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!