For Dr. Michael Convente, a 2016 alum from DSRB, a professional move out of academia didn’t mean giving up on the scientific enterprise. After finishing his doctoral training in the Shore Lab, Michael began working as a medical writer for Scientific Pathways, a medical communications agency within the Nucleus Global network. His office is based in nearby Hamilton, NJ, so Michael is even able to stay local in Philadelphia, and makes the daily commute by train. Scientific Pathways may be relatively new on the scene, but it already has offices in the U.S. and the U.K., producing deliverable content and consulting on medical communications strategy for both academic and private clientele.
Despite no longer being at the bench, Michael still uses the skills he gained from his Ph.D. training on a daily basis. Scientific Pathways is a small company with fewer than a dozen employees, so his responsibilities change as often as projects are assigned. While larger organizations may have distinct teams for business, design, and writing, Michael’s roles expand to fulfill the needs of the client.
Most of his day-to-day duties fall under publication support and medical affairs consulting. His manuscript work is focused on clinical trials, for which he both writes and edits content. On the business side, he develops deliverables for medically trained personnel or administrative staff within a medical organization. For example, a project for healthcare professionals might be a written overview of pharmaceuticals in use for a given disease. Conversely, an assignment for regulatory staff may be a slideshow presentation that briefs a legal team on relevant information for a compound that their company has in development.
As a medical writer, Michael lives in an intellectual space that is similar to that of his academic years. However, his day-to-day work feels quite different. For starters, his assignments are broken up as smaller projects based on clients’ specific requests. Because he is based in the commercial world, deadlines come and go much faster than the crawl of research, which methodically chugs along, one hypothesis at a time. That being said, Michael does miss the independence of creatively designing his own experiments. And in turn, the elation of acquiring that new piece of data on the frontier of scientific knowledge is unmatched.
These differences aside, there are many parallels that call back to his role as a graduate student. Writing an F31 grant application is not all that different from crafting a persuasive pitch for a prospective client. Similarly, the time management skills required to run several experiments simultaneously are also applicable to the prioritization needed to juggle multiple projects with staggered deadlines.
Michael cites his extracurricular involvements at Penn as integral to his successful transition to this new line of work. He spent time with the Penn Biotech Group, a student group out of Wharton that offers life science consulting services to biotech and healthcare companies. Interfacing with external organizations, he gained real-world experience with project management in a professional setting, and practiced new ways to apply his technical training to situations beyond academia.
He advises current students to take advantage of the many non-research opportunities available at Penn, including groups such as the Penn Science Policy and Diplomacy Group, which operates in the fields of science communication, policy, and diplomacy. Many student groups are relatively low-commitment, and provide a welcoming environment to practice useful skill-sets while exploring other modes of science engagement. Participating in these external activities provides an avenue to learn ‘soft skills’, like interdisciplinary collaboration and written communication, that are applicable to careers that extend far beyond the bench (no offense, Western blotting!).
Just like how labs here at Penn each have vastly different cultures, there is tremendous variety between professional workplace environments. Michael suggests that job-seekers do their homework on careers and companies of interest. Whether researching online or chatting at a networking happy hour, there are many ways to learn about all types of organizations ranging from massive pharmaceutical groups to one-room STEM outreach non-profits. It’s also important to do some soul-searching, and consider your own skills, passions, and desires that you want to incorporate into a future career to help guide your decision.
Michael enjoys his work as a medical writer, which allows him to remain well-integrated within the scientific community, albeit from a new angle. While he misses the personal attachment that came with working tirelessly on his own projects, he welcomes the satisfactory feelings of progress that now come much more regularly. Michael looks back fondly on his time at Penn, and is grateful for all the experiences along the way that helped get him to where he is now.