there are nearly 50, and we are still growing!

What are the best/worst parts of the job?

One of the best things about being a medical writer is the variety in the job. I have been in this role for 7 years, and no two weeks have been the same; that is what makes it interesting and exciting. The people I work with are definitely another positive. Porterhouse Medical has really tried to create a supportive, family environment; this is very apparent, and I can honestly say I enjoy coming into the office and working with the team every day. Finally, medical writing offers the opportunity to work with the latest scientific data and shape how it enters the public domain, and being at the forefront of scientific research is generally quite exciting.

A challenging aspect of the role is effectively meeting the needs of all our clients and often having to work outside of normal hours in a pressurised and stressful environment to meet deadlines. To be successful in this industry, I think you have to thrive under those conditions, so although these are negative aspects of the role, these conditions also bring out the best in our staff and help them to progress in the company.

How have you used the skills and knowledge from your degree in your job?

My degree gave me a good overview of topical healthcare issues, which has provided good background for working in the industry and taught me to think critically when looking at published data. I also developed basic presentation and writing skills; my dissertation was literature based rather than lab based and included the opportunity to build a website and develop summary slides, all of which was useful background to becoming a medical writer.

One component of my degree that I use nearly every day is statistics. Often, the work of a medical writer will involve looking at the raw data from clinical trials and clearly summarising what the data show, so understanding the statistical analyses used is key to this. Ironically, I really didn’t enjoy learning about statistics during my degree, so I consciously picked my courses to avoid it; I have since had to learn on the job and participate in a few short refresher courses that have been geared towards improving my understanding of the statistics I need to know about to do my job well.

What extracurricular experience (e.g. work experience, volunteering, societies, sports, interests, etc.) do you believe helped you get where you are today?
I had a variety of part-time and summer jobs throughout school and university, and I think all of these gave me valuable experience in adapting to a new environment and working with different people, which are useful skills for any career. Having work experience also shows that you are a motivated individual with a good attitude to work, and this will be obvious to your employer. It is also a good way of finding out which environment you like to work in. I had one summer job that involved working in an office, and I really enjoyed the experience, so I knew I would enjoy a role that was office based (sometimes, when people start at our company, they struggle to adapt to being sat in front of a computer screen all day).

When I first graduated, I did voluntary writing for different charitable agencies, which included translation work and content generation for websites. This allowed me to include additional writing experience on my CV and show that I was enthusiastic about becoming a medical writer.

Is there anything you wish you HAD done to make it easier to get where you are today?

No. I decided while I was still at university that I wanted to become a medical writer, so I really worked towards that goal from that point forward.

What advice would you give to students wishing to enter your field of work?
  1. When applying for a medical writing position, make sure your CV has no errors in it. Your potential employer will assess first and foremost whether you can write well, and the first way they will check this is by looking at how well your CV and cover letter are written. If you haven’t proofread them, you won’t get very far. 
  2. Be prepared to do a writing test or give a presentation as part of the application process. This will assess whether you can stick to a brief, tailor your work for the audience and write with good story flow.
  3. Don’t be disheartened if you are not successful at your first interview. It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be a good medical writer; it may just mean that you are not the right person for the company you are applying to.
  4. Be prepared to relocate. When I was applying for medical writing jobs, the medical communications industry was exclusively based in the South East and North West of England. There are now medical writing jobs in Scotland but not that many, so if you really want to work in the industry, you need to be prepared to follow the vacancies. Make it clear in your application that you are happy to move. 
  5. Don’t wait for a vacancy. Medical communications agencies are usually very dynamic, with workload changing all the time. In my experience, an agency will create a role for the right candidate, so a speculative application is definitely worth a try. 
  6. Be enthusiastic and willing to learn. The work you are given when you first start a new role may not be the most interesting task of your career, but embrace the opportunity to learn about industry processes from whatever work you are given and be enthusiastic about helping other members of your team. The more information you take on board, the faster you will progress, and your colleagues will be more willing to steer opportunities your way if you demonstrate that you are a motivated individual who is dedicated to any task you are given.

Further info about MedComms agencies can be found at: