Spotlight on Research outside Academia – notes from the panel event

If you weren’t able to come to the recent event about working in scientific research outside academia, here are some top tips from the session:

Our speakers were:

Sunish Patel

  • Title:      Senior Analytical Scientist at GSK
  • PhD:      Pharmaceutics and Drug Design from UCL

Sunish’s PhD was a combination of drug discovery and drug delivery. During his PhD he developed new hydrophobic peptides and investigated their oral and SC delivery using polymeric nano particles.

Ruth Mokgogong

  • Title: Health Outcomes Research Manager – Pfizer
  • PhD: Neuropharmacology at University of Cambridge

Ruth is part of the Health & Value Outcomes team at Pfizer, where she now focuses more upon public health than she did during her academic studies. Her work includes conducting research and analyses on clinical trials and observational studies. In addition she is also involved in health economics research.

1) Each of our speakers had not gone directly into these roles: Sunish worked as a community pharmacist directly after his MPharm, and Ruth worked as a life science consultant first.  Sunish made 60 applications before eventually going through a GSK recruitment agency (PPD) to get the role.

2) Sunish indicated that PhD entrants are likely to get selected for more complex projects because of their prior experience, which would lead to potentially more interesting internal moves.  You’re likely to be able to, for example, add extra value to a department through cutting time on SOPs, which is helpful at appraisal time.

3) The lab environment in industry is broadly similar to a university lab; there may be more safety management procedures in place but otherwise the daily routine of experiments in the morning and then analysing data in the afternoons is pretty much the same.  You are more likely to have access to your own set of equipment rather than having to book and share it with other groups.

4) Ruth’s role, managing clinical trials on rare ‘orphan diseases’, reminds us that ethical approvals are difficult to come by in industry as well as academia.  The technical skills she uses, of observational study, desk-based statistical research and systematic reviews, are those many academics regularly use.

5) While companies such as Pfizer are based in the US, the UK offices are valued by them because of the rigour involved in getting approvals for market access, essentially to sell drugs to the NHS.  Companies reason that they need UK know-how to get access to this market and in doing so, get themselves into the European market too.

6) One big change from academia is having to have a corporate outlook.  You have to learn to manage up and down, and to be good at project management.

7) Ruth indicated that in her world (health economics), employers liked people with business knowledge and that it is easier to get into life science consulting than it is into business.

8) Work/life balance seemed pretty good for both speakers.  Ruth indicated that the hours in consulting were longer than in her current role.  Travel may well be involved, specially if the company is headquartered overseas.  GSK operates a flexi-time approach.

9) There are vacancies currently in specialist areas such as statisticians or health technologists.  GSK uses a lot of ‘contingency’ staff (essentially contractors) and this is a good way to see the internal vacancy list, for example.

10) When asked how they decided to get into their particular roles, both speakers talked about taking a chance, taking a risk and not necessarily having ALL information available to them.  ‘It looked interesting’ said Ruth!

Life and Health Sciences event at The Crick Institute, 22nd Nov – information for research staff

Crick Event Promo Picture


The Life & Health Science Careers Event will host some of the UK’s largest graduate employers in life science, health, consulting and medical sciences related industries, this is a fantastic chance to network and explore a career with sector-leading companies.

The Francis Crick Institute, the world-leading biomedical research institute will be hosting the fair in their new laboratory building and Life Science students from King’s College London, Imperial College London & UCL are invited to attend.

Exhibitors include: AstraZeneca, Celgene, Cancer Research UK, GSK, NHS Leadership Academy, IBM, Procter & Gamble, National School Of Health Care Science, The Wellcome Trust, Unilever, amongst others.

Research Staff should email, with their name and research area, and time preference.  Time slots are: 17:00 – 17:50, 17:50 – 18:40, 18:40 – 19:30.

PhDs need to book to attend this event, using this link:


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.

L’Oréal online careers event

L’Oréal, the World’s No. 1 beauty company, is searching for PhD-holding professionals to join their worldwide formulation teams.

As scientist, passionate about making breakthrough innovations and with a desire to see your science transformed into products then join us on 5 November for the Liveday. After an Online Presentation by Dr. Odile Aubrun on the topic of “How to control nanoemulsions stability?”, you will have the opportunity to interact live with L’Oréal’s experts from all over the globe.

To find out more about this event and to apply, click here.

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!