I recently left a full time medical writing position for a 2-year contract position due to extreme (I don't use that term lightly) dissatisfaction with my previous employer and a sense of stagnancy, as every day felt the same. Not only was the work repetitive, it was against everything I learned way back in grad school (ie, accurate, objective, rigorous). Papers submitted to clinical journals leaned heavily towards marketing (Marketing department had a hand in drafting manuscripts!). Methods sections felt like brochures (how they got accepted I'll never know). Regulatory materials also used a marketing-type approach (i.e., focus on good results and only mention adverse results in passing).
I stayed on for 4.5 years because the benefits were pretty good and the financial situation at home warranted staying. I was also somewhat trapped because I was limited to remote positions due to limited (read: no) opportunities in my area and did not (and still don't) have the flexibility to move. Now, the financial situation at home is much better (spouse's salary more than tripled) so I was willing to take a bit of a risk but still limited to remote positions, which has heavily reduced my options for positions where I could grow (seems like remote has fewer options for learning new types of skills than in-house). This made me more likely to accept offers that come my way, even if it involves taking a cut in total compensation when you consider paid vacation, 401k matching, and bonus. I recently accepted a contract opportunity that would not only let me escape where I was but would offer training/growth opportunity in a discipline whose demand seems to be increasing. It is also a better environment as far as how the team approaches projects and fits my personality infinitely better, so it wasn't jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
If this is a 2 year contract position, how in danger am I of being labeled with the oxymoron "permanent temporary" writer if I've had other temporary positions (last one was contract-to-permanent and had a different short term contract position before that)? Have I limited my future options by being labeled a perm temp or have I opened options by gaining a new skill set whose demand is rising? Breaking even because the 2 cancel each other out?
Thanks for the question. It's a good one, and it dovetails into many conversations we've had here about contract workers, and about the whole "temp vs. permanent" topic that seems to affect many people with science backgrounds.
First off, congrats on your success in identifying something that you'll enjoy much more than your previous role. Yes, it's something that should indeed be on your mind . . . in my last column on the topic of "labels" one of the examples I gave was the permanent temp, who couldn't get out of that frame of reference.
But with only two years, you won't suffer that issue. You'll pick up some new skills, perhaps a more rigid protocol with regards to the quality of what you are asked to produce, and make new friends. Two years won't kill you. You'll certainly be able to take up a normal job search and move from there to another full-time, permanent role in medical writing. I would caution you against accepting another 2-year extension after your stint ends, however. At the end of four years, you could legitimately be said to have become a "permanent temp."
Dave Jensen, Moderator
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Adding to Dave's advice - there are certain roles were one CAN have quite a bit of flexiblity and non-penalization for permanant roles if one is working as a contractor for many years or even Freelance, and one happens to be Medical Writing.
What's your ultimate goal? Medical Writing/Content generation in an Agency? or In-house? And at a permanant FTE? The good part is that both on the Agency side and In-house side there is "need" for contractors that don't seem to end and many medical writers I have worked with to include very very senior and experienced ones serve as contrators due to the amount of freedom and flexiblity they get with that. Many move to contract status or even Freelancer AFTER many years of being a permanant FTE. There are advantages such as getting to choose who you work with..and when, and control of workload. And if you're really good, one can even work remote most of the time.
But all that is earned.
Immunity from a contractor "label" in Medical Writing can be achieved - as you know - Medical Writing can be a word of mouth business and well from my end (I'm a HQ Med. Aff. Medical Director - one of those people you may not like) but I do try to take the good Medical Writers (Agency's) I have met at one employer to another. I have freelancer who is just awesome = she serves nearly all my needs from a publications perspective. I use other agencies for other pubs as well but most are with her.
Good luck - focus on serving your clients well. Be productive and think about what it is you want.
I thought I'd check back in a year later and talk about outcomes in case it helps anyone. Well, it seems like contractor-employee is a dynamic process in medical writing. About 5 months into the 2 year contract the company took me as a full time employee. This is after the previous position in which I did 18 months as a contractor then was hired as an employee. In my limited bubble, it almost seems like a medical writing contract is just a "test-drive" for both employer and employee, with some employers and employees more eager to "purchase". It's not limited to me, either. There was a contractor in my group who left, went to another contract position, and is potentially interviewing with our group again for a full time employee position (don't know all the details but he was mentioned in a meeting). Exactly how long he's been a contractor throughout his career I'm not certain so maybe that has an effect on his full time employability.
Whether my situation is representative, assuming there is such a thing as "representative" for medical writing, I don't know. My impression is that this is not the case for other professions besides medical writing (quite the opposite in fact). Anyway, this was how it ended up. Temporary temp in this case.
The idea of Contract (non-FTE) is not new and I do see it more an more in my sector and in varied functions. Many company's ARE using the Contracting approach as a test and try but I do think that's NOT a driver though. The reality is the company or, lets be more specific, the highering manager does not have the budget for a Fixed Full Time Equivilant (FT) but will have budget for a temporary role, usualy 6 months to a year. They will have a goal to get a fixed FTE but in the interim, form them and possible the contractor, its a win win.
In that time the hirming manager may find or get permission to add a FTE (they have to rationalize that with their boss and finance) and if a person is in a specified Contract role and is performing once the boss cleares the FTE allocation, then the contractor can be offered. Often, the hiring manager will tell you that up front as well and often you'll here, "as budgets are available etc. etc. etc."
That said, if one is a contractor and the abmition is to have a fixed FTE role, my advice, accept no promises. Take the role as an opportunity and a stop gap - keep looking externally, because a year can go by and there is no fixed FTE budget. Worse case is there is not budget for another contract year, another case is you get offered another year contract. Not a bad thing as tenure is good, even for contract, but one can get a signal at that point to look externally. Had an ex-colleage do that, did 2 years as contractor, ambiton was fixed, - had early insight that he'd be offred another 1 year contract so, i that time he found another role externally and was able to rejected contract extention. In that case the company lost as they had a well trained person, and as much money they tried to throw at the person (and they threw alot at him, i mean massive amounsts) it was still not aligned to his abmition of fixed FTE. Now I highlight another benefit as a contractor..one can make more compesnation ..i.e in-Pocket Cash vs a salaried employee, if one negotatiates well.
Some companys will pilot a position as a contractor role first. So in my early days I did take a Contract role which was a Pilot position - there were about 6 of us in that role. Like you, within 3 months into my Contract I was offered to be a Fixed FTE - I was the first to make the Pilot position a Fixed position - and that was all linked to my performance, I actually created the role and showed what it could be. I subsequently rejected the offer to be a fixed FTE, as with All contract positions, no matter what they tell you, there is NO promise! As my goal was to be a Fixed FTE, another offer came by which was much more empowering to what I created so I took that. But I'm proud that I was the first to turn that Pilot role into a fixed and certainly others benefited from what I did.
That said, are many who LIKE to be temporary and contracting, you find that in medical writing. In other roles and countries, such as the UK, you find people who won't accept a fixed FTE and will only work as Contractors (often called consultants), this is due to a special tax situaiton in the UK. So we ahve a UK member of my team, who is a full and well tenured member of our team, but that person is on contract and refuses a fixed FTE contract. So UK is one place where you find it.
Another point with Contract positions, often, people can feel stimatized, as in some corporate cultures, contractors can be viewed as lesser than a Fixed FTE team member. How this is handled is a first and foremost a function of the hiring manager. I've seen contractors embraced and treated as an equal and empowered, due to hiring manager behavior.
My view, as the Contractor, emotionally and pyschologically, is to treat the job as such, and own the fact that you're a contractor. Some will tugg the lines of 'your a contractor" to diminish your contribution. I know how to handle this and can advise should anyone requests, to turn the tables around and have make the that status to the advantage. So I'll leave it off line for now.
But good stuff, being a contractor does have a role in career buidling, some will talk to abuses of it and I don't negate there can be abuses but, there are choices right? No one is saying one has to stay in a role...and any role for that matter. Hell, there are fixed FTEs that are abused as well (i.e. not treated right). So..... treat as is. See where the opportunity and risks are, continuously take decisions on career.