Resources for your pharmaceutical job search

As you know, I am a huge believer that doing self-study and learning about the pharmaceutical industry job you hope to fill is an important step in preparing for a successful job search. These are just some quick links to books that might be helpful in finding a job in the pharmaceutical industry.

These books cover a wide range, from general pharmaceutical career advice, to detailed specifics about business development, pharmaceutical sales, medical science liaisons, clinical research, regulatory affairs and medical writing. I will follow up on each of these books in more detail in future posts.
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Posted: March 13th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Business Development, Clinical research, Clinical Research Associates, Medical Science Liaisons, Regulatory affairs, Resources, Sales | No Comments »

Medical Science Liaison careers: a cautionary view

Following my post the other day on preparing for a medical science liaison career, Jane Chin of the MSL Institute drew my attention to a cautionary note that she has for PhDs tempted by this career path:

I’m writing this in 2009, but I’ve been seeing Medical Science Liaison programs eliminated and entire teams laid off ever since late 2006. There are many MSLs who have experience and don’t have jobs right now. There are many more who are worried about their jobs. The reality is that at most companies, the MSL function is seen as a cost-center, and a heavy one at that. It can be easy to justify cutting heads from the MSL team to save the company money, or when the company’s drugs go generic, or when an investigational drug approval process gets interrupted.

Any PhD who enters the Medical Science Liaison career should consider the “what if’s”, especially in today’s times. What if I lose my job as a MSL? What are my alternatives? If an academic track has been this difficult for postdocs, what additional difficulties will this route present now that I’ve been out of the academic scene for a few years?

From my perspective, I suspect most of the PhDs who are interested in Medical Science Liaison jobs and other careers in pharma have already made the decision that a life in the laboratory isn’t right for them, so while the difficulty in returning to research is a real consideration, it probably isn’t one that weighs very heavily. And an MSL’s role, positioned as it is at the interface between clinical development, medical affairs and marketing, offers a number of possible exit strategies for continued career development in the event of layoffs. Nonetheless, Jane’s note is sobering and everyone, PhD or not, pursuing any career in pharma should go in with eyes wide open to the risks inherent in this sometimes chaotic industry.

You can read the entirety of Jane’s note, and find out more about her thoughts on MSL careers at the Medical Science Liaison Institute website.


Posted: February 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Medical Science Liaisons | Tags: | 1 Comment »

How to prepare for a career as a medical science liaison

Medical Science Liaison jobs are often seen as the “Golden Ticket” for advanced degree holders looking at career options in the pharmaceutical industry. The thought of receiving a six-figure salary to travel from place to place discussing the latest scientific research is incredibly alluring, and many PhDs and postdocs see the skill sets required as a “perfect match” for their own experiences carrying out research and making presentations. But for most, MSL jobs remain out of reach, because they don’t think carefully about what the industry is looking for in applicants.

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Posted: February 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Marketing, Medical Science Liaisons, networking, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Review: Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development

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Here’s another great resource for your pharmaceutical job search: Career Opportunities in Biotechnology and Drug Development, by Toby Freedman.

Freedman has put together a solid resource for finding jobs and developing your career in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry. At 409 hardcover pages, this isn’t the kind of book you can slip in a pocket to browse on the subway — it’s a comprehensive guide that I could see being an invaluable aide to finding your first job in the biotech industry.

Early chapters on resume writing and interview techniques, including informational interviewing, are brief but well-written and useful. If you’ve read a lot of career guides, these chapters probably aren’t going to teach you anything you haven’t heard before.  The real meat of this book is the industry-specific information that follows.

In an excellent overview chapter, Freedman explains the breadth of the industry, and summarizes the different product development pathways followed by therapeutic, nontherapeutic, and medical device companies.

Next, individual chapters, each about 20 pages long, cover a wide range of career pathways: drug discovery, preclinical research, project management, clinical development, medical affairs, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and quality control, operations, product development, business development, sales, marketing, and corporate communications. Chapters on executive management, legal affairs, finance, management consulting and even recruiting round out this comprehensive guide.

Each chapter includes ‘snapshots’ of various roles and offers a thoughtful analysis of both the positive and negative aspects of a given job.  For example, in clinical development, Freedman notes that “Original and applied clinical research is exciting.  Outcomes are unknown until trials are completed, and each trial is unique. Your work is close to the market”, but “There is frequent pressure to meet constantly looming deadlines, and the objectives often seem to be ‘too much, too soon, with too little'”. When you’re just starting out, and trying to decide what path to follow, knowing the downside of a job can be very useful information.

Naturally, salaries and compensation are a matter for discussion, as is the potential for career development, and a look at how future trends might influence job security for each role is useful in today’s economic times.

Perhaps most usefully for job seekers, Freedman clearly lays out job requirements and typical pathways into the role, and offers tips that could be helpful for getting one’s foot in the door.  Descriptions of what it takes to excel in a role, and qualities common to good candidates are also helpful.

This guide isn’t cheap, and it isn’t very portable — but if you are looking for a career in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector, this book should be at your side.


Posted: January 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Interviewing, Marketing, Medical Science Liaisons, Preclinical R&D, Regulatory affairs, Resources, Resumes & CVs | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Watch out for scams in clinical research training programs

This is a subject that really makes me angry.  If you’re reading this site, it’s probably because you are anxious and hopeful, perhaps even desperate to find your first job in the pharmaceutical industry.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who are willing to prey on that desperation and take advantage of job-seekers.

A common way to do this is to offer ‘training programs’ of dubious value, usually offered online at a cost ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars.  I’m aware of a number of these courses related to specifically clinical research and so-called ‘CRA training’. These courses will provide you with some information about ICH-GCP (which you could have found online for free), give you some online ‘exams’ (which you can often retake as often as you like) and in the end, give you a ‘certificate’ that you can print out and proudly reference in your resume.  What you don’t know is that industry recruiters are well aware of these scam companies, and the only thing that these certifications will indicate is that you were gullible enough to be taken in by a con artist — probably not the impression you wanted to make!

The most disgusting of these scam companies has created a whole empire of sham companies and organizations, building a web to lure you in.  They have a phony recruiting company, a phony industry association, and several phony ‘biotech companies’ and CROs.  These sham organizations will post fake job advertisements promising entry-level opportunities in clinical research.  When you apply, you’ll get an email telling you that sorry, you aren’t qualified, but you should consider taking a online training program, which they’ll happily refer you to.  If you’re ‘lucky’, you may even be told that you qualify for a special ‘scholarship’, offered by the phony industry association.

I don’t know why the guy behind this scam hasn’t been busted and hauled off to prison.  He’s probably scammed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars out of desperate job seekers, many of them new immigrants, over the years.

Why aren’t more people aware of this scam?  Well, part of it is that the head of this operation seems to be litigious.  Many discussions about Clinical Research Training programs over at Indeed.com refer to the program, but critical comments are mysteriously removed after the ‘CEO’ of this company posts to ‘respond to his critics’.

If you read enough of these forums, you’ll find that a lot of people are taking these courses, and many of them will even recommend them.  Some of these sound like shills to me… if you’ve created a phony training program, creating phony supporters isn’t that much more difficult.  Others sound like genuine people who don’t want to admit that they’ve invested more than $1000 in a program that won’t help them get where they want to go.

I am not going to directly link to the fraudulent sites in this post because I can’t afford to be sued.  But I will link you to a forum where braver souls than I are discussing this scam.

So, if you are still set on getting some training to help you land that first pharma job, how can you stay safe and avoid getting scammed?

  1.  Avoid online courses if possible. If you must go this route, ensure that the course is offered by a legitimate organization, like an accredited university or a government agency. In-class training is almost always more valuable, especially if it includes a co-op or other hands-on element.
  2. Do your research! Use the power of the internet to search for discussions about the program you’re considering. Be extremely skeptical when reading positive reviews and pay close attention to any negative comments being made.
  3. Ask the experts. Try to speak to people who are actually working in the industry to find out what training programs they recommend. Check out the websites for professional association, and see which programs they recommend.  For clinical research, you should check out the Association for Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) or the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA).

Of course, clinical research is not the only area where scam courses and certifications exist. I am also aware of some shady sites related to Medical Science Liaison training. Basically, any career path that is in high demand by job seekers provides an opportunity for con artists to take your hard-earned cash.  Be careful out there.


Posted: January 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Clinical research, Clinical Research Associates, Education, Medical Science Liaisons, Training | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »