Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
I’m a reporter for a daily news publication that covers the pharma and biotech industry. I follow clinical development, business practices, FDA regulation, patent law, and anything else that might be of interest to our audience, which is largely comprised of industry professionals and investors.
It’s a very news-driven job, so every day is different depending on what’s going on in the space. Every morning starts with an editorial meeting where writers will vet and pitch stories, and editors decide what will get covered that day. I’ll typically be assigned 3-4 stories a day to report on and write before our evening publication deadline.
The stories I write tend to cover things like clinical trial results, drug licensing deals, M&A, finance and earnings, FDA drug decisions, and even political campaigns and drug pricing controversies. I interview primary sources to get details on pipeline development, VC funding, competitive landscapes, pending lawsuits or any other relevant information that can be included in my articles. The learning curve to get started on the job was incredibly steep, as I knew nothing about the business or regulatory side of how companies operate- or even how to write in a succinct news format. Conveniently, the job still uses all the “soft skills” that PhDs excel at- being able how to quickly digest new information without too much handholding and parsing out the most important info.
One a side note, we’re currently hiring for one of our weekly publications that focuses exclusively on preclinical, typically academic research. If your dream job is to ask scientists lots of questions at the end of seminars and then write about it, this is the job for you!
How did you get your first job out of academia?
I got my job through reverse-networking; a friend was at a seminar across the country, where one of my current editors was recruiting for new writers. She took meticulous notes for me, so when I applied for the job I knew all the correct buzzwords to use. It was very much a lucky break- while I was in grad school, I was not aware that pharma journalism was a field that existed. Before getting this job, I was working as a postdoc and had focused my job search on grant writing positions at universities, but was finding that I kept getting beat out by local candidates. It wasn’t until I started looking in the private sector that I found people willing to invest in interviewing out-of-state job candidates.
Tell us about your academic background (describe your science at an undergraduate level)
I have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Michigan State, and a PhD in cell biology from the University of Michigan. By about halfway through my PhD, I knew academia wasn’t for me, but I never found the time during graduate school to explore other opportunities. I did a year-long postdoc at UM, which I also used as an exercise in getting more science writing and editing experience, and figuring out how to write a resume. My PhD research focused on the effects of taste receptors and artificial sweeteners on the differentiation and metabolism of fat cells, and my postdoc work examined inflammation and stem cell models in colorectal cancer.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?
Like everyone else ever, I have to say that networking is key. Also, don’t be afraid to apply for jobs that you’re not sure you’re qualified for! I met remarkably few of the requirements listed on my own job posting, but still weaseled my way in by having good rapport with my interviewers, showing confidence, and emphasizing all the soft skills acquired during my PhD that showed I could solve problems, figure things out, and loved to learn new things.
Find Becky on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/becky-simon-42441515