- What Do PhDs Do?
- What Do PhDs Do? Case Studies
- Case Studies in Biological Sciences
- Sam, consultant, PhD in immunology
Sam, consultant, PhD in immunology
Occupation: Regulatory Affairs Consultant
Sector: Industry (Pharmaceuticals)
PhD subject: Immunology
Why did you do a PhD?
To provide better career prospects, remove any potential glass ceiling. It was also a personal challenge and it offered a way into clinical research. I could also see more travel opportunities both during and after gaining a PhD. At that time I couldn’t see any other careers that grabbed my enthusiasm and a PhD felt like a natural progression from what I was already doing (research student in a Swiss institute).
Describe your current job briefly
The position of regulatory affairs consultant is wide ranging and in a clinical research organisation will depend on what work comes through the door. In brief I review, analyse and collate scientific data (non-clinical and clinical data) about new drugs and use this information to prepare dossiers for submission to the regulatory authorities. I help clients apply for clinical trials and keep market authorisations up to date and within the current regulatory guidelines. I have to keep abreast of the current regulatory guidelines in different countries, and provide support to the clinical research team. I may also be involved in more consultancy work, for example, providing competitor intelligence reports, or reviewing the current literature on a specific disease.
This field is hard to get into most jobs on offer require some experience, typically 1-2 years. At the moment I’m reading around and learning the key regulations and regulatory and in-house processes as well as finding out the best places to go for reliable information. I’m also teaching myself new areas of biology I have had less exposure too, such as pharmacokinetics.
Why did you decide in this career?
It was a profession that meant I could stay in science but get out of the lab. It offered the opportunity to continually learn about new areas of medicine and put me at the forefront of medical research. The job also offered more long-term security. It was a permanent position, better pay than if I’d gone on to do a postdoc and, later down the line, offers the flexibility of being able to work more from home and/or take a career break. Another attractive feature was the demand for regulatory professionals, especially as guidelines are tightening up increasing the amount of regulatory work required by pharmaceutical companies.
What was your job search strategy and how were you recruited?
I applied to a few recruitment agencies specialising in clinical positions (they were good to get feedback on my CV and advice on how to break into the regulatory affairs – almost all positions require 1-2 yr experience). I used the New Scientist and Nature webs sites and applied to pharma companies speculatively.
Only one recruitment agencies was of any real help. They gave me a brief telephone interview to establish my knowledge of the drug development process and conduct of clinical trials. I found the best way to deal with agencies was to send my CV and chase this up with a phone call a day later for feedback.
My current position was advertised in the New Scientist, I applied by email and had two interviews (1st with HR and my direct line manager, 2nd with director).
Why do you think you got the job?
I had read up on the field and demonstrated this through my questions in the interview. I think I came across as enthusiastic with a willingness to learn and my PhD had a strong clinical element to it, so I had a good appreciation of the clinical trial process. I had also done my sandwich year at a big pharma company. I think I came across as someone who would fit in with the rest of the department. I completed my PhD in 2 years rather than 4 years after my supervisor left and a major project change. This demonstrated that I could work to tight deadlines, under pressure and pick up new things quickly. I was also able to start immediately.
Do you think a PhD has had a positive impact on your career?
Yes, it gave me a lot of clinical and experience. It gave me more confidence as I had the opportunity to take part in consultant meetings. Without this experience I don’t think I’d have got my current job, the transferable skills gained during my PhD play a big role in my current job, i.e. literature searches, using reference manager, organisation, writing reports.
What advice do you have for PhD students to boost their employability?
- Know the job you are going for inside out. If you are not asked any questions about what you know/expect the job to involve ask questions about a development you’ve heard about and how it will impact the company etc, to demonstrate your knowledge.
- Read up about the company you are applying to.
- Project a willingness to learn.
- Get experience of working outside the academic environment.
- Demonstrate a position of responsibility outside of your studies i.e. get involved in a sports/social club committee.
- Contact recruitment agencies and ask for feedback on your CV, they may offer advice on what to highlight to increase your chances of getting your foot in the door if you are moving into a new field.
- Make sure your covering letter is strong and well written, especially if you are moving into a career with a strong writing element to it.
- If writing speculatively, try not to address your CV to the HR dept, but find a contact within the department you are interested in.
- Network at meetings and conferences.