Career profile: Yavé Lozano, Medical Writer, ICON

Medical writing is a fast-growing career area with promising job prospects for scientists passionate about communication. This career area is less known, and we recently spoke to Dr Yavé Lozano, a neuroscientist by training who stumbled upon medical writing while looking for journal editor roles. If you are detail-oriented and enjoy the challenge of digesting and presenting complex scientific information concisely, then perhaps it is time to consider a career in medical writing.

Find the full interview below, and if you are interested in this career area, you can learn more from the following resources:


You got a university degree in Psychology and then moved into the life sciences. Can you tell us how did you get there?

My career path has been somewhat unpredictable. I was born in a small town in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, and my family moved to the USA during my early teenage years, and as a result, I grew up in southern California. Since high school, I was interested in studying Astronomy for my undergraduate degree. However, during the first semester at college, I took a course in Psychobiology, which sparked my interest in the biological basis of human and animal behaviour, and decided to pursue instead a degree that would combine both Psychology and Biology. I was rather fortunate to study an undergraduate degree within a liberal arts programme, which exposed me to many courses that emphasized reading comprehension, critical thinking, writing essays, and presenting scientific information concisely.

On the other hand, my undergraduate studies did not offer many opportunities to do experimental research. Therefore, I decided to return to Mexico and enrol in a Master’s programme in Neurobiology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). I had a wonderful time returning to Mexico and studying for a Master’s degree after many years of living abroad. The 2 years at UNAM were challenging for someone who lacked experience in experimental research and, at the same time, intellectually rewarding with many supporting professors, classmates, and research staff. It was likely a combination of the research culture and my interest in Behavioural Neuroscience which motivated me to apply for a scholarship and pursue a PhD in Neuroscience at University College London (UCL). Studying and living in London was quite a life-changing experience. Being exposed to such an interdisciplinary environment made my way of thinking constantly challenged. I learned that you often need to step out of your comfort zone and reconsider deeply held ideas to find solutions to unstructured problems that you often encounter both within and outside academia.

Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral position?

I chose to pursue a postdoc after completing my PhD primarily because I was intellectually driven to understand how specific neural circuits control behaviour. At the time, like most recent PhD graduates, I was focused primarily on pursuing a career path in academia and decided to apply for a postdoc position to work alongside a  Principal Investigator (PI) who had recently started his lab. I made the conscious decision to join the lab of a starting PI to better understand what elements are essential to set up a lab from the ground up and develop a research group. After two years of postdoctoral research in Germany, I realized that the hurdles faced by PIs, such as managing a lab, hiring postdocs and lab technicians, training students, attracting funding, teaching courses, and publishing, among many other tasks, often place an unrealistic demand on both PIs and early-career researchers. This, combined with the very competitive job market in academia, made me consider other career options.

How did you become interested in medical writing?

The short answer is by chance. I have been interested in writing since my undergraduate studies and enjoyed the process of writing both my MSc and PhD theses. Also, during my academic career, I found the process of writing, revising and discussing manuscripts exciting, and I took every opportunity to be part of the process. Moreover, during my postdoc, I was often involved in reviewing manuscripts and drafting formal responses to the editor. This was something that I had not been exposed to during my PhD, and made me aware that a career as a Scientific Editor or Scientific Writer was better suited to my skills, curiosity and passion for science.

After concluding my postdoc position, I stumbled upon medical writing one day – a career area that I did not know anything about before. I found several medical writer jobs advertised on LinkedIn while searching for journal editor positions. The job description sounded interesting, and I took the time to gather information about it and assess if it was a good fit for my background and skills. Luckily, I was interviewed and was offered a position at ICRC-Weyer, a Berlin-based contract research organization (CRO), where I worked for 2 years in the Medical Writing and Pharmacovigilance department.

Can you briefly explain what medical writing is about?

Medical writing involves communicating clinical and scientific data in various formats and preparing documents for specific audiences. According to the target audience, medical writing is generally broken down into two main categories: regulatory writing and medical communications.

Regulatory writing is primarily focused on preparing documents for submission to health authorities bound to countries where approval or maintenance of marketing authorization for new medicinal products or medical devices is sought. This could be, for instance, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for European Union member states or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the United States. As a result, the regulatory medical writer could be involved in the writing or compilation of documents that are needed across the different phases of clinical development (from Phase I – Phase IV) and the drug lifecycle. On the other hand, medical communications is focused on delivering information about new drugs, therapies or medical devices that are destined to audiences which can range from researchers, doctors, healthcare professionals, patients and their families or the lay public as could be the case in medical journalism.

How is PhD or postdoc experience perceived when applying for medical writing positions?

It is perceived positively, and it is becoming more common to hire individuals with PhDs in the biological sciences, even if they have no previous experience in drug development or have carried out research within a specific therapeutic area. For entry-level positions, it is an advantage if you have a working knowledge of medical statistics, are familiar with the drug development pipeline and/or previous experience in a specific therapeutic area, but not definitely not mandatory to break into the field.

 How is the learning curve in medical writing coming from academia?

It is a steep learning curve, as is the case when you start a PhD or a postdoc. I think that coming from academia after a PhD or postdoc, you come with good baseline skills that prepare you for different challenges in the industry. For instance, the ability to rapidly learn new concepts, plan, design and finalize projects under pressure, present complex scientific information clearly, and communicate effectively within a team and to different stakeholders are some examples that come to mind. Still, when you are in academia, you generally inhabit a rather narrow research field and it can be difficult to communicate with those who are not involved in your line of research.

One of the challenging aspects of being a regulatory medical writer is that you have to rapidly become familiar with concepts from different fields to have a working knowledge of different drug compounds, therapeutic areas, indications, etc. It is also essential to understand the target audience and the scope of the document that you are writing and be aware that the content that you are writing can be critical for health authorities to judge the risks and benefits of a drug compound that might be in early development or of an established medicinal product.

What is a typical assignment for someone in an entry-level position?

The tasks and typical documents that are assigned when you start as a regulatory medical writer depend on the work that is contracted to the CRO, the stage of drug development for the medicinal product, and how much previous exposure you have had to a specific type of document. For instance, when I started working as a medical writer, I was involved in creating, updating and doing quality review of regulatory documents with a particular focus on pharmacovigilance safety reports (i.e., Periodic Safety Update Reports [PSURs]/Periodic Benefit-risk Evaluation Reports [PBRERs] and Risk Management Plans [RMPs]); while in my current position at ICON, I have been working with documents generated during early clinical development such as the Clinical Study Protocol (CSP) and the Clinical Study Report (CSR). These documents are usually quite long and complex; therefore you can expect to be assigned to draft a specific section for an entry-level position. Over time, these small assignments will give you the exposure and training on how to draft a whole document based on source information.

What about language requirements and critical skills to thrive in the role?

First of all, you do not need to be a native English speaker. This is something that a lot of people have a misconception about. Instead, it is important to know that the key goal of regulatory writing is essentially to produce documents for submission to health authorities that must be scientifically and editorially accurate, are clearly worded with respect to main messages, reflect the regulatory strategy and corporate goals, and are in compliance with applicable regulations and guidelines. To achieve those goals, you have to be able to think logically, be organized, and aim for conciseness, transparency and accuracy. Accuracy and transparency are paramount in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry because every piece of information needs to be traceable and will be reviewed both internally and by a regulatory health agency. In such regard, meticulous attention to detail is essential. Writing for a specific target audience and synthesizing large amounts of complex information clearly is also important. Being able to engage with a variety of stakeholders is also valued, as these roles usually involve direct communication with the client to understand the scope of the project, timelines, and what source information will be provided in order to estimate the workload for the project. Being adaptable and able to deliver under tight deadlines and working collaboratively with colleagues from different departments such as medical affairs, biostatistics, or clinical development, to name a few, are also vital aspects. Finally, it is essential to know how best to deal with criticism from clients and reviewers.

What can you tell us about the career ladder for a medical writer?

For those with a PhD or postdoc, it is common to start as regulatory medical writer and rapidly receive onboarding and hands-on training. As you become more acquainted with the entire content and structure of the different types of documents and can lead the whole project while interacting directly with the client, you can progress to senior and afterwards to principal medical writer. After gaining significant experience working in a company, some medical writers become a freelancer and work independently.

How do you see the medical writer sector evolving in the following years?

Entry-level medical writing positions are generally suitable for fresh PhDs and those looking to move outside academia. The economic need within this job sector is enormous but a bit of a catch-22 situation. Not enough individuals to cover the need, but at the same time extremely difficult for someone to be trained prior to joining a company. While it is common to do an internship that can eventually allow you to apply and be hired in medical communications, this is rarely the case for regulatory medical writing for which there are virtually no internship positions in either CROs or medical writing departments within pharmaceutical companies. Of course, once you get a foot in the door, the job opportunities are enormous, and you can expect to be contacted by recruiters for many such positions.

Is there anything we did not cover that you think you would have liked to know when you started to think about this career area as a PhD?

I would advise those interested in medical writing to join the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA). For registered members, the EMWA website provides a wealth of information about all aspects of medical writing through their journal and recorded webinars which can be a source of self-training material. Also, I strongly advise to attend one of the EMWA meetings and network with a large community of medical writing professionals. This experience, even early on, can help you to decide whether you are better suited or more interested in regulatory medical writing or in medical communications. Once you find your niche, use social media platforms such as LinkedIn to engage with other professionals, read job descriptions, and explore potential employers. And finally, you should not underestimate the job application and interview process. Make sure that you tailor your CV and cover letter to the job specification and provide specific examples of how your academic and work experience qualifies you for the position that you are applying for.


Yavé can be contacted by email at yavelozano@gmail.com and on LinkedIn and Twitter.

 

Preparing for an academic interview – a career panel discussion (Part II)

In January 2022, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service organised a career session focused on the academic job market as part of the ‘The Next Generation in Infection Biology’ conference. To bring some clarity about the hiring process and what is needed to secure a faculty position, we ran a short anonymous survey among principal investigators (PIs) hiring in the life sciences to complement a career panel discussion. The survey focused on the early stages of the job application process, and the results are presented in Part I of this blog post.

This second blog post summarises the career panel discussion with four PIs from France, Spain, Malta and the Netherlands about what search committees expect from candidates at the interview stage. The panel discussion was initiated with a few questions from the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service and this was followed by an open Q&A from the audience.


  1. What do you expect from a job talk – in particular the balance of past and future work?

 All panellists agreed that no rule of thumb can be applied to the structure of a job talk in terms of past versus future work. This might be different depending on the career stage of the candidate and how relevant previous research experience (e.g. PhD) or acquired skills are for the position. The most important thing is to convince the committee that your research is exciting and will be beneficial for the institution. To do this, it is important to understand what search committees are looking for. Additionally, though search committees are looking for candidates who are on top of their research topic, the ability to transmit passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter is also critical.

  1. In addition to scientific questions from the job talk, what other questions can candidates expect?

The panel explained that many questions will be aimed at understanding the feasibility of your proposed work. You need to understand in advance what is available at the institution and what it is not. It has to be clear that you have reflected about your future team, infrastructure, funding, research collaborations and any other aspects that will be important to deliver your proposed research. The lack of a thought-through plan can easily rule out candidates who would otherwise be competitive.

Another set of questions will focus on self-awareness and career prospects. Search committees will be curious to hear about where you see yourself in the future and what your professional ambitions are. Moreover, you should be able to answer questions related to your strengths and weaknesses.

Other questions will try to assess how flexible and collective you are. Showing an openness to be involved in, for example, administrative and teaching duties, will be perceived favourably.

And last but not least, expect questions about ownership of research. Be ready  to clearly outline what you have done and what was the role of your supervisor(s) in your previous research.

Below are the specific questions that panellists mentioned:

  • In 5 years, can your research project be done at our institution?
  • What will be the role of research collaborations at the institution and beyond?
  • What is the research infrastructure you need to successfully execute your research plan?
  • What are your plans to apply for external funding?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
  • What is your weakness(es)?
  • How flexible are you? How collective are you? What else can you offer to the research community at the institute (e.g. open to collaborations, participation in working groups, write joint grants for instrumentation, willingness to teach)?
  • Regarding your past work, can you explain to us what you really did and what was the role of your supervisor(s)?

If you are preparing for an upcoming interview, check out this list of sample interview questions put together by the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development.

  1. What are some of the most common mistakes?

A common mistake is that candidates deep dive into the details too fast. These candidates focus too much on the ultra-specifics and fail to zoom out and explain why their research question is important. Search committees might not be necessarily experts in your field, so try to encapsulate your job talk in a broader question that can also spark the interest of researchers outside of your research field.

As already mentioned, a major aim for the interview is how you ‘fit’ to the institution. Focusing your preparation only on your research plan and what you aim to achieve is a recipe for an unsuccessful interview. Do your homework and learn what the institution/department is looking for. Attending an interview without that information shows a lack of interest and commitment, and it makes difficult for the search committee to envision you as a potential colleague.

Open Q&A from the audience

  1. Who are actually involved in the search committees?

It depends on the institution and department but it is common to invite international external reviewers. The panellists mentioned that, when they are involved, external reviewers are often the most important committee members to convince. They will be well-informed on what the institution is looking for as they receive very specific information about the position.

  1. Do you expect questions from the candidates during the interview?

Absolutely. Not asking questions shows a lack of interest and commitment. The specific questions that you should ask are not relevant, but they have to be asked.

  1. What about external funding? Do you need it before applying for a faculty position?

It is clear that external funding is always an advantage and helps to increase the feasibility of your research proposal. However, your research proposal’s potential to attract funding is more important than that you have gained funding for past projects.

  1. To get a position, are multiple or last-author publications expected?

A last-author paper is not needed, and this is not the expectation for someone who just finished the first postdoc. After the first postdoc, what the search committee is expecting is a first-author paper which could be in a preprint format. If the paper is fully accepted and in a high-profile journal, this might help. But all panellists agreed that a solid research proposal along with promising preprints is enough to apply and get interviewed for faculty positions. Institutions look for potential so waiting until your publication is out might not be the best strategy, particularly if you are targeting a high-impact journal where the publication process is time-consuming.

Having a last-author publication might be expected if several postdoc appointments have been held by the candidate, but otherwise, this is not expected. Given that a last-author publication by a postdoc usually requires a previous negotiation with the PI, the panel recommends that you discuss this possibility for smaller side projects where you can supervise students.


Thank you again to all the panellists for their time and valuable contributions to the career panel discussion:

  • Prof. Joseph Borg, Associate Professor, University of Malta (Malta)
  • Dr. Daniel Lopez – Group Leader, CSIC-CNB, National Centre for Biotechnology (Spain)
  • Dr. Tâm Mignot – Group Leader, Aix Marseille University (CNRS), Institut de la Microbiologie de la Méditerranée (IMM) (France)
  • Prof. Dr. Suzan Rooijakkers, Full professor, UMC, Utrecht Infection & Immunity (The Netherlands)

Preparing for an academic interview – a survey (Part I)

EMBL recently organised the conference ‘The Next Generation in Infection Biology’ to provide a platform for late-stage postdoctoral scientists to showcase their work and connect with leading European faculty hiring institutions in infection biology.

To complement the cutting-edge science presented and networking sessions, the EMBL Fellows’ Career Service organised a session focused on the academic job market. We aimed to bring some clarity about the hiring process and what is needed to secure a faculty position. We invited 4 principal investigators (PIs) from France, Spain, Malta and the Netherlands to participate in a panel discussion and share their expectations when interviewing candidates. To animate the discussion, we also presented the results of a short anonymous survey we had completed with other PIs. The survey included questions related to the most common uncertainties postdocs share with us when they are preparing to apply for PI roles. Twenty faculty members responded, 6 of whom have been involved in search committees for more than 10 years. Further survey responses are welcome!

This blog post focuses on the conclusions we drew from the survey responses and related data, and also provides a set of key resources for navigating the early stages of the job application process. A summary of the panel discussion will be provided in an upcoming second post.

Continue reading “Preparing for an academic interview – a survey (Part I)”

Career profile: Camille Terfve, Senior Associate Patent Attorney, Mewburn Ellis

Do you love arguing about science? Then a career in patent law might be the right match for you.

There are a lot of myths about the knowledge and skills needed to become a successful patent attorney, and not many PhDs and postdocs know that it is a profession where you can only get into if you are a scientist. We recently spoke to EMBL alum and bioinformatician Camille Terfve about what it takes to become a patent attorney. Scientific curiosity, attention to detail and writing skills are the perfect combo, but you will also need a bit of spare energy to study again!

Continue reading “Career profile: Camille Terfve, Senior Associate Patent Attorney, Mewburn Ellis”

Career profile: Dr. Gary Kusdian, Account Manager

Have you interacted with sales representatives during your PhD? If yes, most likely you told yourself that you would never be working in such a career area. Job opportunities in sales are usually underestimated by PhD holders, but this career path offers a variety of opportunities for scientists to use their technical knowledge and connect to the scientific community. In today’s interview, Dr. Gary Kusdian, a molecular biologist based in Germany talks to us about his career path in sales while giving more insights to the key skills and factors to take into consideration.

You can find the full interview below and if you are interested in this career area, you can find additional information on:

Continue reading “Career profile: Dr. Gary Kusdian, Account Manager”

Career profile: Erin Tranfield, Head of the Electron Microscopy Facility

Core facilities are becoming a crucial component of modern research institutions. They provide scientists with access to cutting-edge instrumentation and expertise in a cost-effective way. Always driven by her curiosity, EMBL alumnus Erin Tranfield built an international career at the interplay of biological and space research which ultimately took her to Portugal where she is the Head of the Electron Microscopy Facility at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. In today’s interview she navigates her career path while discussing what working in a core facility looks like, the skills needed and academic culture issues. Continue reading “Career profile: Erin Tranfield, Head of the Electron Microscopy Facility”

Career profile: Radhika Patnala, Founder and Director of Sci-Illustrate

Scientific illustration is a well-established career path in the USA but lesser-known in Europe. Radhika Patnala, a neuroscientist by training now based in Germany and founder of Sci-Illustrate, decided to start her own scientific illustration company two years ago to help researchers and institutions to communicate science in a more visual and comprehensible way. In today’s interview she shares her experience as an entrepreneur in scientific illustration. Continue reading “Career profile: Radhika Patnala, Founder and Director of Sci-Illustrate”