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Technical Communication: An interview with recent grad Zachary Moser-Katz

November 22, 2012

Published here on January 21, 2013

There are many, many aspects of the business world that are associated with communication. Public relations is one aspect, but there are many more including journalism, human resources and sales. Another particular aspect is technical communication, defined here by the Society for Technical Communication. You can check out the link, but essentially, technical communication involves communication about advanced, technical topics or writing instructions on how to do something technical.

One recent N.C. State graduate, Zachary Moser-Katz, enjoys this field of communication as a career. He currently works for Duke Clinical Research Institute as a Communication Specialist. He agreed to be interviewed about his job and what it entails and about the path he’s taken to get there.

PRSSA thanks Zachary for his time and advice. We also encourage you to check out these diverse career opportunities. Not everyone has to work at a PR Agency in New York.

His Background:

Zachary first came to N.C. State with plans to go into news reporting after graduation. During his time here, he worked for the Technician, both as a news writer and a Viewpoint editor. He echoes the often-heard sentiment that getting outside of the classroom and attaining real-world experience is incredibly important.

“The simple act of performing background research and producing print-worthy writing nearly every day helped me hone my writing skills unlike anything else in my undergraduate education,” Zachary said.

Also during his undergraduate experience, Zachary traveled to Hiroshima, Japan for a year to study abroad. While there, he earned enough credits for graduation. Zachary graduated from N.C. State in 2010 with an English Language Writing and Rhetoric degree, an International Studies degree and a minor in Japanese.

“The experience was incredible,” Zachary said about Japan, “I could go on and on about how it changed my perception of the world.”

However, despite all of his qualifications, six months passed by after graduation, and Zachary still was without a job. In order to stand out in the highly competitive job market, Zachary returned to N.C. State to pursue a Masters of Science and Technical Communication.

“This program was really fantastic for me because it is very focused on practical knowledge,” Zachary said. “After applying for so many jobs, I already had an idea of what companies were looking for from professional writers and I could literally check each skill set off the list as I progressed through the program.”

The program was worth it. A month before his graduation, Zachary was offered his current job. He has been there for six and a half months.

Technical Communication:

As with most positions in the communication field, Zachary’s day-to-day job varies widely, depending on what the rest of the organization needs. Some of his tasks include:

  • Developing written marketing material and brochures for medical conferences
  • Managing social media output
  • Providing web troubleshooting and training for content management issues
  • Creating online surveys

Also, perhaps most importantly, Zachary is in charge of keeping the public (both inside and outside the walls of the Institute) informed on the latest research. This is where the technical communication part comes in. Zachary essentially has to take all of the technical writing from the research reports and put it into a form that most people can understand.

“It requires a great deal of ingenuity and imagination,” Zachary said. “In my current position, I am constantly faced with incomprehensible information that I must analyze, interpret and reiterate.”

He is quick to point out that this writing is no less fascinating than any other type of writing.

“I think that many people outside the fields of news or technical writing have the misconception that they are very dull forms of writing. I disagree with this assertion.”

Note from the author: Personally, the challenge of “translating” all of the technical information into something more easily understandable sounds very rewarding. All PR pros are problem solvers, and a lack of information is a problem. Zachary is an excellent example of how communication skills get put to work in the real world.

Zachary says that the biggest challenge that comes from this type of work, though, is the lack of recognition. Don’t become a technical specialist if the most important thing to you is a byline. Technical communication is very hard work, and often times the audiences for which you are writing don’t think about that aspect.

“I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that most of the time my work is going to happen behind the scenes,” Zachary said.

That’s not to say there are no positives.

“The appeal of technical communications is that you are constantly exposed to new and fascinating information.” Zachary said. “Working for DCRI can be challenging at times, but in the end I know that I am contributing to initiatives that could revolutionize medical science and save millions of lives.”

Advice for students:

Zachary’s biggest piece of advice is to get out of the classroom and into the work field as soon as possible. Working internships is not only the best way to market yourself to a future employee, but they are also networking opportunities and a way to narrow your future focus.

“I know that advisors and professors probably already tell you that you will need job experience,” Zachary said. “But take it from someone who spent 6 extremely frustrating months job hunting with really no success: the more experience you get now the less stress you will have later.

He also recommends keeping track of your skills and experience so that you can easily refer back to this when applying for jobs after graduation. This can easily be done through keeping your LinkedIn profile and résumé current.

“If you keep track all-along that will probably also serve you better in the long run,” Zachary said.

Other than that, Zachary encourages students to keep an open mind and seek out a role that gives the most satisfaction.

“If you have a passion for what you are doing, the success will eventually follow,” Zachary said.

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