You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

male hands typing on a laptop computer with several pads of paper on the side
fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Mastering the art of writing is not just a desirable skill—it is, in fact, an absolute necessity, especially for trainees navigating the complex landscape of STEM disciplines. Proficiency in writing is not merely about stringing words together; it is about wielding a powerful tool that can shape careers, amplify research impact and unlock countless professional opportunities. From articulating groundbreaking discoveries to securing crucial funding and forging impactful connections, the ability to convey ideas with clarity and precision is indispensable. Thus, it is imperative that, as a STEM trainee, you understand the importance of writing and that you work to develop your own set of best practices to succeed.

Cultivating strong writing skills involves setting clear timelines, actively seeking feedback and utilizing available resources. To help avoid being overwhelmed, you should first consider breaking down one large writing project into manageable segments and allocating time for research, drafting, revision and editing. Mabel, one of the co-authors of this piece, has experience guiding graduate students in writing research grants by creating a timeline for writing tasks and distributing them effectively. This approach has helped them manage their writing workload and ensured timely project completion. Her students have avoided procrastination and maintained steady progress toward their writing goals.

In addition, seeking feedback on writing from faculty mentors, peers, institutional writing centers and other specialized offices, and field experts is essential for enhancing the quality and effectiveness of your written communication. In her current role directing a research office for medical students, Mabel can recognize the specific writing demands of trainees. Although they are different trainee populations of medical students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, all are engaged in research, and the same ideas apply. Thus, preparing statements, abstracts and manuscripts is a common component of their writing skill sets that could benefit from institutional support, such as the resources we will describe in this essay.

Elizabeth, the other co-author, established a writing studio in 2022 at the University of Texas Medical Branch, where she mentored predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees in best practices for writing grants, manuscripts, biosketches, dissertations and CVs/résumés. She became a key resource on the campus by developing workshops to support trainees and building a recognized brand that students, postdocs and junior faculty sought out for writing assistance. In her current role as manager for technical writing and publications at MD Anderson Cancer Center, she continues to mentor the next generation of scientists, including helping them to hone their writing skills in a variety of contexts.

Together, we briefly discuss below the diverse types of writing that you and many other trainees will encounter, as well as where to find resources to help develop this fundamental skill.

Resources Available

The selection of resources depends heavily on the specific writing task at hand. For example, if you are preparing a grant application for federal support—from, say, the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation—or other philanthropic funding, initial resources may include faculty mentors and peers who have undergone a similar application process. If available, a writing studio or center at your institution or the campus library likely has staff members who can provide editorial feedback and offer suggestions for improvement. These resources can also be valuable for crafting abstracts for scientific conference submissions. In addition, the development office is an excellent resource when pursuing philanthropic funding, as their staff members can help frame your research question or proposal to align more closely with donors’ interests and plans for their contributions.

Medical writing projects—for example, clinical trial protocols, patient information and safety narratives, health-care policy documents, and other regulatory documents—require specialized guidance and instruction. This type of writing demands accuracy, clarity and adherence to regulatory standards, as it usually impacts patient care. Outside of the immediate guidance of faculty mentors, resources such as the institutional review board, office of research administration, clinical research office and research office for medical students are great places to obtain the proper training and guidance for such specialized writing projects.

In addition to the technical writing examples above, a well-written CV or résumé and cover letter are essential for landing a great job. As with all types of writing, it is important to know and understand your audience before starting the writing process.

Typically, academic positions require a CV, while industry positions prefer a résumé tailored to the specific job. Tapping into resources such as career development offices and campus writing centers is usually an excellent starting point, as they can offer advice, steer you toward any other job-seeking help and potentially provide edits to your CV or résumé. If no specific office exists on your campus, always talk to your mentors, professors, peers, friends and family who might be able to offer helpful feedback. It’s also a good idea to also take advantage of the many online resources that can help guide you on how to start crafting your CV or résumé.

Support From Artificial Intelligence

Integration of artificial intelligence, exemplified by ChatGPT, offers a powerful tool for enhancing creativity and expanding vocabulary, particularly on platforms like social media and LinkedIn. Of course, all original ideas should stem from you, the writer, but the AI tools online today can help you brainstorm and refine those ideas. AI can serve as a valuable assistant in the writing process, providing inspiration, suggesting alternative phrasing and even offering insights into diverse perspectives.

To reiterate, while AI can suggest various approaches and generate content, it is essential for that you maintain authorship and authenticity in your work. The responsibility for crafting meaningful and original content ultimately rests with the you. However, by leveraging AI tools responsibly, you can harness your potential to enhance creativity and productivity while retaining your distinct voice and perspective.

In conclusion, the significance of writing proficiency in the dynamic landscape of academia and beyond cannot be overstated. A well-developed skill set will lead you toward paths to recognition, innovation and career advancement. It can be an invaluable asset when seeking professional achievement. By leveraging available resources—both locally on the campus and online—and recognizing the importance of this art, you can set yourself apart from the crowd.

Mabel Perez-Oquendo is the director of student opportunities for advancement in research at Baylor College of Medicine, and Elizabeth O. Hileman is the manager for technical writing and publications at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Both are members of the Graduate Career Consortium—an organization that provides an international voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders.

Next Story

More from Carpe Careers