How to be well informed about working in life science

I want to work in the life science industry: How do I become more commercially aware?

As a PhD student or postdoctoral researcher, you may be considering a job in the life science industry. Without any previous industry experience, it can be an uphill struggle to show that you understand the sector, how it works, and how they make their money. This knowledge is known as commercial awareness and can take some time to develop. Often, it is developed once you are in a sector, as you become familiar with how the organisation works.  However, many employers want you to illustrate that you have commercial awareness on your CV and in an interview. It is therefore worth doing some research and trying to gain a little more expertise in this area. It will make a big difference to your chances of securing an industry job.

Here are four tips on how to do this:

 Hang out where industry people hang out!

Membership organisations such as OBN, OBR and OneNucleus often organise networking events where you can learn about current trends in life science and meet people from industry. Go along to an event, update your knowledge of the sector and speak to people about their jobs. It sounds obvious but networking within academic circles will not improve your understanding of how industry works.

Understand the sector

The life science sector has undergone a lot of changes over the last 20 years, with new business models evolving. Do your research to understand what is happening e.g. new business models now means that research and development happens within a range of organisations such as biopharmaceutical companies, medical technology companies, contract research organisations and not for profits.

Begin your research by reading online publications and following relevant people and organisations on Twitter e.g. The Government Office for Life Science. The following articles also give an overview of the life science sector in both the UK and globally, respectively:

Enter life science business competitions

There are several competitions that can help scientists learn about the commercialisation of research, which is an important part of developing commercial awareness. Try to enter such competitions as they often provide some training as well as exposure to industry experts.

 Get some work experience

This is difficult to achieve whilst continuing to do your research. You are already in a full-time job, after all! Some researchers take annual leave and some work at the weekends to broaden their expertise.  If potential work experience will benefit your current research or your PI, it might be possible to organise some time away from the laboratory.

Here are a few ideas for gaining work experience that will improve your commercial awareness:

  • Look out for part-time work opportunities doing consultancy work. These are sometimes posted on the Kings College London Graduate School Blog. Also look at the OBR website or Freshminds for occasional consultancy opportunities.
  • Sign up to the Kings Research Consultancy where you have the chance to work with an external organisation on a topic that relates to your research.
  • Look out for part-time work opportunities or project based work that can be done alongside your research. Look at Kings JobOnline for such opportunities and look for roles that have a business or commercial focus.
  • Keep up to date with business issues that relate to King’s researchers, by subscribing to and reading the Kings College London Graduate School Blog. Search in the ‘Business’ category on the right-hand side.

Many thanks to Dr. Tracy Bussoli for this guest blog. Find more about Tracy here.

A career in medical communications – visit to Nucleus Global

Nucleus Global is a group of medical communications agencies that provides full in-house consulting and communications services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and to healthcare professionals. They have offices across the globe.

As well as a number of full-service medical communications agencies, Nucleus Global also has its own continuing and independent medical education companies. You can find out more about them here. To find about more about medical communications careers click here.

As an employer, they focus on recruiting people with science PhDs for both their client services and editorial roles because of the depth of knowledge and advanced scientific and research skills.  Nucleus Global continuously recruits throughout the year.

They initially require a CV which is followed by a brief phone call. The CV is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate good communication skills. It should be attractive, well laid out with perfect grammar and spelling. You should also demonstrate how your skills match the needs of medical communications.

If you are successful in the initial screening there is a writing test and usually an interview process, which is competency based.  Candidates are given one week to complete the writing test to a brief which is provided. Demonstration of effective plain English written communication is essential to success in the recruitment process.

The company places good value on activities additional to your research. This may be volunteering, taking on extra responsibilities, playing sport or other activities that demonstrate your interests and strengths. You should also consider how your values align with those of the company, which is very team oriented and wants to work with people who thrive in this sort of environment. This can be quite a contrast to the more solitary life of an academic researcher.

As a business, the company has a much faster pace than academic research but maintains the same scientific rigour and high ethical standards. Finally, as a global business, with a diverse range of clients, your people skills are highly valued and vital to succeeding.

Many thanks to all at Nucleus Global for hosting the visit and being so generous with their time and insights.

Finding a job in life sciences

The prospect of securing a job in industry can seem daunting. The process can be nuanced and non-linear, full of barriers and setbacks. Before embarking upon the journey, be prepared for some rejection and try to accept that it might take some time!

Over the last eight years, I have watched a considerable number of researchers secure roles in industry. Here are some tips, based on my observations.

 Explore all industry sectors and roles

Look at the range of functions and roles within pharmaceuticals, biotechnology companies and contract research organisations. See below for a list of organisations:

Research and development is the typical area that attracts PhDs and postdocs; within this falls drug discovery, preclinical, clinical research and process development. Drug discovery and preclinical research jobs are typical jobs for PhDs and postdocs; job titles within this area usually contain the word ‘scientist.’

Other roles include business development managers, regulatory affairs specialists, medical scientific liaison (MSL) specialists, medical writers and life science consultants/analysts. Search for roles using a variety of terms and then read the job descriptions to see if you fulfil the criteria.

 Let everyone know that you are looking for work

It is easy to keep talking to other PhD students, postdocs and academics about job opportunities but this is not going to work if you want to find a job in industry! It is vital, and common practice, to let people outside your network know you are looking for a job.

Sign up to two or three specialist recruitment companies and go in with your eyes open! Many life science companies use recruiters, especially if they want to advertise roles without people knowing they are recruiting/relocating staff. Use the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) members list to find reputable companies. The University of Kent also has a list of science recruitment agencies on their website.

Set up a LinkedIn account and write your profile in a way that will attract industry professionals and recruiters. Emphasise your area of expertise, your research techniques and soft skills such as time management and leadership skills. Illustrate your skills with evidence such as supervising undergraduates or PhD students if you are demonstrating leadership.

Know what is happening in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector

It is easier to have conversations with people if you know what’s happening in their sector. It provides you with topics of conversation and demonstrates that you are serious about making a transition into industry. Start developing what employers refer to as commercial awareness. Look at industry blogs such as The Guardian’s Pharmaceuticals Industry or the the BBSRC’s Business Magazine to stay informed about ‘all things industry.’  You can also follow relevant Twitter feeds such as @BiotechNews and @Biotechnology. Deloitte also recently published a comprehensive article on the life science industry called 2016 Global Life Sciences Outlook. Worth a read before talking to industry people.

 Meet people from industry

It is crucial to get out and meet people from the sectors in which you would like to work. This can be an overwhelming thought for ‘more introverted’ scientists. Try to develop a curious outlook, asking intelligent questions and finding out about people’s work. Approach networking in the way you approach science, making your research topic people and their careers! Be curious, listen and think about how your work and experience might fit with the work that people are doing. When you first start networking, try not to feel the pressure of trying to impress – listening and being curious can go a long way.

One way to begin networking is to set up some information interviews. This is a one-to-one meeting with someone who has a role or career in which you are interested. It’s a chance for you to ask questions, gather information, learn about job options and career paths, and ask people for help to identify opportunities in their fields. Start off by approaching ‘warm’ contacts i.e. people that you know first or second hand or people you have something in common with such as PhD/postdoc alumni from Kings. Look at the LinkedIn pages of postdocs in your group to see if they know people that have moved into industry or ask your supervisor for their contacts, if appropriate. Then approach contacts on LinkedIn or by email and ask for 15 minutes of their time to have a chat about their role and company. Book an appointment with the PhD/postdoc Careers Consultant if you need some support with this as it can be tricky if you have not used this approach before.

Look out for events that may bring you into contact with potential employers e.g. One Nucleus and OBN host various seminars, events and training for people working in the life science sector. FirstMedCommsJob.com also run networking events for people wanting to work in medical communications. YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) competitions, in a range of disciplines, can give you the opportunity to gain business mentoring, meet industry experts and develop commercial awareness.

Dr. Tracy Bussoli, Freelance Careers Consultant

New on-line careers resources for PhD students and research staff

scrapbook-154813_640We’ve just added some new careers resources for PhD students and research staff to our on-line library.  These are the first three collections in a series which will eventually cover all faculties.

Please click the links below for your resources:

 

Arts & Humanities + Social Sciencehttp://libguides.kcl.ac.uk/phd-resources-social-science/

Natural and Mathematical Scienceshttp://libguides.kcl.ac.uk/phd-resources-nms

Life Scienceshttp://libguides.kcl.ac.uk/phd-resources-life-science

Professional Futures: Internationalising your PhD, 18th January 2017

Charles Laing is a Research Scientist at DLR – the German Aerospace Centre. He specialises in space physiology, cardiovascular physiology and spaceflight countermeasures. He undertook his PhD in Space Medicine at King’s College London and began working internationally in 2012. Charles will provide his insights into working internationally and about how his research is understood and valued in different contexts.

Charlie spoke about:

  • The different work cultures in the UK and Germany. In Germany everyone is very business focussed and will expect quick, clear and definite responses to issues. Saying you think you can deliver on a project will make your German colleagues wonder if you can, whereas in the UK this would be a clear commitment to doing so.
  • Finding international opportunities to continue your research can be done through networking, placements and conferences. Charlie was on placement in Germany as part of his M.A. and this helped him create the necessary links.
  • The approach to research at DLR (the German aerospace agency) is very different to pure academic research on a PhD, being much more like a regular job with fixed hours and projects.
  • DLR is huge – over 7000 people on one campus – but has very little profile in the UK. Charlie recommended researching organisations in your field as you might be surprised at the level of activity and opportunity.
  • Having publications helped Charlie secure his role in Germany as these are compulsory in the German research system to gain a research job.
  • A PhD is much more respected in Germany than in the UK. Germany can also be much more formal – it’s unusual to address a Professor by first name until you are well acquainted.
  • The chance to gain skills beyond research – Charlie said he learned a great deal about budgeting and budget management that he wouldn’t have had in an academic lab in the UK.
  • The chance to learn the perspectives of other cultures as well (in his case) learn German from scratch.
  • Funding systems for research can be very different abroad and are worth researching.
  • Research in Germany is growing rapidly, thanks to their government investment and there should be many opportunities available for those who are suitably qualified.

Advancing innovation in health – event on 28th February

Celebrate innovation in health at King’s College London at an event organised by the Entrepreneurship Institute and KCL’s health societies. At this evening talk you will learn more about the important role innovation and entrepreneurship play in tackling challenges currently faced by the health industry. Find out more here.
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Black and minority ethnic early career researcher conference

Black Minority and Ethnic Early Career Researchers (ECRs) are grossly underrepresented in academia. ECRs find themselves conducting many postdoctoral positions, and end up leaving research as they are unable to make the transition to a lectureship. This may be due to lack of skills, support and knowledge required to stay in academia.

This conference aims to empower researchers with the skills to remain in academia, such as having a good mentor, guidance on applying and writing fellowships, tips on networking, and finally a good work/career life balance.

There will be a diverse range of academics sharing their experiences on the day.

Refreshments and lunch will be provided.

Click here for the booking page.