By Jennifer Withers (Guest blogger)
A degree in medical writing is an efficient way to gain the knowledge needed to become a professional medical writer. In my experience as a student in the Master of Science program in Biomedical Writing at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP), everything I've learned in every course I’ve taken has been directly applicable to my career target. And the fact that the degree can be completed online has made it possible for me to stay where I live, keep my job, and avoid uprooting my family. However, to succeed in the online classroom, those of us who are used to a traditional “brick-and-mortar” setting may need to adjust several aspects of how we learn:
Self-discipline. In the often solitary online learning environment, you may need to be somewhat more self-disciplined and self-motivated than you would in a traditional classroom. You’ll need to do more than just complete the assignments: expect to do some self-directed learning if you want to make the most of your Biomedical Writing courses.
Technology. Online learners need to be comfortable with trying new technology—a characteristic necessary to succeed in medical writing anyway. You can expect USP faculty and staff to choose user-friendly online tools (for example, ANGEL, GoToMeeting, Skype) and answer questions about them, but not to provide formal training in the use of these tools. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the applications, be proactive about making sure you can access the online information for your courses each semester, and seek assistance when necessary.
Time. Although the time requirements for course work in the program at USP are, in my experience, about the same as those in traditional graduate courses, the program has greater schedule flexibility. In courses that have prearranged teleconferences or online meeting times, you may be offered a choice of several times and dates, and you won’t have as many mandatory meeting times as in a traditional course. Some courses have flexible assignment deadlines. And you won’t waste precious hours commuting. On the flip side, the loose schedule makes it easy to fall behind unless you religiously set aside study time each week.
Human contact. USP’s virtual classrooms offer ways to develop relationships with instructors and other students, but it’s up to the student to reach out and take advantage of these opportunities. My instructors have been at least as willing and available as traditional-setting instructors to be contacted by e-mail, by phone, or in person for one-on-one time—and even to provide advice after graduation. Also, some courses in the program offer the choice for local students (and those willing to travel) to attend classes on-site, while remote students attend via teleconference.
You can learn more about the Biomedical Writing program at USP here.
Jennifer Withers is a freelance medical writer and editor in Dallas, Texas. She expects to complete her Biomedical Writing degree in May.