Newsletter- April 2021

Welcome to the April 2021 chapter newsletter. Adam Fix is temporarily taking over duties for Ashley Mooneyham as chapter newsletter editor. Let us know what you think, and remember, you can also read it on the chapter website. You can find previous newsletters on the website as well. And we always welcome suggestions for newsletter topics.

In this issue:





Urgent Need for Volunteers!

President-Elect, Programming Chair, and Co-Secretary

The AMWA North Central chapter is looking for a new President-Elect, Programming Chair, and Co-Secretary. The president-elect position is critical to our status as a chapter!  Without a volunteer to fill this vital position, we will not be able to continue as a chapter. Please volunteer!

AMWA North Central is a volunteer-based organization. If members don’t take an active role, the chapter will cease to function, and members will lose access to programming, news, and networking opportunities. Consider taking your turn to lead (or join) a committee or serve as a chapter officer.

Please submit your interest or nominations for any of the positions to bod (at) list.amwanorthcentral (dot) org

The following positions are open:

  • President-elect: The new president-elect role will serve a one-year term beginning in February 2021 and ideally will transition into the role of president in 2022. As president-elect, you will attend the monthly AMWA NC chapter board meetings, take minutes, and chair the meeting if the president is unable to attend. Other duties may be assigned by the president or board on an ad hoc basis.
  • Programming Committee Chair: The Program Committee Chair is responsible for organizing AMWA events throughout the year, including identifying topics of interest and recruiting speakers. This is an important role in AMWA and is valuable for both member engagement and education.
  • Co-Secretary: This position is vital to our chapter! The Co-Secretary will serve a 1-year term starting January 2022 along with the current Secretary, and ideally transition to the role of Secretary the following year. The Co-Secretary will attend the monthly AMWA NC chapter board and assist the Secretary in managing the chapter’s website,  distributing the monthly newsletter by email, and sending email communications about upcoming events.

In addition to keeping our group viable, volunteering with AMWA is a great way to network with your fellow members. It’s also a good way to fortify your C.V. with an extra line showing how you give back to your profession! If you can volunteer a few hours a month to help, contact bod (at) list.amwanorthcentral (dot) org


Spring Virtual Event #1: Security for Home Offices

**Updated on April 14th: this event has been cancelled.**

Marcia Cole, faculty member and professor of the Master of Science in Security Technologies program at the University of Minnesota will discuss information security best practices for the home office. We are thrilled to have Ms. Cole speak and answer questions on this important subject general threats and mitigations during this period when most professionals are working remotely.

Please RSVP here  or email Messac Che Neba at mcheneba (at) gmail (dot) com to register and receive Zoom information to join the event. Please also submit your questions, especially subject specific questions, before April 8, 2021 by clicking here.

Book Club hosted by Paul Mamula

Topic: Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecilia Watson

When:  Monday, April 26th, 2021 at 6:00 pm Central Time via Zoom

Details:  This book presents a history of the semicolon and is only 179 pages. It contains lots of trivia and fun facts about this punctuation mark. For trivia buffs, the book contains a chapter about semicolon usage in a law that is a cool complement to the misplaced comma that cost the United States the equivalent of $38.5 million in customs revenue in 1872. Join us for the discussion, even if you haven’t read the book. See you there!!

RSVP: Please email Book Club coordinator Paul Mamula to let him know you will attend by Sunday, April 25th, if you have not done so already: paulpat (at) pclink (dot) com.

Zoom meeting details: Meeting ID: 811 0040 3664 and Passcode: 6x1Ack

Spring Virtual Event #2: Tools to Enhance Productivity for Medical Writers

Mark your calendars! On May 27th, 2021 the chapter will host a virtual event exploring various tools and techniques to boost productivity for medical writers, both at home and at the office via Zoom. More details to come.


From Academia to Technical Writing: An Unfinished Journey

by Adam Fix, PhD

The Zoom interview was wrapping up. All that remained was the customary “do you have any questions for us?” bit at the end.

“Well, if you don’t mind me asking,” I began, “what drew you to technical writing? I know that tech writers come from all kinds of different backgrounds, so I’m genuinely curious how other people get into this line of work.”

I wasn’t entirely sure whether that was the right question to ask. After all, I didn’t know the managers I was meeting with. Did they even like their jobs? Would they be annoyed by a question like that?

Luckily (for me!), neither had any problem answering. They recounted how they had completed degrees in unrelated academic fields and, upon graduation, sought to direct their research and writing skills in new and exciting directions. Technical writing, they explained, suited the bill perfectly.

“Academic skills do seem to transfer very well to tech writing work,” I chimed in with a barely muffled sigh of relief.

“They do,” one manager replied, nodding curtly.

And that cliffhanger story brings me to the topic of this article: making a career transition from academia to technical writing for the medical device industry.

About Me

Officially, on my resume and on LinkedIn, I introduce myself as: “technical and content writer with a particular interest in scientific, technological, and medical topics.

Unofficially, at parties, I prefer this line: “Hi, my name is Adam and I’m a recovering academic.”

It gets a laugh! I imagine. If we could have parties. But that’s another story.

To elaborate a bit:

I received my PhD in History of Science, Technology, and Medicine (HSTM) from the University of Minnesota in 2019. Since then, I have worked various contract and part-time jobs in technical, content, and grant writing with the aim of making a career transition into full-time technical writing in the medical device industry.

As a specialist in HSTM, I’m accustomed to working ‘in between’ the humanities and the STEM fields. I love weaving together long strands of technical information into concise, readable prose. Nearing the end of my graduate studies, I began thinking seriously about post-academic career paths that would allow me to continue the kind of science writing I’ve always enjoyed. Tech writing, for reasons explained below, immediately stood out.

At time of this writing, I am still working on making my permanent career move into tech writing. I have been involved with the AMWA North Central Chapter for a few months now, and I want to sincerely thank everyone I’ve met here for their advice and support. Thanks especially to Kendra Hyland for her feedback on an earlier draft of this article.

I hope this article, while largely a personal story, will be of interest to the broader AMWA community. My aim is twofold: (1) to offer insights into why people are drawn to tech writing as a career; (2) to present tech writing in the medical device industry as a viable and rewarding career path for fellow academics looking to break into the private sector.

Writing with Real Impact

What drew me away from academia and towards technical writing? Primarily, the opportunity to leverage my science writing and technical communication skills towards positive, impactful social ends.

Academic work is many things, but ‘impactful’ is not one of them. A single scholarly article might take six months to write, another six months to reach publication, and yet another six months before anyone reads it. Books drag on even longer.

This says nothing about the academic content itself, which can be abstruse, abstract, and about as far from practical applicability as you can get. If you don’t know what I mean, ask a mathematician about their five-page proof that 1 is greater than 0. Or, ask any humanities PhD what “postmodernism” means in their respective field.

Technical writer, and medical writers more generally, on the other hand, work in fast-paced environments. International standards and country-specific regulations are both complex and constantly changing, and it’s the medical writer’s job to keep up. The US Code of Federal Regulations and the EU MDR—released in 2017 but yet to be fully implemented—both come to mind. On top of that, each medical device company implements their own unique standard operating procedure and in-house quality management system.

These topics may sound dry and, well, technical, but the consequences are real. Whether it’s the device, the labeling, or the packaging, compliance must be maintained at all times or else the product may be pulled from the market. It goes without saying that, should a lifesaving medical device suddenly vanish from the market, the results are immediate and devastating for many people from all corners of the world.

This undeniable real-world importance of tech writing for medical devices was what drew me to the field in the first place. This kind of writing offers academically trained individuals the chance to apply their research and writing skills towards products that, at the end of the day, save lives. As we all know, the healthcare industry is a huge and not particularly well-oiled machine. But to play even one small part in that life-saving machine can be incredibly rewarding.

What more could a ‘recovering academic’ ask for?

Transferable Skills

As noted earlier, the skills one develops while completing an MA or PhD program transfer very well to tech writing.

Granted, academics (generally) do not work in regulated environment. They also rarely use content management tools like Vasont or other tools like Prisma.

But what academic work does teach are valuable research, writing, problem-solving, and project management skills that are applicable to a range of disparate work environments.

Technical writing, and medical writing more generally, are two excellent examples of the broad applicability of academic skills. Technical writers at Medtronic, for example, interpret governmental regulations, write manuals based on those regulations, edit documentation for accuracy and clarity, all while managing a project over the course of several months or years.

In other words, not that different from writing a dissertation or master’s thesis!

In addition, many PhD students teach courses for their department. College-level teaching furnishes exactly the kind of communication and leadership skills needed to work in fast-paced environments like tech writing.

To be sure, there’s a lot of technical know-how (i.e. ‘hard skills’) in the technical writing profession. But hard skills can be learned. Solid writing skills and diligent work ethic, on the other hand, take years to master. Completing a PhD furnishes these skills in spades.

Book Club Meeting Notes: Deadliest Enemy

By Paul W Mamula, PhD

Our virtual book club met on January 25, 2021 to discuss Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs by Michael T Osterholm and Mark Olshaker. The book is out in a second edition; the first edition was published in 2017. Dr Osterholm is an infectious disease expert and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). He was appointed to President Biden’s on Covid-19 Advisory Board in late November 2019. He has been recently been a prominent presence media presence speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic. Mark Olshaker is an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker and a bestselling author.

The Book

Deadliest Enemy is a fact-dense book but is written in nontechnical language for a general audience. The text is 21 chapters with just over 300 pages but is an easy read, more so if one has a science background. Deadliest Enemy also packs much more into the text than just a march through epidemiology, public health, and diseases and pandemics. It also provides insight into how Dr Osterholm came to pursue a career in science and public health. The descriptions of his juggling responsibilities and dealing with his abusive, alcoholic father were moving.

The book is a fast read but does an excellent job of covering basic science and epidemiology along with several diseases and pandemics. The first 10 chapters set the table for the science and the last 11 cover seminal events that include selected diseases and pandemics. Readers with a science background can skip to chapter 11, since most of those chapters are fairly basic, and proceed to the later chapters that address bioterrorism, SARS, MERS, Zika, influenza, and pandemics. The book ends with a “battle plan” for dealing with these looming crises. The second edition also contains an introductory chapter that recaps the current Covid crises up to the point of publication in 2020. Dr Osterholm had a long podcast interview last year that dealt with his book for those who want a longer preview (Joe Rogan Experience #1439 – Michael Osterholm – YouTube).

Our Impressions

Mary Knatterud said, “I liked how deft Osterholm and Olshaker’s wordplay could be, despite the anything-but-playful tone and message of the book, for example, their hope to ‘scare us all out of our wits,’ rather than an ‘out of’ them (p 6); the chillingly prescient title of chapter 19, ‘Pandemic: From Unspeakable to Inevitable’ (p 268).”

Knatterud added, “I found Osterholm’s personal backstories particularly compelling: His poignant accounts of the death in 1983 of his 66-year-old aunt, Sister Romana Ryan, from AIDS caused by a blood transfusion during hip surgery (p 17-18); of the harrowing violence inflicted during his childhood by his alcoholic father (p 21, 185-186); and of the near-death in 1997 of his 16-year-old son, Ryan, from LaCrosse encephalitis contracted from mosquitos harbored in tree holes in Minnetonka (p 178-180).”

We did have a few quibbles. I found some of his folksy analogies, although usually charming in lectures, distracting in the book. Additionally, some of his nontechnical descriptions of scientific terms a little clunky. Those more familiar with science might quibble with some of these descriptions. I winced a little with his description of a plasmid, a transmittable closed circle of DNA, as “hunks of DNA.” These descriptions might help lay readers, but I found them a little unsettling. That said, the book is very effective at getting the message across without being too technical. These quibbles are a minor point and shouldn’t deter anyone from reading the book.

Language was sometimes an issue. Knatterud noted, “I was saddened by the authors’ frequent equating of human beings with cases, for example, 15 million HIV cases are currently receiving antiretroviral therapy 9p 20); Many of the cases were critically ill (p 31); and Almost all of the early cases had just recently returned from travel to Shanghai and neighboring cities and towns (p 271).” Part of this usage is the way science and medicine had been reported. Recent changes in training emphasize a more appropriate usage that has recently been described in a recent publication and in the new edition of the American Medical Writers Association Manual of Style. In sum, the book is well worth the time.