Your Career Corner
This month's Career Corner features an interview with Kristina Rehm, Ph.D. '07. During the interview, Kristina reflects back on her time at Brandeis and talks about what she did as a Brandeis student that helped her to meet her professional goals.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your current job.
I'm a Medical Writer at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA. Generally speaking there are two kinds of medical writers, regulatory and non-regulatory writers. Typically, regulatory medical writers write for regulatory institutions like the FDA and non-regulatory writers write everything else; many medical writers do a bit of both. I'm part of the Clinical Development group at Vertex, and I write up clinical trial information, develop documents, etc. It is a collaborative and exciting job. I like medical writing because I'm involved in moving science forward, and I like regulatory writing because I am still really close to the data-integrating science and writing closely.
What did you do before you came to Brandeis?
I went to Bowdoin College in Maine and graduated in 1994 with a B.A. in biology. My plan initially involved going to medical school. But after college, I taught English in Thailand for a year. Then I taught high school biology and chemistry for five years in area private schools: Dana Hall and Concord Academy. As a teacher, I could explore other science-related jobs during the summer. Since I planned to go to medical school, I took a job in a hospital one summer, but I hated it - it wasn't inspiring to me at all. Another summer I worked in a lab at Wellesley College with someone Dr. Eve Marder knew and that's how I became connected to Brandeis.
What services and resources at GSAS did you find to be the most helpful?
The Neuroscience department at Brandeis was very supportive. I trusted and liked all my professors and had good relationships with many members of the department. I was able to have frank conversations with faculty members and also have them serve as my mentors. I was also very lucky to have a great mentor in Dr. Eve Marder.
When and how did you begin to get involved with your career development?
I've known quite a few doctoral students, at least in science, who had crises around their second year of the Ph.D.-including me. I began to wonder, "why am I here and what am I going to do after I finish?" I began to consider different career options through informational interviewing at places like Scientific American. Then later during my post-doc, I set a goal of conducting one informational interview per week. I built a large network that I tracked with a spreadsheet with the names, contact info, meeting date, and the topics we spoke about. I learned that if you reach, most people really want to help!
What was your first job upon graduation from Brandeis?
After Brandeis, I spent nearly two years conducting postdoctoral research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Rosalind Segal's lab where I studied stem cells in pediatric brain cancer. It was really interesting work and it was fantastic to work with Dr. Segal.
How did your Ph.D. qualify you for professional career?
Doctoral and post-doctoral research is often focused on such a specific scientific area that it's often not easy to find a job in that particular area. However, a Ph.D. gives you the confidence and skills to think deeply about scientific problems and evaluate and interpret data with a critical eye.
To get into the field of regulatory and non-regulatory medical writing, a Ph.D. is helpful, but not a necessity. Industry experience may help equally as well to qualify you for a job, but without a doctorate, you may hit a glass ceiling earlier in your career. Also, to lead a team of medical writers, it seems as though you would need a Ph.D. or another terminal degree such as an M.D.
What advice would you give to graduate students as they plan for their career?
One person had this advice for me that I found helpful: Even if you don't know exactly what you want to do, just start talking with people. Don't be afraid of "not knowing." Start articulating what you like, don't like, and what you need.
Also, take advantage of GSAS Career Services at Brandeis. Talking with a Career Advisor there allows you to explore your full range of options and helps you know how to go about asking the right questions. Get feedback on your resume or CV from Career Services and as many other people as you can.