Alumni Profiles Series: Mayya Shveygert
Dr. Mayya Shveygert received her Ph.D. in 2012 from the Molecular Genetics and Microbiology program under Dr. Matthias Gromeier. She completed a postdoc at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) before transitioning into her current role as a medical writer at Amgen.
What were your career goals as a graduate student?
I come from a family of scientists (both my parents are scientists) and I enjoyed scientific research in graduate school. As a Russian citizen, I was also concerned about getting a green card when considering future careers.
I did debate whether to stay in science or pursue something else. Ultimately, I decided to do a postdoc with the intention of becoming a principal investigator (PI). I chose a high-profile lab at UCSF studying stem cell biology because I felt this was the best way to accomplish my goal.
What made you decide to pursue a career as a medical writer?
My experience as a postdoc convinced me to transition away from the academic path. I had a child, and the long hours and low pay made it difficult to raise a family. I also disliked the competitive “every man for himself” nature of research. I much prefer working in a team to achieve a goal. Furthermore, even with top-tier publications, it is difficult to land a professorship. Adding to this, my husband is also a scientist, so our location options would be even more limited for raising a family.
Therefore, I began to explore other careers. I heard of medical writing from a colleague and decided to pursue it. The parts I did enjoy about academic research—working in a team, writing, and organizing—are big parts of this job. The compensation is also quite decent, as good or better than counterparts in other industry positions.
Can you describe your current role as a medical writer at Amgen?
To start off, I would like to discuss the two main areas in the medical writing field. The first consists of communicating medical/scientific information to target audiences, such as the lay public, doctors, or medical organizations. The types of materials produced here may include publications, abstracts, and slide presentations.
The second area falls into the regulatory affairs field. Regulatory affairs involves developing clinical products (such as drugs) and getting their approval from regulatory bodies (i.e., the FDA) for their sale/marketing. This approval is necessary to show that a product is safe and effective. There is a variety of documentation required for this, which is the job of a medical writer to produce. Biotech or pharmaceutical companies hire medical writers internally to produce this documentation. Alternatively, companies can outsource to other organizations, known as contract research organizations (CROs), which also hire medical writers. Regulatory affairs is a growing field, as there are many new products being developed that need regulatory approval. Medical writers in this field can also be referred to as “regulatory writers.”
I work at Amgen, a major biotech company, as a regulatory writer and product lead. I work on documents to support development of Amgen drugs and their approval by the health authorities, such as FDA. This can involve writing protocols for clinical studies or producing documents summarizing patient outcomes from a clinical trial of one of Amgen’s products. I work on a team with biostatisticians, doctors, scientists, and regulatory professionals to achieve this goal.
What is your favorite part of your job? What do you find most challenging?
My favorite part about my job is that it is exciting. I work with a variety of disease states, and I learn something new every day. I also like that I get to work in a team with amazing people. I’ve found that working toward the common goal of developing much-needed drugs brings out the best in my colleagues. Additionally, the flexibility of the position is something I really like. I work remotely and there are flexible hours, which allows for time with my family and outside hobbies/interests.
What I find challenging is delivering a document under a tight deadline. The documents can be very long and contain a lot of complex clinical data. There is also the challenge of learning new things quickly, but this is something I really enjoy.
What qualities are important to succeed as a medical writer?
You should like people and working with people. You may work in a large team with a variety of specialists. Having good emotional intelligence and being able to politely interact with people of different interests is important for this job. Good email and phone communication skills are also important, especially for a remote position.
Strong organization skills and attention to detail are other essential qualities. In the regulatory space, you should be comfortable dealing with large clinical documents. You can come across documents containing 12-20-page tables, which you shouldn’t be intimidated by.
At the end of the day, medical writing is a service position. If you feel the need to execute your vision or be the decision maker, this may not be the career for you.
Any advice or resources you can recommend for students interested in transitioning into this field?
A great resource is the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). They also have a LinkedIn group. I encourage students to talk to as many medical writers as possible to learn about the field. Don’t be afraid to reach out; I’ve found medical writers to be some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve met.
Think about your career early; don’t just default into a postdoc after graduate school. Getting writing experience as a student is enough to enter the field. You can also take coursework, such as clinical trial design courses, to learn concepts important to regulatory writing. Overall, it is important to understand the role well to see if it is a good fit for you. A company puts a big investment into training you, and they don’t want to hire someone who leaves early because they don’t like the job.
When you do apply, don’t focus too much on scientific details in your application. It is better to focus on the transferable skills you’ve developed.
Jonathan Motley, Ph.D.
Research Scholar, Genetics and Genomics
Jonathan Motley is a Research Scholar at Duke University. He studies plant-pathogen interactions in the genetics and genomics department. His dissertation research was focused on understanding the regulation of gene expression in plants during pathogen infection, and he is interested in exploring careers beyond the traditional academic path.