Case Studies: Working in Pharmaceutical Companies

Guest post by Tom Davies, Careers Information Officer, King’s Careers & Employability

In this post we’ll aim to summarise some of the main points and advice given by each of the four speakers, all of whom are King’s alumni, at the recent event.

Dr Sarah Collington, Novartis

First up was Sarah, who works as a Medical Science Liaison for Novartis. Sarah’s first experience of working in the pharmaceutical industry came during her studies at King’s, where she spent her extramural year conducting research at GSK. While studying for her PhD Sarah realised that while still interested in science, she wanted a role that didn’t focus purely on this. In anticipation of this, and wanting to improve her commercial acumen, she also got involved in a couple of business related societies, an experience that was recommended to anyone potentially interested in a career path in this area. After some research and a couple of years working in different roles, she started working as a Medical Science Liaison, a role she’s been in for around two years.

A Medical Science Liaison sits between the research and commercial branches of a pharma company, and Sarah’s main tasks include assisting sales reps with medical or technical questions, and helping to resolve operational matters relating to medical trials, although she was keen to stress the flexible nature of the work she does. In summarising, Sarah said that she was really enjoying her role; she will always feel like a scientist in her heart, and while the role isn’t lab-based, it still allows her to think and feel like one.

Dr Steve Ludbrook, GSK

Steve decided he wanted to work at GSK as a result of doing an industrial placement year there during his BSc Biochemistry degree. Though he enjoyed his year working at GSK, it also reaffirmed the value of doing a PhD, after seeing that almost everyone working in the areas he was interested in possessed one. After returning to King’s to complete his PhD, Steve’s now worked at GSK for 20 years, with 15 of those spent in his current role as Group Leader in Technology Platforms and & Capability Screening. His main responsibilities are to manage lab-based projects, as well as line managing other members of staff working on these. It’s this collaborative working that Steve cited as one of the main positive elements of the role – working on projects with other talented people who have similar goals an aims in mind is something that he finds very rewarding.

There’s definite challenges though. This area of work is not particularly stable, with Steve citing the fact that the Research and Development arm of GSK has been cut to a third of the size it was when he started as evidence of this. Your everyday work can also be quite turbulent, with projects you’ve been working on for years not safe from being cut at a moment’s notice. Great amounts of resilience are necessary to deal with these testing situations. New starters, particularly those coming in from PhD or postdoc level, can also find the move from working individually to an insistence upon collaborative management of projects challenging.

Dr Fatos Bejta, Otsuka Pharmaceuticals

Fatos’ association with the pharmaceutical industry goes back to his days as a student, when he completed an industrial placement with GSK, who also part-funded his PhD. Despite this link, and unlike the first two panellists, Fatos’ career didn’t begin in the industry, but with the MHRA, a branch of the Civil Service who act as the regulator for new medicines, devices and more.

He moved over to an industry role after he was headhunted and offered a substantial pay rise. His time at this organisation ended when he lost his job after massive cuts were made, and this was also how his second role in industry ended. As Fatos said, this is an unfortunate reality of working in pharma, and you should be aware of it before you begin. He now works as a Senior Clinical Quality Management Specialist for Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, which largely consists of auditing the firm’s sites across the world for things such as drug safety and clinical data amongst other things.

Dr Parastoo Karoon, Amgen

Parastoo completed a BSc in Pharmacology and a PhD in Neuroscience, but realised during her studies that she found lab work repetitive and unfulfilling, so started looking for alternatives. Like Fatos she begun in the MHRA, where she worked on attempting to influence policy surrounding the issuing of child dosages, an issue she felt passionately about. She then moved to an even more policy-focused role, which led to her being part of a team who successfully lobbied the EU parliament for a change in regulations.

Typical roles in this line of work include assessors and pharmaceutical advisors, but Parastoo was keen to advise students not to get too hung up on applying only for their perfect role. Competition for vacancies is strong, but once you’ve got your foot in the door you’ll find that new positions will tend to favour internal applicants, giving you the opportunity to move into a role or policy area more matched to your interests.

Parastoo now works on the other side of the regulation floor, overseeing the research and evidence for new products for Amgen and advising them of any changes that need to be made before they go to regulation committee. Amgen has 8-10 internships/placements a year which are advertised here.

General advice from the Q&A

  • When writing your CV and cover letter for positions in industry, take care not to talk in too much detail about academia and specific technical skills unless they can clearly be tied into an aspect of the job/person specification. Unlike academic positions, where academics might have time to wade through pages and pages of information, recruiters in industry are likely to be very busy, so try to catch their eye and not make them work too hard to understand why you can be an asset. Your CV should be no more than two pages.
  • If you’re invited to interview, you will normally be expected to deliver a presentation as part of it. Be prepared for this, and if you’re not confident in your presentation skills, start thinking about ways you can practice!
  • Make sure that you do your research on the companies that you’re applying to, and again when you’re invited to interview. Their Pipelines are a good place to start, and should be easily locatable on their website.
  • Linked to the last point, Parastoo also advised students to try and identify companies to apply to who are innovative and pushing the boundaries of research, as working for such organisations can often be more fulfilling and interesting.

Two fantastic vacancies for PhDs….

http://jobonline.thecareersgroup.co.uk/kings/student/DisplayVacancy.aspx?id=9e9f8271-b66b-4357-8690-ad3b26bc6738

Science Communications at the British Heart Foundation.

 

http://jobonline.thecareersgroup.co.uk/kings/student/DisplayVacancy.aspx?id=15b2a44f-802f-40e1-aa66-b8074a469c40

Science policy within the EU.

NHS Scientist Training Programme: applications are live

**The deadline for this post is passed, but this may help you identify employers, job titles or skills you need to research your next posting**

Info from another careers adviser:

‘I have just ascertained that the STP (Scientist Training Programme in the NHS) vacancies have just gone live and can be accessed via www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/hcstp  and the vacancies will also be advertised in the New Scientist tomorrow.  The above link will be mentioned in the New Scientist advertisement. Applicants must look at the link which will take readers to the Scientist Training Programme pages on NHS Careers for further information including the updated FAQs, which are excellent and include one about completing the application form. The link includes details of the posts available and a generic job description and person specification. Applicants should tailor their application to their area of interest. These pages also contain a link to the application website. Again, the application should only be begun once applicants have read the material on the NHS Careers link as above.

I am pleased to say that there will be significant increase in the number of vacancies available. The closing date is 10am on 1 Feb 2013.

The graduate management scheme on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/nhsgraduatescheme/events lists the open days at trusts, which ideally, students should visit before making an application. These are taking place NOW. For example on Monday in Newcastle, on Wednesday in Bristol.

I understand the selection process will not have changed much from previous intakes.’

Please do let us help you with any applications!

Wellcome Trust Graduate Programme

**This post is over a year old but may help you identify employers, job titles or skills you need to research your next posting**
Graduate Development Programme – Engagement and Communications

Salary: £25000 + excellent benefits
Location: NW1
Job type: Fixed term contract
Date posted: 14/09/2012

Company Logo
How to apply
Name:
Brenda Carter
Info for Applicants:
Apply with:
CV and cover letter
Deadline for applications:
03/12/2012

The Wellcome Trust’s graduate development programme focusing on Engagement and Communications is now open to applications for positions starting in 2013