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….

Science Communications at the British Heart Foundation.

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  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 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
Brenda Carter
Info for Applicants:
Apply with:
CV and cover letter
Deadline for applications:

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

INVITATION: Professional Development Seminar for Early Career Biologists

**This event has happened, but use this post for inspiration for policy career ideas**
Date: 11 November 2011
Venue: Society of Biology, London
 The Centre for Science and Policy is collaborating with the Society of Biology to run a policy seminar for early career biologists, covering a range of biological disciplines and interest areas. The seminar, which will take place on 11 November at the Society of Biology in London, will introduce early career researchers to the opportunities and realities of engaging with policy.  Discussions will focus on how policy officials seek science advice, and will highlight examples of some of the issues they face, and the ways in which science gets into policy.
Seminar Format

Session 1: Presentations from academics who have been engaged in the policy process

Academics discuss the role they play(ed) in policy – how the process works and the challenges they face – to an audience of early career researchers and policy makers.

Session 2: Break-out and report-back session

Early career researchers (with help from the academics) break into groups to discuss their ideas for improving the policy process, and feed their conclusions back to a panel of policy makers.

Session 3: Response from policy makers

The panel discusses how science advice is sought, and advises on how the science community might best engage with policy makers.


  • Dr Helen Bodmer, Head of the MRC and Health Research Team at BIS, and a CSaP Policy Fellow
  • Tim Brigstocke, Policy Director, Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers
  • Gary Kass, Principal Specialist at Natural England and CSaP Policy Fellow
  • Professor Ajit Lalvani, Chair in Infectious Diseases, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London
  • Professor Ottoline Leyser, Associate Director at the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Nafees Meah, Head of the Climate and Energy Science Analysis Team in DECC
  • Professor Clive Page, Joint Head of Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, Professor of Pharmacology, Kings College London
  • Dr Miles Parker, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra and CSaP Associate Fellow
  • Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser at DfID

Who should attend

This seminar has been designed for researchers and policy makers who wish to engage in discussion and debate and think longer term about career paths and goals.

Updated March 2013

Food Research – 3 month fellowship

Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) Fellowship

Applications are now open for the 2010 Fellowship

Each year, in conjunction with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), IFST offers a 3-month Fellowship for a PhD student working in a food-related area.

POST is the UK Parliament’s) in-house source of independent, balanced and objective analysis of public policy issues relating to science and technology and provides information to the Houses of Lords and Commons. The successful applicant will work within the POST offices at Westminster, researching and writing briefing material in the form of a POSTnote for MPs and Peers that may be used by them to inform public policy areas. The successful candidate will have a clear interest in communicating scientific research and in producing a balanced, concise and interesting summary of their research. This is a tremendous opportunity to gain experience in science writing and a direct insight into how Parliament functions. IFST will support the fellow with funding of up to £5,000.

Applicants are invited from PhD students who are writing their thesis in a Food Science & Technology related area, but have not yet graduated. The deadline for applications is 12th April 2010.

Research: publishing it, reviewing it and talking about it publicly


Sense About Science will be holding a workshop on Peer Review at the University of Sussex on Friday 5th March. This afternoon event is free and for early career researchers in all sciences, engineering and medicine (PhD students, post-docs or equivalent in first job).

During the workshop we discuss the process of peer review in journal publishing and explore the criticisms of the peer review process. What does peer review do for science? Does it detect fraud and misconduct? Will it illuminate good ideas or shut them down?
Please find further information at<>.

These workshops are very popular and places are limited. To apply send a CV and covering letter explaining your reasons for applying and stating any affiliations you hold to Julia Wilson<>.

Away from the Bench but not away from Science

 A Graduate School Careers Seminar

 Dr David  Wiseman is a PhD who is working in the

Clinical and Translational Operations Funding Team of Cancer Research UK.

He is going to talk about his work, its challenges and rewards, and how he made the switch away from doing science to supporting science.

This session would be suitable for Post-docs as well as PhD’s and should open up ideas about what you could do next in your career


It will take place on Tuesday 2nd February

between 17.00 and 18.30 in the Graduate School Training room Waterloo Bridge Wing 4.14.

All welcome to attend, but let us know by email you are planning to come: