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Not Every Editor Lives in New York City

Former Aggie Marisa Madsen, Class of '13, talks about her career as a Senior Medical Editor in Houston, Texas, and how the Professional Writing Certificate got her to where she is today.

Story by Sarah Roberts ’21
For more features like this one, head over to The English Aggie blog!

Sitting with her three 15-pound furry “coworkers,” Floki, Odin and Juniper, Marissa Madsen prepares for her work day and pulls up her latest project. As a Senior Medical Editor at Syneos Health in Houston, Texas, Madsen is used to fast-paced, high energy days where she edits and reviews multiple documents. As a Class of ‘13 Aggie, the former English major and Professional Writing Certificate recipient regularly uses the skills she learned during her time at Texas A&M in her job today. 

At the beginning of her career, Madsen started working as an unpaid editorial intern for a nonprofit organization with two academic journals. She soon became Editorial Coordinator of those two journals after being promoted to a full-time position. She eventually moved to a different academic publication in Texas A&M’s Political Science Department. After a few years, she made the jump to medical editing for Syneos Health, a contract research organization (also known as a clinical research organization).  

“I realized that in academic publishing, I was pigeon-holed in this situation where, with just a bachelor’s degree, I could only go so far in my career. So, I had been trying to get into medical editing,” Madsen said. 

At her current position, Madsen works on the regulatory side of pharmaceuticals. Working with her team of writers, Madsen will review the documents they send her, essentially fact checking and reviewing them for consistency and accuracy. This kind of work is considered “quality review” in the industry.

“A lot of people in academic publishing will move to the regulatory side of pharmaceuticals. It’s more of a technical position, which was very fitting for me, because I was never much for fluff,” Madsen said. “There’s a lot more technical skill involved with making things neat and concise.” 

According to Madsen, being an editor requires a meticulous attention to detail, a rule-oriented mindset, and a love for fixing things.

“My joke has always been that I want to fix the clock, not build it,” Madsen said. “Also, with my job, it’s important to be able to do things that I can do, but because we’re a contract company, I have to be fast. This is definitely a quick-paced job.”  

To prepare for her future career while at Texas A&M, Madsen worked as an undergraduate research scholar in the Department of English and in the Glasscock Center, which she says provided her with valuable insight into the academic publishing world. Madsen also credits the Professional Writing Certificate with teaching her many of the skills necessary to succeed as an editor. 

“I strongly recommend it,” Madsen said, speaking about her experience with the Professional Writing Certificate. “I think my technical editing class, and my technical writing class have been 2 of the top 3 most important classes I took at Texas A&M.”

Madsen encourages graduating English majors to look into medical editing as a career. Many times, medical editing opportunities do not require a medical background or moving to a large city like New York City. Medical editors also earn more than you might expect; according to GlassDoor, medical editors in Houston with a couple years of experience can make an average of $69,000 a year. In addition, the career has mobility and long-term career opportunities. Madsen’s current job has also afforded her the flexibility of working from home, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This is the kind of job that I can have a wonderful career in over the next few decades,” Madsen said. 

While there are numerous perks in Madsen’s current career, she also genuinely enjoys the work she does. 

“I enjoy trying to make a document neat, and making sure that an element of a document, like a phrase used periodically, is consistent.” Madsen said. “And then there are sometimes style or formatting issues in these 200-page documents that require troubleshooting or a phone call to a coworker to see what went wrong. It’s fast and I’m always learning something new. And I personally have always really enjoyed ripping other papers to shreds, so if you’re like that, I recommend my job.”