Can I work as a writer or medical liaison at a corporation, and pursue freelance journalism, simultaneously? Or would this be a conflict of interest?
February 8, 2008 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Can I work as a writer or medical liaison at a corporation, and pursue freelance journalism, simultaneously? Or would this be a conflict of interest?

I recently finished a Ph.D. in biomedical research. I want to move into a career than involves more writing, as this is one of my stronger skills, and I find it more enjoyable than laboratory work. I am looking at corporate work as a medical writer or liason (pharma or medical writing,) versus mass media journalism.

I have already done some freelance journalism, and worked a short stint at a major news outlet, so I have some contacts in this field. However, due to a chronic medical issue which came up during grad school, my doctors have advised me to make sure I get solid group plan coverage. (It's mental health/depression, hence the need for *solid* (complete) coverage)
Thus, I'm hesitant to just become a freelancer now, especially I have little to no savings from being in school for so long.

Medical writing, for instance at a large pharmaceutical or medical devices co., seems to be a good solution in that I can combine writing with the benefit perks... but I also like creativity and investigation, hence the pull towards journalism.

So, can I work at a corporation and pursue freelance journalism, simultaneously, or would this be a conflict of interest?

Additionally, how would it look if I went to a corporate job for a while, then tried to change tracks to journalism? Would I be welcomed back into the fold, or looked upon suspiciously?

Thanks, and direct contact can be made at:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's a bad idea. For one, the contract and the non-compete agreement that comes with your day job may prohibit freelancing. For two, technical writing is not at all like freelance journalism; it will take you a fair amount of time and mental energy to get up to speed in your day job. For three, holding down a moderately demanding corporate job (such as writing) is really more than enough for somebody with mental health issues. Do not underestimate the difficulty of doing so. For four, you will be interviewing and writing in your day job, you may not be able to stomach the process in your free time (even if you could rig all of your interviews and phone calls for your freelance articles around your day schedule, which you may find troublesome).

On the bright side, you could go into journalism no problem after you are done with corp land. However, medical technical writing will pay so much more than freelancing ever will so you will find it very difficult to justify a return to the journalism career track.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:42 PM on February 8, 2008

No, it's not a conflict of interest unless you're writing about your employer or his competitors. You'd be particularly free to sell pieces on non-health issues.
posted by Kirklander at 3:29 PM on February 8, 2008

Yeah, what kirklander said. However, I think it's ultimately up to the corporation. I worked full-time for one place that asked me to stay away from certain topics and types of publications and I was happy to oblige.

It's something you should probably address during the hiring process. "Oh, by the way, I also do some freelance writing on the side. Just wanted you to know." Don't really leave it up to them to approve your moonlighting. (Don't say, "Do you have any problems with that?") But make sure they know. If they see any conflicts you can address them together. Unless the corporation has a specific policy against moonlighting, it should be fine.

And having worked freelance for the past couple years, I wholeheartedly endorse your plan to get good health coverage. Life turns into a huge game of risk-avoidance when you don't have it.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:40 PM on February 8, 2008

Lots of people go back and forth between corporate medical writing/ PR and journalism. But you obviously can't write about how wonderful Prozac is for a newspaper while you work for Eli Lilly.

Take potential conflicts on a case by case basis and disclose everything, basically: that way, you'll work out what's Ok and what's not without making embarrassing mistakes.

As a freelance science writer who actually makes a living at it and lives in Manhattan, I get my coverage through the Freelancer's Union and have not had problems. It is very hard to establish yourself as a freelancer and make enough money to live on if you don't start with some regular clients or some other regular part time work, however.
posted by Maias at 6:12 PM on February 8, 2008

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