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.

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.





Career Spotlight: Working in Scientific Industries

With many thanks indeed to Dr Lorena Benedetti for hosting this event, and writing up these notes.

Our speakers included Dr Hilary Sandig, from Medimmune; and Rhahul Dhorijawala from Amco Ltd.

Dr Lea Lahnstein was unable to attend the event but sent these notes about her transition to working at GE Healthcare. Lea Lahnstein Career Spotlight 29.04.2015


Hilary moved to industry mainly to have secure job and to have the opportunity to work in applied science. Her role includes reproducing data from the literature and although most of her projects are applied, she does some basic research about targets. She doesn’t agree with the misconception that the quality of the science in industry is not very good!

She enjoys the fact that industry feels much more of more team environment and everybody wants to help you.

The things she doesn’t like that much are that there’s a lot of bureaucracy and training and that she spends a lot of time in meeting (sometimes twice a day).

Summary of the good things about working in industry:

  • Work as part of a team
  • Generate new therapies
  • Negative data is always appreciated because it stops a project that doesn’t work (and saves a lot of money!)
  • Job security and benefits. Sometimes the salary is a bit higher that the one you may get in academia but you have more befits (bonuses, health insurance, gym memberships).
  • Having a defined goal (the work is much more organised)
  • You get to interact with a lot of people
  • You get more recognition

Summary of bad things about working in industry:

  • Less freedom in what you can do, but you still get opportunities to publish.
  • Sometimes you end up working in sth you don’t like that much but have to finish it
  • You have less freedom to discuss the science with friends (which is sth we all do a lot in academia)
  • It’s extremely hierarchically and it’s not that easy to get a promotion
  • In some ways it’s less sociable (she doesn’t go to pub with her colleagues on Fridays)
  • You get a lot done in a day; you never have an easy day (as you sometimes may have in academia).

She found the job from an email a friend that was subscribed to the flow citometry mailing list forwarded her. So her advice is to subscribe to mailing lists.

How did she prepare for the interview? She practiced with King’s Careers.

Useful tips: If you are applying for job consider applying to cover maternity leave positions, they will allow you to be known at the company and if you did a good job, they will probably try to get the money to offer you a permanent position. When applying to a job spend some time trying to find out who is the person that will receive the cvs and contact that person for an informal conversation.

In your cv and during the interview emphasize that you enjoy working in teams.

Interesting data: Astra Zeneca is moving to Cambridge in 2016 and probably a lot of people won’t move so there will be a lot of job opportunities.


He’s never been in academia but he very much appreciates the soft skills that we develop in academia. If you are transitioning form academia to industry it’s better to start at a lower lever level and learn the specific skills required for the new job.

He’s never done a real job interview; he got all his jobs from networking. For him the key to get a job is to know somebody, you have to get exposed and don’t be afraid of asking! Show your personality.

He started working at Glaxo, it’s a big company with 5000 employees. To get a promotion working in such a big company is not easy: instead, he moved to a role as a product developer with a contact who had just started a generics company. He didn’t have a business background but he learned about it by talking to people. The more you get to know somebody the more that person will tell you so again the key is interact with people!

Useful tips: Try to avoid recruiting agencies but if there’s no other option make sure they don’t modify your cv and if they do so make sure they send you the version they are sending to the companies.

Advice for the cv and interview: Keep your cv short (no more than 2 pages); speaking more than one language is very much appreciated (it makes it easier for the company to contact new clients from different markets). During the interview take the time to listen to question and think about the answer, don’t be afraid of silence!



Final Career Spotlight: Working in Science Industries

The final career spotlight of 2015 is next Wednesday, 29th April, 5.30-6.30pm, FWB1.71

It features three KCL alumni who work in different parts of scientific industries:

Rahul Dhorajiwala: Rahul studied a MSc in Pharmaceutical Technology at KCL.  He spent an early part of his career at GlaxoSmithkline working in the Inhalation Formulation Development department.  After a few years he made the transition into Project Management at IVAX (now Teva) and being responsible for the delivery of new project launches.  After working in a number of Project Management roles he is currently at Amdipharm Mercury as Head of Strategic Projects working in the Business Development department.

Lea-Rebecca Lahnstein: Lea has a PhD from KCL which researched the practices and governance of storing and sharing biological samples and data for the purpose of biomedical research. Through various internships in the UK and Germany, Lea worked for a biobank and now for GE Healthcare in Technology and Medical Solutions.   She has learnt not to be intimidated by changes in direction, discrepancies in knowledge and experience or institutional boundaries, because all of these are already intrinsic to the practices of the biosciences.

Hilary Sandig: Hilary is an immunologist with a PhD from Imperial College. Having worked as a postdoc at KCL on two occasions, at UCSD and at Manchester University she now works for the biologics company, Medimmune, in Cambridge. Medimmune is owned by AstraZeneca and Hilary has been working there for two years as a researcher in the Respiratory, Autoimmunity and Inflammation group.

Please come along to find out more about the transition into industry.