On becoming an expert

I had a great afternoon and evening with my fellow Chicago-area AMWA colleagues last week. We don’t meet often, and probably recognize each other more by our listserv postings than by sight. Naturally, we all must introduce ourselves, share our backgrounds, and add our two cents on a particular topic within the biz. I’m not sure when this happened, and I don’t particularly see myself as one, but somewhere along the way, I became an expert. I was actually asked for my opinion more than once about my work, my business, and current controversies and topics within our field. But I’m still learning! How can I be an expert?

Maybe it’s my accumulated writing experience, in academic writing, continuing med ed, healthcare comm, and now as a freelance business owner?But experience doesn’t necessarily make me an expert. Experience makes me a veteran–what makes an expert is the ability to learn from past/present experience, apply new knowledge, and continue to seek out new experiences.

And expertise is relative, isn’t it? There are certainly more expert-y experts than I (I was sitting next to one at dinner), and I might be considered an expert in certain areas and a complete novice in others. I lie somewhere on the continuum for any number of skills within medical writing and editing. And anyway, can someone become the absolute expert of anything? Isn’t there always room for improvement? I think so.

Which brings me back to the idea of my very first post – time debting (Happy blogiversary to me!). Really, it’s investing in myself and my development as a professional medical writer/editor, beyond the experience of writing and editing that I get paid to do. There are always areas where I need improvement, and it is essential that I stay plugged into the conversations and topics of the day within my field. In a nutshell: my professional development is as important as my background and experience. No matter how many years of experience I have within medical writing/editing, there will always be a need to continue learning, hone my skills, and accumulate and apply new knowledge.

So, even though it’s non-billable, I try to spend at least an hour a day keeping up with the latest news and topics in medical writing and interacting with my peers online. There are many free resources online, but I will pay for certain types of continuing education as long as I can justify the expense with some tangible benefit to me as a writer/editor or business owner. Here are a few of the resources I tap into:

LinkedIn groups – Sometimes there are really good discussions (though you might have to wade through some spammy posts), and they are a great place to hear about new topics and ask your colleagues for advice or opinions. You can sign up for the once-a-week digest, rather than getting your inbox inundated with updates all day long.

Twitter – Even if you just lurk, you can still learn a lot. (Though I highly recommend tweeting as well.) I (and the accounts I follow) use Twitter to share interesting articles and resources, and I tend to post about my love of science maps and art.

AMWA listservs – These are truly invaluable resources for AMWA members. Enough said.

Blogs – I read a few blogs posts a day, and follow blogs from researchers, doctors, other bioscience and medical writers and editors, journals, and professional associations. The posts usually lead me to other interesting blogs, articles, or links that I can share with my peers.

Journals – specifically, the AMWA Journal and Science Editor from the Council of Science Editors.

Meetings – AMWA of course. I can’t say enough about how much you can absorb by attending the annual meeting. There are also other meetings out there, both national and regional, where you can meet and learn from your professional peers.

Training – this fall, I am taking a grantwriting course at Northwestern, and next spring, I’m planning to attend the NIH Regional seminar.


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