1. Please describe your current position.
I’m part of the Medical Affairs team of a pharmaceutical company. Our team manages the clinical development of the company’s drugs and pipeline products.
2. How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?
About 2 years
3. How did you learn about your current position?
Past members of my post-doc lab had pursued this career option and that was the first time I had heard of this type of position. A few years into my post-doc, I started considering a career change and the MSL career path seemed very attractive, therefore I started positioning myself to be a good candidate.
As for my current position, I found the opening through my network connections and by attending a medical conference.
4. Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?
Inside the university there were limited resources, especially for post-docs. In many instances I was looking for information from resources primary geared to graduate students and because of that I wasn’t eligible for many initiatives.
I basically had to create my own resources by building a network, both inside and outside the university. My main resources were various contacts that either were MSLs themselves or had contacts with pharmaceutical companies and Medical Affairs teams. Also, as a professional networking tool, I extensively used LinkedIn, which I found useful, although it does have a limited scope.
5. What was your work or educational background before you were hired?
I had completed a B.S. in Biochemistry and a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. After completing my studies, I had a five-year post-doctoral experience in a translational cancer research lab, followed by one year as a research assistant professor.
6. Which aspects of your background (postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?
There are many aspects of my education and my training that prepared me for this position. Developing a strong scientific knowledge, engaging in translational research in my post-doc and also, participating in extracurricular activities, such as the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Scientific Review Committee (SRC). The last two activities enabled me to develop and manage relationships with medical professionals, which is an important aspect of my current position.
7. How long after your interview did you start your position? Were there any barriers to starting your position when you’d hoped?
After finishing my interviews, I started my new position within one month. My transition to the new position was quick and smooth.
8. Was your mentor supportive of your career choice?
Although my mentor showed understanding of my goal to change career paths, the best support he provided was a stable and secure job, which let me search for new jobs without the stress of having a specific end date. That is advice that I usually tell most people: if possible, start your job-search early, when you are still employed or in school.
9. How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?
The best way I prepared for my interview was having gone through other interviews. You always learn something new every time you go through that process, and that is a valuable experience that you can take to the next interview. Your skills and experiences are usually of a known quantity, the key is to be able to present them in a clear and focused way. The skill which I believe stood out in my case was my involvement in the particular field of translational cancer research that was relevant for that position and my interactions with medical professionals during my years as a post-doc.
10. Has your career trajectory followed the path you’d expected when you started graduate school?
The traditional academic track is well known to everyone and when you start graduate school you always consider that as your most likelihood path. However, I never had a dogmatic view of how my career path should be shaped. I was always open to new experiences and opportunities.
11. Was anything about your job not what you’d expected before you were hired?
Although there is a big adjustment curve that you need to go through when moving from an academic laboratory to a non-lab pharmaceutical position, I had talked to a lot of people beforehand about the nature of this job, so I had a good idea what I should expect.
12. What do you most like about your work?
I like that I’m still intellectually very involved in science and also have the opportunity to get involved in a variety of projects. I can observe how scientific data gets practically translated into drug development.
13. What do you find the most challenging about your work?
Compared to my years as a post-doc, now I come into contact with a lot more people and handle projects of various natures. At the beginning it was a challenge to keep track of everything.
14. What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?
You have to be able to work independently in the field, be very organized with your projects and manage you relationships, as there are deadlines and also other people in the company depend on your timely work.
15. Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?
Definitely! You have to be able to work productively in a team environment, without necessarily interacting daily and in-person with those team members. You also have to enjoy communicating and managing long-term relationships with a lot of people in the health care field. Last but not least, you have to enjoy and be able to handle a lot of traveling, even on short notices.
16. Are there any traits that would make it difficult to succeed in your position?
You need to have developed a high set of people-skills as you will be interacting with a lot of unfamiliar people and need to quickly connect to them. An introvert will not do well.
17. What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?
Start early, build and learn from your network, take interview opportunities whenever you can and…build more of that network!