New global Medical Science Liaison Society launches

Dr. Samuel Dyer, founder of the MSL World career site for medical science liaisons, has asked me to share the following release regarding the launch of the first ever global Medical Science Liaison Society.

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Posted: November 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Medical Science Liaisons | Tags: , | No Comments »

Are professional science master’s programs worth the investment?

A few days after I posted my last entry, on post-graduate training programs for pharma careers, GenomeWeb posted a link to a recent report from the Council of Graduate Schools which looks at outcomes for graduate from professional science masters programs.

“Professional Science Masters” (PSM) programs are fairly new.  For an overview, you can check out this New York Times article, which describes the way these  programs have grown since their initial introduction:

“I think of it as a 21st-century degree,” said David King, dean of graduate studies and research at the State University of New York College at Oswego. “It’s interdisciplinary. It’s a hybrid, which I think is more agile. It’s responsive to rapidly changing needs in terms of the job market.”

Nature has also written about these programs. As the Student Outcomes Survey report describes them,

“The PSM degree is designed to allow students to pursue advanced training in science, while
simultaneously developing workplace skills highly valued by employers. PSM programs prepare graduates for careers in business, government, and non-profit organizations, combining rigorous study in science and/or mathematics with coursework in management, policy, law, or related fields.

Along with an emphasis on the development of professional skills such as writing, leadership, and communication, most PSM programs require an experiential component that must include a final project that is developed with an employer. The experiential component typically includes an internship in a business or public sector setting.”

More than 50% of students in these programs are in a course of study related to the life sciences.  But are the programs a good career move?  According to the report,

“Since this survey was implemented roughly one to two months after spring 2011 graduation, and approximately six months after December 2010 graduation, the fact that 81.6% of respondents were employed so soon after graduation is an encouraging finding, especially given the current job market and unemployment rate. Among respondents who were working, 88.4% were working in a job that is closely or somewhat related to their field of study.”

The full report also includes some interesting data on what students found themselves doing after graduation, and about the salaries they were receiving.  You can find out more about different PSM programs that are available by checking out

(Note that there are lots of postgraduate training programs that follow a ‘professional’ model without being officially part of the PSM program. However, you can be reasonably sure that a program that carries the official PSM brand is not a fly-by-night operation!)

Posted: September 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Education, Training | Tags: , | No Comments »

How to choose a clinical research training program

It’s getting to the point where you can’t open a newspaper or current affairs magazine without reading an article about how difficult it is to get a decent job these days. See, for example, “The Youth Unemployment Bomb” in Business Week or “The Outsiders” in the Economist. Many new graduates leave college deep in debt, and find that their degree is not quite the ticket to ride they had thought it would be. As a result, many are deciding to head back to school to pursue career-focused postgraduate education.

Career colleges and ‘practical’ masters degree programs are a very visible example of supply and demand. If a particular job category is seen as ‘hot’, you can bet you’ll be able to find a college ready to sell you a postgraduate program promising to prepare you for the field. Some require a year or more of classwork, whereas others offer results from a short online program. Many promise internships, co-op placements and opportunities to network with industry professionals. This is definitely true of the pharmaceutical sector: there are almost too many programs to count offering classes, certificates and degrees in clinical research, regulatory affairs, pharmaceutical quality control, and just about any other role in the sector.

Personally, I think this is a pretty disgusting development. It used to be that new graduates would be given a chance at an entry-level role, and trained on the job. Their college diploma or graduate degree was sufficient evidence to show that they were smart enough and determined enough to be given a chance to perform. Many of the current leaders in the pharmaceutical industry got where they are after being hired right out of school with little or no ‘real-world’ experience. Nowadays, students pay through the nose for their undergraduate education, only to find that they are expected to pay even more when they finish. They attend career colleges in order to gain access to internships, paying tuition instead of receiving a paycheque as they get that vitally-important entry level experience. It seems like an incredibly exploitative system.

Clearly, this can be a treacherous – and expensive – path for someone who’s simply trying to get their foot in the door to begin their working life. If you are trying to fulfill your career goals of becoming a clinical research associate, for example, how do you navigate this maze of choices, avoid ripoffs and scams, and find a program that’s right for you?

If you have decided that some additional training is the right next step for you, here are some things to look for when researching and choosing which institution will receive your hard-earned dollars:

(1) Bricks and mortar. One of the greatest advantages that a career training program can offer is the opportunity to build your network with people who are, or soon will be working in the pharmaceutical industry. Online programs simply can’t offer the same chance to get to know your classmates and teachers.

(2) Professional faculty: Your program should be taught by people with current, real-world experience in the industry. The program website should offer detailed bios on all lecturers and guest speakers. Google their names, and make sure that their pharmaceutical industry experience is relevant, significant, and recent. Clinical research, regulatory affairs and other pharmaceutical careers are very dynamic. You want to be sure you’re learning from someone who has experience with the most current facets of the industry.

(3) Pedigree/Reputation. In order for the program to add cachet to your resume, people will have to have heard of it. For this reason, a program that’s affiliated with a well-known institution may be better than a small standalone career college. If you’re not sure about the program’s reputation, do some investigating! Post a question to a relevant linkedin group, or ask for recommendations during your informational interviews. You can also check with professional organizations (like ACRP or SoCRA for clinical research) to see what programs they suggest.

Posted: August 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Education, Resources, Training | 2 Comments »

How to get started in science writing and communications

There was another interesting discussion over at ask.metafilter this week.  This time, the conversation was about scientific communications.

As I enter the (hopefully) final year of my PhD, I am thinking hard about what’s next for me. My soul searching has recently led to the realization that my passion isn’t necessarily in my particular niche of science as much as it is for science in general. Great discoveries, elegant methodologies, and the philosophy of scientific inquiry all tie my stomach in knots with excitement, and I dislike the idea of limiting myself to my sub-sub-specialty of science. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I would love a career communicating science to the public. Whether I actualize this goal by writing books, discussing with students, hosting a scientific tv show, writing a science column, or just talking about science to the person next to me in line at the supermarket counter, I think I could be an excellent liason between the scientific community and the general public.

So, how does one go about developing a career as a science popularizer? Whether you want to be the next Carl Sagan — or Bill Nye — the ask.metafilter discussion provides a lot of great ideas and links.  A user named ChuraChura posted a link to a blog called “Through the Looking Glass“, which features an excellent post on the realities of a job in science communications and some thoughts on getting started. The “Black Hole” blog, which is focused on issues affecting science training in Canada, also has a great post on the topic entitled “So, you want to be a Science Writer when you grow up…“.

Some of the links from these resources are great, so I’m going to pull them out and share them here, along with some others I’ve discovered:

Fellowships and Internships in Science Communications

Professional Programs, Courses and Workshops in Science Communications

Professional Associations for Science Writers

Even if you don’t want to make science writing your career, you should take a look at some of this advice if you hope to find a job as a medical science liaison, medical education specialist, or any other role where being able to clearly communicate scientific concepts to mixed audiences would be valuable.

Good luck in your search!

Posted: August 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Business Development can be a great career for scientists

Today I’m going to discuss business development in the pharmaceutical industry. This is a role that is of particular interest to me, since it is the direction that my own career path has taken since leaving the lab.  I happen to think it’s a great job for scientists who are interested in business. Within the pharma industry, business development is a role that provides a birds-eye view of the entire drug development process while maintaining a very clear focus on business goals. Because business development jobs are cross-functional, they frequently provide opportunities for close collaboration with other teams from both research and operational sides of the business.

Business development is often confused with sales. This is understandable, because they ultimately have the same goal — driving revenue for the firm. But selling products to customers is only one way to drive revenue, and in the world of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the ability to sell a finished drug to the public is at the end of a very long cycle of research, product development, clinical trials and regulatory approvals. Along the way, pharmaceutical and biotech companies need to be able to understand their market, identify opportunities and develop strategic plans for making deals and managing partnerships.

For example, an established pharmaceutical company may seek to in-license a new drug candidate or drug development platform from a smaller biotech company, or might even acquire the company outright. On the flip side, biotech companies look for partners that will help to support the high costs of clinical trials in exchange for marketing rights.  This presentation (PDF) by the VP of Corporate Development for Endo Pharmaceuticals provides a great summary of some of the questions and considerations involved in the process of deciding and negotiating pharmaceutical inlicensing and acquisition deals.

There are numerous different paths to a business development job. Transitional jobs which could help someone prepare for a career in pharmaceutical business development might include market research, technology transfer or sales. Many people in the role have an MBA or other business background, but it is quite possible to succeed with a degree in the sciences — in fact, it is often essential, according to Brandon Price, a business development consultant interviewed by Science Careers:

“In the big corporations, business development most often refers to teams of people looking for new products, new markets for existing technologies, strategic partnerships, and the like,” Brandon says. Scientific knowledge is really important in these jobs, and although there are non-Ph.D.s in business development, employers will readily pay a premium for advanced degrees. I see far more BD positions that require Ph.D.s than I do positions that require any other degree, including MBAs.

The role of a Business Development Specialist requires strong research, communications, critical thinking and strategic planning skills — all of which one hopefully has developed in the process of completing a graduate science degree. Understanding the research process, and being able to communicate effectively with scientists is also important, and can provide an edge. Having a strong grounding in the sciences can also be a great advantage in evaluating a new product or process to determine its value. For scientists, working in business development is a great way to learn about business strategy and planning while gaining experience in relationship management, negotiation and finance.

I transitioned into business development gradually. Immediately after completing my PhD, I began working as a recruiter (headhunter) in the life sciences. Recruiting is essentially a sales job, and the position gave me a solid grounding in basic business skills while developing my abilities in negotiation.  Subsequently, I worked in business development for a health informatics consulting firm before taking my current role with a CRO. Currently, I help to develop new business opportunities related to the development and marketing of new diagnostics.  It’s a rewarding career that makes good use of my background in science, and while I don’t work in a lab any more, I still get to chat often with people that do.  I also enjoy being on the side of the business that brings money in!

This has been a high-level overview of pharmaceutical business development.  In the future, I may write a post or two digging more deeply into specific aspects, such as licensing or market evaluation.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Good luck in your search.

Posted: August 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Business Development, Technology Transfer | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »