Going From Project Director to Science Writer

Editing graduate Stephanie Martch discovers the benefits of this evidence-based skill

Early on, Stephanie Martch knew that a combination of science and writing would make up her career path. What she didn’t know was that a proficiency in editing would be the skill that would connect these disciplines for her career.

Let’s see how.

Science Background

Writing Background

While teaching nutrition to undergraduates and working as a hospital dietitian, Stephanie also was freelancing as a nutrition writer for Sun News (a weekly, local paper), a national Aquatics Exercise Association publication and the magazine Fit Pregnancy. And although she had been wanting to focus full time on writing, personal reasons necessitated that she find more secure work.

“So I accepted a job as a research coordinator at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in 2003,” Stephanie says. “The institution has supported my diverse career path as I progressed through more positions: as a research dietitian, a senior research coordinator and a project director.”

Overlapping her work at MD Anderson Cancer Center were pre-doctoral studies of nutrition science. Stephanie had completed close to 100 graduate hours by 2009 when she realized that the Ph.D. was not leading her in the right direction.

“During that time, my primary love continued to be writing, and I had multiple ways to hone my skills at work: writing grants, journal articles, questionnaires and project reports; and designing numerous tools for research dissemination,” she explains. But she wanted to do those things full time.

Looking to Update Her Skill Set

“By 2016, I decided to wholeheartedly commit to becoming a full-time writer, but I knew that making the jump to writer would be difficult due to my then-current job title—Was it scaring off interviewers?—and my age. I was almost 60,” Stephanie explains.

She wanted to remain with MD Anderson, having spent many years writing cancer research–based materials, but felt that she’d have to leave the organization to switch careers. 

“Nevertheless, I continued to investigate writing options—via networking and informational interviews—and applied for related positions.” Then, she got inside information.

“During an informational interview with an MD Anderson scientific editor, I mentioned off-hand that I loved editing, and she replied, ‘The world has too few good editors.’ Bingo. Her words carved out a new passage for me: editing—an evidence-based skill.”

“What I love about editing is being presented with a puzzle and having to work hard to make sure everything fits just right.”

Now wanting to add editing to her résumé, Stephanie’s online search brought her to our Professional Sequence in Editing.

The Online Experience

“I previously found most online classes to be disappointingly light on content but was astonished and happily challenged by the comprehensive online learning program created by Extension’s instructors.

“I’d also found that typical class-participation assignments in online courses too frequently involved busywork,” she continues. “This was not the case with UC Berkeley Extension’s program. The topics we wrote about tied nicely into enhanced learning, often because my classmates had varying writing career–based wisdoms to share.”

The introductory course Grammar, Mechanics and Usage for Editors was a favorite. “I still read the text we were assigned, A Writer’s Reference, for pleasure. It’s packed with facts I wish my brain would retain. Actually, I loved each course’s assigned texts. Potential editors would understand this quirk.”

Stephanie’s experience in our Editing sequence allowed her to hone other applicable skills as well.

“I attended the American Medical Writers Association’s annual conference and learned that the credential Editor in the Life Sciences (ELS) was the preferred credential for medical writers,” she adds.

“I applied to take that exam—which required three letters of recommendation—and passed. The exam was a bear! My long-standing work in nutrition studies and cancer research enabled me to answer the science-based questions, but I never would have passed had it not been for the Professional Sequence in Editing.”

Ready to Make Her Case

“Once I completed the Editing program and earned my ELS credential, I was able to convince others that I was serious about this career change,” Stephanie notes.

She then applied for a senior writer position at MD Anderson and was able to demonstrate that her interest in writing and editing was not transitory. “I also believe that having a challenging piece to edit as part of the interview process really clarified to my future boss that I could handle the required writing and editing.”

“I never would have passed [the ELS exam] had it not been for the Professional Sequence in Editing.”

“After nailing that assignment, I was hired to fill that position—a job I still hold 18 months later,” she says. “What I love about editing is being presented with a puzzle and having to work hard to make sure everything fits just right—even with the technical writing that’s the focus of my current job.”