- Give a brief overview of your organisation and role within it.
I am a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) based in the medical team at Pierre Fabre Ltd. Pierre Fabre Ltd provides anti-cancer treatments for melanoma, colorectal and breast cancer. As an MSL, I foster partnerships between the company and key clinicians within the therapy areas and engage in clinical trials related activities.
- Give a brief overview of your professional experience.
My career in higher education began with an undergraduate degree in Physiology with Industrial Experience at the University of Manchester. During this time, I took a year in industry as a Research Technician at Boehringer Ingelheim in Vienna, Austria. Following my undergraduate studies, I embarked on a combined Masters/PhD programme at the University of Liverpool in oncology research. Upon completion of my PhD studies, I took a brief appointment as a Lab Manager at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, before returning to the University of Liverpool for a post-doctoral research position in oncology research.
During the latter part of my post-doc, I decided to seek a career move into industry and moved into the medical affairs space and secured a role as a Medical Science Liaison in the medical team at Pierre Fabre Ltd.
- Why do you do your job?
For a pharmaceutical company, Pierre Fabre Ltd is a small entity that does such great work in the oncology space. I chose to work at Pierre Fabre Ltd because of the extensive training opportunities available to me, which was important as I was a new MSL with very little prior experience of the medical affairs sector.
I am passionate about medical affairs and the MSL role as I can see how much more progress is needed to ensure better health outcomes for cancer patients, and the medical team is able to improve patient outcomes through scientific research and educating healthcare professionals of best practices for delivering cancer therapies to patients. Some of my favourite aspects of the MSL role are engaging with the variety of healthcare professionals, providing education of scientific and clinical topics, gathering insights from their clinical practice to inform company strategy and to improve the clinical research funded by Pierre Fabre Ltd. I could definitely do without the heavy administrative nature of the role, however as the MSL role is self-regulated and governed by a strong code of conduct, I appreciate that paperwork comes with the job!
"The type of person that thrives in this sector is someone willing to take charge of their own workload and who is very comfortable working within a team."
Dr. Zohra Butt (Pierre Fabre Ltd.)
- What is it about the industry that keeps you motivated?
There is ample opportunity for growth within the medical affairs field. I can progress to a senior MSL position, a Scientific Advisor, and other management roles within medical affairs. Likewise, my role as an MSL opens other doors in the compliance sector, market access programmes for new cancer drugs, clinical trials management, pharmaceutical sales, marketing and branding. Pierre Fabre Ltd are really great at offering a variety of training which is role-specific such as good clinical practice training, ABPI code training, and opportunities outside the MSL role such as contributing to the brand planning for their products, compliance-related activities and project management for clinical trials and sponsored studies.
- What attributes would someone need to be successful in your organisation/function?
Skills in demand: flexibility, adaptability, good time management, working well under time constraints, teamwork, meeting deadlines, excellent written and oral communication, resourcefulness, diligence, good analytical skills, commercial awareness, problem solving, self-motivation.
If you have most of the above skills, then you are a person that will be well suited to the pharmaceutical industry. The type of person that thrives in this sector is someone willing to take charge of their own workload and who is very comfortable working within a team.
- Are you aware of postdoctoral researchers? If so, what type of job roles/titles would be appropriate at postdoc level in your organisation?
In the medical team at Pierre Fabre Ltd, I work under the supervision of the Medical Director, who is a medic by training, and a team of medical advisors who are unanimously Pharmacists by training. I also work very closely with the sales and marketing teams, who have scientific/business/marketing backgrounds.
Other adjacent roles are Compliance Officers, the pharmacovigilance team, the market access team, all of whom come from mixed backgrounds such as law, finance, chemistry, social sciences. Any of these roles would be well suited for postdocs as they are extremely technical, logistical and involve data generation and/or interpretation.
"Networking is very important if you are a postdoc with little exposure to the pharmaceutical space/medical affairs space, as these jobs are highly competitive and somewhat niche."
Dr. Zohra Butt (Pierre Fabre Ltd.)
- What would be your top tip for getting a role in your organisation/function?
Networking is very important if you are a post doc with little exposure to the pharmaceutical space/medical affairs space, as these jobs are highly competitive and somewhat niche. Networking with people already in these spaces can help you to understand the jargon, the nuances of each job role e.g. how does a job in compliance differ from a job in pharmacovigilance, which can showcase to the hiring manager that you are enthusiastic, resourceful and committed to a career move into pharma and to that specific company.
- Could you describe the application process from your point of view?
The MSL role at Pierre Fabre Ltd was brought to my attention by a recruiter who was in my network. I expressed my interest in wanting to hear more about the role and the company and I was given a job advert to peruse and time to research the role and the company. Once I had decided to apply for the job, I was asked to provide an up-to-date CV showcasing how I satisfy the job criteria. Next, I underwent a set of interviews, first with the hiring manager who was to be my line manager, then a series of technical interviews to showcase my understanding of the MSL role.
The interview process was very taxing, and my advice would be to keep calm and keep your energy high. You can only prepare so much, and you can only do your best on the day, so don’t panic! But make sure you read the job advert and have to hand examples for how you meet the role criteria, make sure to practice answering technical questions with a friend, and make sure you are very clear in your own mind of your aspirations, intentions and expectations for the job.
- Could you describe your first few weeks/months in your current position? What did you notice? How did you adapt? How did you feel? What helped?
Pierre Fabre Ltd are excellent in their training provision for new starters. I was able to undergo 6 weeks of intense training of the science behind the company’s anti-cancer drugs, and I was able to shadow experienced team members to understand how to conduct myself as an MSL. I noticed that my manager and other team members would check in regularly to see if I was okay, or if I needed any help or clarification on the tasks allocated to me.
This support at the very beginning was instrumental in ensuring I was able to adapt quickly to the fast-paced environment and the new ways of working. I was able to deal with the pressure that comes with starting a new job as it reminded me of my time as a post doc, where you are always dealing with uncertainties.
"One major difference I have noticed in my current position compared with my time as a postdoc, is the lower levels of stress I experience in my day-to-day job, which I believe is related to the high level of support I receive from the wider team and from my manager."
Dr. Zohra Butt (Pierre Fabre Ltd.)
- Could you compare and contrast your current position with your time as a postdoc in academia? What skills do you think you brought with you?
One major difference I have noticed in my current position compared with my time as a postdoc, is the lower levels of stress I experience in my day-to-day job, which I believe is related to the high level of support I receive from the wider team and from my manager. In contrast, as a postdoc you are expected to figure things out for yourself, to troubleshoot and problem-solve and you may not necessarily have a team to lean on or ask for support.
I value my time as a postdoc as I was able to bring a solid foundation in oncology research to this new role. Other skills I have brought with me to this new role are my project management skills, and my ability to work efficiently and with accuracy under time pressure.
- Any other comments/tips/insights for other postdocs looking to move into a similar role to your own? Have you had any career development opportunities in your new role?
Try to network as much as you can. Speak to people, and importantly listen to a diversity of voices. Always volunteer for new experiences and opportunities, even if they take you out of your comfort zone. Ask for feedback, learn how to take criticism, it can only help you to improve and move you closer to your goals. Write down your personal/professional goals and be very clear on the tactics you need to apply to achieve them.
Block out some time in your calendar to do one activity a week that will move you closer to your goals. Find a group of likeminded postdocs and meet with them to share job searching tips, interview tips, or even just to talk, having a support system is important as the job search can be long and tiring.