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liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sat May 06, 2006 4:35 pm
by Chris M.
As a follower of this forum for many years, I wanted to tell my 'success story'. I did a Ph.D. at a reasonable but not top ranked school (good publication record) and then 2 years of postdoc at a top lab in an ivy league school. I was one of many Ph.D.'s looking to transition away from the bench and move into an industry position. I ran across a job called 'medical science liaison' (MSL) on the internet and it turns out that many pharma company's and some biotech companies have these positions. The job entails being the expert or liaison for a particular drug and the associated disease state for you company. The MSL works from home and travels probably 50% of the time within their geographical territory to visit some of the more influential doctors to discuss the latest clinical research with them as well as initiate potential research opportunities funded by the company. In the past, companies considered MS level people in addition to MD's, Ph.D.'s and Pharm.D's for this position but lately it is less common to accept MS level people because of FDA scrutiny. This is not a sales position although in some companies but not all, you may work with the sales force. The job requires very good communication skills as you will spend a lot of your time discussing data and talking with new people. Also, the salary is VERY good - at least compared to bench scientist positions and you get lots of perks such as car allowances and home office set up etc - plus the travel can be a perk - depending on your personal situation (kids, mobility etc.)
Anyway, my story ..... I spent about six months applying for positions. I sent out about 50 c.v.'s in response to job ads. I even had a connection in a pharma company that never really yielded anything good. I have learned alot off this site about how to present and 'sell' yourself and I think that helped me alot. Finally a small company called and I went through a number of interviews- the final face-to face interview involved me presenting a clinical paper to them on their drug. I ended up getting the job and a very very nice compensation packaage which involved relocation. My background was not particularly relevant to this position so I'm not exactly sure what drew them to my C.V. but I'm just grateful for a chance to break in.
I just wanted to share my story and let you guys know that there are so many non-bench positions in pharma-biotech that people in academics are not aware of b/c it's on the 'business side' of the science.

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sat May 06, 2006 8:50 pm
by Dave Jensen
Chris,

Thanks a million for posting this. Tell us a bit more about the career track ahead of you as an MSL . . . Where do you report in the organzation, and what kinds of jobs could you move to in time?

Congratulations on the success. Yes, this forum has taught a lot of people some of those tricky skills you picked up about marketing and promotion. I'm very happy you are back,

Dave Jensen, Moderator

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 4:28 am
by Val

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 8:25 am
by Dave Jensen
Once in the business, as an MSL or a research scientist, you are a far more attractive candidate to ANY employer, because you have the elusive "industry experience." Personally, I'd much rather work for a smaller company than retire in the same department from a bureaucracy.

Dave

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 12:22 pm
by Chris M.
Val,
Since it is a small company, there is always an inherent risk that it may not last long. However, I think that this company shows great potential and IF they do go under, it would not be for at least another year or two. That will give me the initial experience that will open door for other companies.
Also, working for big pharma is not always the key to credibility since as an employee you are more like a number than a face. Many people become bitter and work less under such conditions. I have read that job satisfaction is much lower working for big pharma vs. biotechs and startups.
Also, working for a small company allows you to really see the big picture since you are interacting with other departments. I think this is really valuable experience that will make me more marketable in the future. At big pharma, you work only within your group.
One more benefit of working at small company is that you really have a chance to shape the rules and policies since you may be the first one doing that job. The atmosphere is fun b/c everyone is very positive and hopeful about the future and since we all have stock options the drive to make the company succeed is high. Judging from the experienced people I work with and their attitudes, I don't think that this job is 'not real experience'.


liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 12:55 pm
by Matthew
Chris,

I agree 100% with every assessment you make about small companies. I have been at a small biotech for about 4 months now (my first industry job) and it's great. I have my hands on multiple aspects of the science the company is doing, and the drive and optimism of everyone in the company is contagious. I think that working for a small or startup company that will be healthy for at least one year (preferably at least 2) is an outstanding way to start your career and get that foot in the door.

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 1:09 pm
by Elizabeth
Chris,
Congratulations on the new position! I think the liason position requires a different set of skills and personalities from a bench scientist, but I hope you will enjoy your new life.
Regarding job stability, things can change overnight even at a major pharma. I have a friend in a contract research company. They had a mega project for a major pharma and it was going very well, but because of the financial hiccups in the client company, budget for this project is not going to grow although it looks promising so far. (I can't be more specific, otherwise you would know who they are and I don't want to be accused of compromising their confidentiality agreement:)
Another anecdote - another acquaintance of mine worked for a start-up as a liason, and when his company went under, he was making calls to inform his clients. One of his clients offered him a job on the spot.
Good luck!

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 1:21 pm
by Dave Jensen
Elizabeth said, "Another anecdote - another acquaintance of mine worked for a start-up as a liason, and when his company went under, he was making calls to inform his clients. One of his clients offered him a job on the spot."

That happens all the time, although not always so immediately! As often stated on this forum, there is a great thing that happens to you after you've earned some industry experience. You become a part of this "club," and you are a much more attractive candidate.

If you are young and flexible, going to work for a small company can give you so much broad experience that you'll feel like you've earned another university degree. The horrible job search nightmares you remember from your grad school and postdoc days are gone, and as long as you learned to network, you are off to the races in your search for another job.

Dave Jensen, Moderator

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 5:54 pm
by K.C.
Congratualions on the success Chris.

A couple of questions about the profession: What are some of the typical career tracks for this type of position? Would they require a lot of moving around (back to company headquarters, etc)?

liaison positions = Ph.D. entry into pharma

PostPosted: Sun May 07, 2006 7:42 pm
by Dave Jensen
Val comments, "When an employer is presented with your application, he looks up and sees that you have worked as an MSL for an unknown small company. The potential employer knows nothing about your previous employer and about their standards of working, thus he is not sure whether you work out now for his company."

Any company that has taken a product from development into the clinic, and beyond (now hiring MSL's), is a company that others will know about in the biotech industry. Sure, it can be a small company, but employers will know the firm. The couple thousand biotech companies here in the States are divided up into two groups: those that have no products (70-75%?) and those that do. Working for a company that has a product is a distinct advantage. And, being one of the first MSL's in the organization, Chris has the opportunity to craft his or her own job. This differs from stepping into an existing role in a big pharma company, and can really be a lot of fun. Contrary to your thinking, "fun" is something that can be had by anyone in the right job. It comes from the company culture, and not from being a part of a clique.

Dave Jensen, Moderator