By Natasha Berryman
Mary Royer grew up outside of Philadelphia in a time when playing in the woods until dark was the way of doing things. A tomboy who “didn’t aspire to be anything,” Mary attended a small, all-girls school where the study of the English language and its grammatical components were taught extensively.
Admittedly, like most children, Mary gave little consideration to thoughts of the future and the ways in which an understanding of articles and dangling participles would play a role in her life later on. Even though it did not occur to her, it was at this time in her life that she began to gain an understanding of the language she would later use to make a colorful and impressive career as a Biologist and a Scientific and Medical Writer.
Education and Career
Mary attended Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, initially studying chemistry and moving through the program with relative ease, until she began to study organic chemistry. At this point, she struggled with the three-dimensional aspect of chemistry, but didn’t want to completely leave the field of science behind to pursue a different type of degree.
As a result, with the permission of her university, she crafted a Bachelor of Science Degree that still allowed her to explore her love of science, but this time specifically in genetics and evolution. She graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in The Evolution of Man in 1974.
Post-graduation, Mary stumbled upon a program that offered certification in electron microscopy and took advantage of it, furthering her understanding of biology as she was taught more about histology and anatomy.
She used this certification to conduct research as an Electron Microscopy Technician at the Sterling Winthrop Research Institute, (SWRI at the time), a pharmaceutical company in Rensselaer, New York. It was from within this company that Mary discovered technical writing.
She explained that SWRI would post openings that became available within the company and employees could apply for them; she saw a posting for a medical writer in the toxicology department, applied, and got the position. She explained, “I really liked it. I knew that that was it.”
Mary’s superior, a woman who expected nothing less than perfection, encouraged her to attend graduate school for technical writing, especially because the company would pay for it, should she choose to attend.
Of the 10-course Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Master’s degree program, one class is prominent in Mary’s memory: her writing and editing course. Mary stated that she was prepared for the program by the experience she’d gained in the field. “I got so much more out of the courses that I took after I started working—it was real. There was a reason for me to write like that; there was a reason for me to learn those things,” Mary noted; and it is apparent that she did.
After earning her master’s degree, Mary worked at Cornell University for the New York College of Veterinary Medicine as a Research Support Specialist Writer and Editor. Here, she wrote and edited manuscripts for publication in addition to assisting with grant proposal preparation.
Then she worked for Norwich Eaton Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in Norwich, New York, as a leader in their editorial support group. She also wrote and edited clinical and preclinical manuscripts for publication.
From there, she worked for the American Association of Equine Practitioners in Lexington, Kentucky, as an editor. Her current position is that of a freelance writer—a business she runs from her home in Ithaca, New York.
As a freelance writer, Mary prepares manuscripts for publication, regulatory documentation, monographs, and abstracts, sometimes for several clients at once.
Over the years, she has worked for several large companies, which often had large projects for her to complete. She explained that by now, she has learned how to manage her time without deviating from her projects—an imperative skill of a freelancer.
On average, she gives her clients 5 solid hours of work a day, a feat that can be difficult to achieve in an office setting because of all the distractions that can present themselves.
While freelancing is a career that Mary has excelled in and admits that it has its benefits, she explained that working for a company has its own advantages that should also be considered: “Everybody wants to be a freelancer. People think it’s nice because you pick your hours, you get to work in your pajamas, you can take a day off when you want to, and yada yada yada, but I never take a day off! I don’t dare take a day off—there’s too much to do! [Freelancing] is really tough. You work, work, work. At least with a real job, at 5 pm everyone goes home. With me, at 5 pm, I make dinner for my family, and I’m back to work at 7.”
“As a new writer, you’re going to have to get a real job. I have a really strong science background; I have a really good education, but 90% of what I do, I learned on the job. My first boss was merciless—she accepted nothing less than perfection, and we all hated her, but I really am indebted to her because of it,” she continued.
Mary sees herself first as a biologist and second as a technical writer. With a background in science that is as extensive as hers, this is a statement that is easily understood. However, her career has included opportunities to write, edit, and research in a way that can only be said is characteristic of those who take their job as a technical writer seriously.
As an editor, she found that she loved climbing into the heads of the clients she worked closely with and figuring out the precise arrangement of words that expressed their thoughts and ideas in the best way. She enjoys the process of being given a project on a topic she knows nothing about and doing the necessary research to understand it—to learn about it; to know the scope of her project inside and out—and then to deliver a document that is pleasing to her client.
Even with the ups and downs of freelancing, Mary has found a spot in her life that she is content with—a position that she hopes to maintain because she’s good at it and because she enjoys it.
She concluded, “What I hate about writing is cranking out that first draft. Once it’s written though—once the thing is on paper—I like going through and editing, making it flow, cleaning it up, working with the author to make it right. I really enjoy doing that; I think it’s a valuable service, and I think I’m good at providing it.”