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.

Case Studies: Data Science careers

Dr Kim Nilsson, Pivigo:

Kim is an Astrophysics PhD turned Entrepreneur. She is the CEO of Pivigo, an organisation focused on supporting analytical MScs and PhDs in their career transitions into data science roles. She is passionate about people, data and connecting the two.

Kim realised that, despite being a Hubble astronomer, academia was not for her.  She undertook an MBA and worked briefly in financial services before setting up her own company.  Pivigo helps researchers gain commercial experience that will help them into a data science career.

On the day she spoke, there were 4003 jobs on LinkedIn with the title ‘data scientist’.  A starting salary will be £35-£50k.  The different sectors include commerce, operations, consumer marketing, local government and charities.

Key skills include Python, R and Java.  You need to have curiosity and scepticism, and ability to communicate and some business awareness.  Your CV needs to show HOW you apply your data skills to problems.

Check out MOOCs on Coursera, competitions on Kaggle or create your own data challenge!

Dr Ana Costa e Silva, TIBCO:

Ana has 15 years experience with data, undergraduate studies in Business and a PhD in computer science (AI) from the Edinburgh University. She has previously been a manager economic statistician for the Statistics department of the Portuguese Central Bank and a researcher of the inner workings of the global stock market for Edinburgh Partners.

Ana’s company helps businesses understand their data and start to respect their customers.  Her data analysis helps to optimise pricing, check for fraud, re-route transport (eg container ships avoiding storms and finding available docking).  She helps the engineers in the company make their products look better (eg in oil and gas, optimising engineering tools, and in healthcare, getting sensors to call nurses when there are changes in patient data).  One client was a casino company, MGM Resorts, and they looked at historic data to see which punters had not yet lost too much money: these people were texted with offers at other entertainment places and then encouraged back, as data demonstrated that people who had not lost too much were more likely to come back and spend more money.

Dr Zach Izham, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Zach has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and after several roles in aero-engineering, is now responsible for designing, implementing and testing solutions for data analytics and machine learning for clients in insurance/ banking/automotive industries and also governmental agencies from a ‘data science’ perspective.

He talked about why he left academia, citing the main reason as being that it would not be possible to earn enough money.  He works for HPE where he helps businesses leverage their data to run a more efficient business.  Issues he encounters are where servers don’t talk to each other and he has to find solutions to problems.  He encourage attendees to be picky about the business they choose to work in and consider starting their own business.

He says that AI becomes Machine Learning when it is mainstream, such as the self-driving car.

Interesting courses include Andrew Lung’s Coursera course and you should check out SiliconMilkRoundabout (jobs fair for tech people).

Case Studies: Consulting Careers

Three King’s alumni tell their stories about their different experiences in consulting.

Dr Fahd Choudhury, Deloitte

Fahd defines management consultants as ‘people who help a business implement a change’.  He moved from a PhD studying Alzheimer’s disease as he found that it wasn’t really bringing enough meaning: there wasn’t really a point where there was a yes/no answer.  After spending some time at Merck & Co, he moved to Deloitte where he spent six months in the life science consulting division before moving into banking.  Here he was worked in some of the most profile banking mergers of recent years and is able to say ‘I helped build TSB’!  He built the credit risk function, which took 2.5 years to do and cost over £1bn.  He also gets involved in look at the conduct of sales staff and how TSB brings on new customers.  He advises the company on how to defend itself or collaborate with technology affecting credit card providers.

Through the opportunities Deloitte gives to employees to do some pro-bono work, he has been able to get to know the CEO and Head of Research at the Alzheimer’s Society, thus giving and outlet to his science interest.

Dr Shirley Wong, Sociable Pharma

Shirley’s PhD is from the Dental Institute.  She took 18 months to move into the role that she wanted and she did some work for the Oxbridge Round Table to help her get some relevant experience.  She started off working for a small competitive intelligence company and then moved to be an analyst working for Sociable Pharma.  Here her work is not to change business structure, but to help them to be more competitive.

Work might include looking at the ‘landscape’ of particular therapy areas: what drugs are there, what are the regulatory checkpoints that competitors have reached, comparing the situation in the UK, EU and US.  She has been to two conferences since starting in June where she gets to talk to clients and key opinion formers.

She feels she’s learning all the time, particularly the jargon of the business and how better to do stakeholder engagement.

Dr Catie Rousset, Prescient Healthcare

Catie’s post-doc was in the medical imaging department at St Thomas’s.  She moved into Prescient about 18 months ago (you can read more about Catie’s journey here).  Prescient works in partnership with 16 of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical firms in three areas: new product planning, brand planning and mature brand planning.  They do this through stake holder research, workshop moderation and arranging conferences.

She feels it took about six months to understand what the job is and how to get the right information from people.  It’s different from academia in that there is a different kind of pressure: each client brings its own pressure.  You develop a broader knowledge rather than having a deep expertise.  You HAVE to work with people, rather than on your own!  You learn new skills, particularly in presentation and learning about new areas.  So far, it has not got boring, there are no labs to work in, and there is some travel!

Smaller companies may appreciate a speculative approach to them.  Language skills help (her company works 24/7 across Asia, Europe and the US), and there are roughtly 50/50 women/men.  She works more or fewer hours depending on the time of year.  Ad-hoc projects from clients increase as the financial year proceeds and at conference season days can be very long.  Otherwise, you can decide how much of yourself you want to invest in the role.

 

 

 

 

Case Study: working as a cultural researcher

Gabriela Mejan completed her PhD in Visual Culture at King’s in 2013.  Here she writes about her experiences of finding work, what she did during her PhD, and gives some advice to people currently looking for help.

I applied for academic jobs for 2 consecutive years (this means hours and hours of searching, filling applications, asking for reference letters). I was not even shortlisted for one single interview (this means getting a rejection e-mail almost every week). I also applied for all the postdocs I could find. The last rejection letter arrived in July.

THE ALTERNATIVE During my PhD years I always worked as a free-lance contractor for agencies like Lindsell Marketing and Marketcast International. My duties were mostly analysing data, working on translation and producing digital content in both English and Spanish. This kind of job was compatible with my studies as it was super flexible, walking distance from King’s and it also helped pay my bills. It also proved useful for me to find a job at Mavens of London right after my viva. It was a good job and a lovely working environment but it was also a marketing-oriented role. And my main interest is cultural studies (rather than helping companies sell more detergent, if you see what I mean). So I did feel frustrated. That was why I kept on applying for academic jobs.

DIGITAL PRESENCE IS A MUST I have made sure I keep a healthy, ambitious, active and visible profile online across different networks, including LinkedIn. This was how I first heard of Space Doctors. The main reason why I became interested in their work was because they recruit highly qualified researchers to provide cultural insight studies. Then they may apply such studies to marketing strategies but I don’t get to be involved in that part.

NOT (REALLY) PAID BUT REALLY REWARDING ROLES I have also kept my ties with academia as a Visiting Research Fellow at SPLAS. I coordinated a symposium there just last month, the result was fantastic and a very relevant publisher in our field offered to publish a book based on our presentations. In addition in the past few months I have helped organise Museomix, a global creative marathon. The one in Mexico took place at the Palace of Fine Arts. Museomix is a collaborative-art experience very similar to Fun Palaces which takes place every year in the UK.

MY ADVICE Find a day job outside the academia which involves putting your knowledge to good use: a think thank, a cultural organisation in need of researchers, a digital content publisher. Keep your ties with the academia but don’t expect to make a living out of it. Be creative!!! This is the free-lance, digital era after all. You could suggest work to employers that they might not thought about.

Arts & Humanities Case Studies: Learned Societies

This interview, and the others published over the past and next few weeks, are with the employers represented at the recent King’s College London Arts & Humanities PhD careers event. They have been written by PhD candidate Valeria Valotto, to whom we are very grateful!

From MPhil English to Acting Executive Director at the Royal Literary Society

Molly Rosenberg

Current position: Acting Executive Director at the Royal Society for Literature.

Starting point:

After studying English at KCL and Berkeley I undertook a number of internships in the Cultural Sector, mainly in fundraising and marketing. In 2013 I took a break from my job to pursue an MPhil in English Literature at Trinity College Dublin.

End point:

After completing my MPhil I realised I had been missing the active engagement with culture and literature. It was a natural move to apply to the Royal Society for Literature – where I had worked previously in Publicity and Marketing first and then in Communications.

How did you make it?

Previous internships and job experience with the RSL made my transition smoother. Having built a good relationship with my manager helped me getting my new position at the Royal Society for Literature.