By Yue Liu
For any aspiring medical writer, the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) can provide valuable professional resources and volunteering opportunities. In this article, Qing Zhou, PhD, ELS, shares how educational and volunteering experiences at AMWA both catalyzed her professional growth and facilitated her transition from a graduate student and bench scientist to a ten-year medical writing veteran.
Interviewee: Qing Zhou, PhD, ELS
Scientific Communications Scientist at Cook Research Incorporated; Treasurer and President-Elect of the AMWA New York Metro Chapter
“Volunteering is a great way to show what kind of person you are and to build up professional relationships.”
What is your current position?
My current title is Scientific Communications Scientist at a medical device company. I oversee a program of scientific publications for more than ten active clinical studies. I collaborate with study investigators, clinical scientists, statisticians, and product engineers to publish research findings on innovative medical devices and technologies.
What is your educational background? How did you find your way in medical writing?
I grew up in China and received my PhD in Molecular Pharmacology from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. In graduate school, besides the extensive writing requirements for my doctoral studies, I also took several writing courses, including a professional writing class from the English Department. Through these writing experiences, I learned how to write research grants, scientific papers, essays, memos, and even manuals. I realized that I really enjoyed writing, so I decided to explore science communications as a career option. I researched the field of medical writing and joined the AMWA Indiana Chapter. Joining AMWA was the best decision I made for my professional development.
Why was joining AMWA the best decision for your professional development? Were the educational resources of AMWA helpful in your career transition?
I submitted an essay on ethics in scientific publication and won the Indiana Chapter student scholarship in 2007, which enabled me to attend the chapter’s annual conference. After this first taste of medical writing, I also applied for the AMWA student scholarship at the national level and I got it! This scholarship funded my trip to the AMWA annual conference and gave me the opportunity to take three educational workshops of my choice. This experience opened my eyes to the broad field of medical writing and gave me a better understanding of this profession. I created a diverse portfolio for my job search and quickly landed a job in medical writing.
After you landed a job in medical writing, what skills did you find essential in your work?
To be successful at work, it is crucial to possess not only writing and technical skills but also soft skills, such as leadership, time management, project management, and interpersonal communication skills. Volunteering at AMWA has been integral in developing my soft skills over the years.
What was your first volunteer experience?
AMWA gave me a lot, and I wanted to pay it back and forward. After becoming a full-time medical writer, I embarked on the journey of volunteering at AMWA. My first volunteering experience was at the AMWA Indiana Chapter, where I served as a newsletter editor for five years. I planned each newsletter with the chapter board, coordinated content, conducted interviews, and wrote articles myself.
Did you also volunteer at the national level?
Yes. From 2010 to 2012, I served as the Chair of the AMWA Annual Conference Student Scholarship Committee. From 2012 to 2014, I served as the Chair of the AMWA Medical Book Awards Committee in the public category. As a past recipient of the student scholarship, I understood the weight of the award. As someone who loves books but was new to book reviewing, I wanted to make sure the judging process was balanced and fair. Therefore, on both committees, I built strong teams of judges, who cooperated to make the review processes efficient and objective. I really enjoyed these experiences. It was my pleasure to help more students break into this career, and it was my honor to contribute to the excellence of medical writing.
How did these volunteer experiences at AMWA develop your soft skills?
As a newsletter editor, I had the opportunity to work with many other chapter board members during planning, writing, editing, and proofreading newsletters. As the chair for the award committees, I assembled a strong panel of judges, established rapport, and provided leadership. For example, at the Book Awards Committee, where the judging process spanned 3 months, I ensured that every judge was making progress in a timely manner. Also, toward the end of the process, I coordinated discussions among the judges to reach a consensus. Everyone was busy. I learned to prioritize. As a result, I enhanced my time management skills and learned to work more efficiently.
Did those volunteer experiences expand your professional network?
Absolutely. Volunteering is a great way to show what kind of person you are and to build up professional relationships. You get to interact with people whom you normally wouldn’t. When you work in a team, there is a mutual understanding; you can show that you are responsible and reliable in a supportive environment.
What is your suggestion for people interested in volunteering at AMWA?
Start from something small—at a local chapter, for example—and take responsibilities that match your commitment. At the national level, you can complete a volunteer interest form. You don’t have to be an excellent writer or a great leader to start volunteering. Everyone has unique strengths and talents. Everyone can bring in unique perspectives and energy. As long as you have a passion for medical writing, the desire to improve yourself, and the willingness to contribute to the profession, any type of volunteering will be a great start.
A key part of NYC Science Communication (NYCSciComm)’s mission is to guide STEM PhD students to navigate career options in science communication. If you are looking for a career with an ideal work-life balance, a stimulating environment with exposure to cutting-edge medical advancements, and competitive salaries, medical writing might be a perfect career option for you.
Success in medical writing calls for a set of communication and leadership skills often outside the scope of STEM doctoral education. To gain experience and build these skills, you can volunteer at professional organizations like NYCSciComm or AMWA. At NYCSciComm, volunteering provides a platform for you to sharpen writing skills, build up your portfolio, and expand your professional network. If you are interested in writing blogs and/or volunteering for us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acknowledgement: This article was part of the AMWA Empire State-Metro New York Chapter Newsletter in August 2016 and appears first to the public on the NYCSciComm website. The author would like to thank the AMWA-NY Chapter board and the Editorial Board of NYCSciComm for their valuable feedback.