Dr. Skye Geherin describes herself as a scientific translator. The CAMB (Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology) 2014 alumna and former student of Dr. Gudrun Philomena Fiona Debes is the Associate Director of Scientific Communications and a Senior Medical Writer at the Vaniam Group, a virtual network of healthcare and communications agencies.
The Vaniam Group provides four services: strategic consulting, external expert engagement, insights gathering initiatives, and scientific communications. In essence, the agency partners with pharmaceutical companies or biotech devices to help them publish their data. Skye reviews the client’s raw data and translates it into stories for different audiences; these stories can be used for presentations and posters at scientific conferences, manuscripts for high-tier journals, or information to train doctors about interactions with their patients.
Her work also involves engaging with key opinion leaders, advisory boards, and physicians enmeshed in the client’s particular field. Skye gains valuable insight from these officials and physicians who are on the front lines using the drugs and/or performing the clinical trials. This feedback informs the design of other clinical trials, and the messaging strategy of the client’s product. Skye distills pertinent information about the product and how best it can be disseminated, especially to community physicians who may not be as familiar with the current research.
Originally, Skye envisioned herself working in management consulting, and her initial interview and resume preparation was geared towards this career path. Penn’s Career Services helped her formulate a resume tuned for a consulting job, and she urges current students to take advantage of these resources. However, as Skye learned more about this time-intensive career path, she decided to refocus her job search. Soon thereafter, she learned about the medical communications field from an acquaintance who worked in a faster-paced environment outside of academia. Today, Skye likens her work as a medical writer to that of the small, bite-sized goals of rotations. She works on research that is broken down into finite goals, where projects are started and finished in shorter timescales than in academia.
Skye was hired as a medical writer at the first medical communications agency that she applied to, MediTech Media based out of New Jersey. After about two years, she was recruited to her current agency. Skye emphasizes that since Vaniam Group operates 100% virtually, starting at a brick and mortar agency was critical to her entry-level writing experience. Indeed, Vaniam Group does not hire new writers directly because they believe that you cannot adequately train someone remotely. Broadly, Skye describes medical communications interviews as a test of your ability to comfortably give talks, make presentations and distill research findings (like describing your thesis work in five minutes). While Skye mostly gives internal talks, effective presentation-making skills, such as understanding the nuances of a 15-minute presentation versus an hour-long presentation, are key.
After leaving graduate school, Skye felt well-prepared for this job market. Her graduate work in B cell malignancies closely aligned with Vaniam Group’s oncology and hematology marketplace focus. More importantly, however, were the soft skills, such as interpersonal communication, planning, and problem solving, that she developed while in the CAMB program. Skye also gained valuable experience while acting as BGSA President and working with the finance committee.
Skye highlights the importance of real-world experience, which doesn’t necessarily need to be cultivated outside of lab. Towards the end of her PhD, Skye recounts her roles as a combination graduate student, postdoc, lab tech and manager when interacting with laboratory supply and biotech company representatives to obtain products and when analyzing expense reports. These experiences summed up to tangible problem-solving skills. Her biggest career preparation advice? Keep a GoogleDoc of personal stories! She recommends that students write personal stories as they happen, especially anything with buzzwords. When did you resolve a conflict? Can you describe a leadership role, an instance of problem solving, or an example of collaboration? These stories may not be easy to think of on the spot or even a year after the fact, so keep track as they happen.
Overall, Skye wouldn’t have said that she wanted to be a writer when she was finishing her PhD work, but has found true passion in her medical communications career. She finds that manuscripts are easier to write when it’s not your own research and enjoys her quality of life. In fact, when looking to buy an apartment with her fiancé, they decided to buy an RV instead and now travel across the country. She fondly remembers CAMB BBQs and mingling with students across disciplines, mirroring the microcosms of research that she now encounters as a senior medical writer