Futures in Life Sciences – Clinical, Regulatory, and Medical Affairs Career Paths Event Blog. By Lynes Torres
On May 21, 2013, Propel Careers, MassBio, and the MassBioEd presented the 5th installment (of 8) in the Futures in Life Sciences career exploration seminars targeted for graduate degree holders in life sciences (and related or intersecting fields). The seminar's topic focused on Clinical Development, Regulatory and Medical Affairs career paths to provide the audience with the variety of options available in industry. The panelists came from emerging as well as established companies. A picture video of the event is at the following link: http://video214.com/play/nzM4XOiGlnW6u7LPxJlpzQ/s/dark. To view all events in the series, click here: https://www.propelcareers.com/index.cfm/events/
The event was moderated by Laurie Halloran, President and CEO of Halloran Consulting Group and the panelists included Bill Ferrell, Client Solutions Team Lead at UBC-Envision Group, William Tobia, Clinical Instructor for the US Monitoring Division for GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, Joanne Gibbons, Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs at Biogen Idec, and Steven Eby, Former Vice President, Clinical Development & Medical Affairs (CDMA) Forecasting & Planning at Genzyme Corporation. Below is a summary of the topics that were discussed and the speakers' thoughts and advice for the audience.
Was there a defining moment in the path to your success?
By taking chances on unconventional and sometimes stretch opportunities, the panelists were able to navigate their places within the life sciences sector. By taking initiative, they were able to develop skills necessary for career advancement. Defining moments can arise at any point in a career. For many of the panelists, they accrued valuable experiences that overall defined their paths.
Describe the skills needed to be successful in the clinical
development, regulatory and medical affairs industries? This question was best summarized with a childhood analogy, the sandbox, where collaboration and listening go a long way. Scientists are trained to critique and identify holes; skills that don't necessarily breed collaboration. It is important to recognize the importance of collaboration and to then cultivate those skills. Effective collaboration does not dampen individuality, as some may fear. Consider it as an opportunity to exercise your strengths and learn from others.
What is your typical day like?
Most of the panelists felt that their jobs rarely entailed giving hard lined answers despite the abundance of rules and regulations in the field. Instead, they often work with teams to think through situations. As technology advances, people in the clinical development, regulatory and medical affairs industries face novel predicaments that require collaboration and critical thinking to surmount. A typical day can revolve around meetings to address such situations and to touch base with team members.
How did you identify that your current profession is right for you?
The life science industry is a double-sided coin consisting of regulatory affairs and clinical research. If you feel you are inclined towards the regulatory affairs side of the coin, then an internship may help confirm your inclination. Although competitive, it is possible to intern even as a clinical study coordinator to gain your bearings in the field. Such experiences can open the doors to more lucrative careers in clinical development, regulatory and medical affairs.
What are the key transitional skills needed to go from academia to clinical research?
The panelists recognized the inherent difficulties in career transitions, especially that of academia to clinical research. Finding opportunities to become involved in clinically related activities such as clinical trials, clinical samples analysis, the IRB process and protocol writing can help with the transition. Taking a course or two about clinical development, drug development, or the regulatory process demonstrates your interest in this field to potential employers. Disease relevant knowledge about specific disease pathways or states is a transferable skill that Ph.D. students can leverage in the clinically focused areas of the sector.
What are the comparative virtues of social networking and face-to-face networking during a career search?
One panelist had wonderful insight on the career search process in general. Among the pieces of advice cited, being prepared for unexpected changes in your career trajectory was most striking. The realities of spontaneous opportunities and even company acquisitions should be motivation enough for all of us to keep our CVs up to date. With respect to networking, cultivation is key. All of the panelists agreed that the bulk of their social networking is accomplished through LinkedIn. Platforms like LinkedIn should be used as starting points for meaningful connections that are cultivated in ways beyond the given platform. For one panelist, supplementing social networking connections with face-to-face connections has allowed her professional networks to bloom in meaningful ways. For another panelist, social networking complemented existing face-to-face networks she established at a previous job site. Those one-time colleagues have since moved on to other careers, leaving the panelist with a diverse network despite the loss of the face-to-face connections.
Have you had a mentor(s) in your career thus far? If so, how was that relationship established?
The panelists have benefitted from having multiple mentors during the course of their careers. There is no playbook for mentoring and therefore you are not restricted to just one. One panelist has mentors devoted to distinct aspects of her career such as planning the next steps in her career or addressing issues on the job. To express their gratitude for their mentee experiences, the panelists highlighted their experiences as mentors themselves. Mentoring can be done by almost anyone, regardless of where they are in their career trajectory and can certainly be rewarding.
What do the clinical development, regulatory and medical affairs industries need from their employees in the face of lean and unstable work forces?
In this downsizing economy, you are as valuable as you are flexible. Become an expert at something, a core skill set, first and foremost. Learn how to leverage those core skills to maintain flexibility, though. The industry needs people who are enthusiastic about trying new things even if it requires exercising humility to ask for help in the process.
Having been in a stable work environment, how do you see your workplace changing?
Some panelists have been with their respective companies long enough to recognize cycles of hiring, downsizing, outsourcing, etc. Regardless of where the company lies within those cycles, employee flexibility must be consistent. Success comes from not focusing on the pay off, but instead from being flexible enough to meet the demands of the job.
When it comes to company size, what is better?
There are virtues to all company sizes. Larger companies provide thorough training which can make for effective learning. What smaller companies lack in organized training, they make up for in lucrative, hands on learning opportunities. Company size need not be a determining factor in your job searches though. Approach all opportunities, even contract positions, open mindedly, remembering that certain opportunities may only arise once in a lifetime.
Name an industry trend that will change how things are done in the next few years.
The pace of globalization is rapidly changing the industry. For one, it is forcing us to consider the marketing and sales of drugs in places outside of the US. To be in the clinical development, regulatory and medical affairs industries, you will need to be aware of the global landscape. In addition, we've therapeutically addressed the diseases most vulnerable to drug therapy leaving pharmaceutical companies searching for new patients, customers, and drug targets. More science and less marketing is needed which can mean that the 8-to-5 work paradigm will not be sufficient. Thankfully, if you genuinely love what you're doing then the perceived barriers of work hours, pay, etc become irrelevant.
To see the upcoming Futures in Life Sciences Events during the fall of 2013, click here: https://www.propelcareers.com/index.cfm/events/. We look forward to seeing you there!