iJOBS Workshop: Medical Affairs Job Simulation

In the last decade, several reports have been published indicating that there has been a shift in the mindset of students graduating with a degree in biomedical sciences. Now, more than 50 percent of biomedical PhD scientists are seeking non-traditional or non-academic careers (Zimmerman AM 2018; American institute of research 2014).

Medical Affairs has emerged as an attractive non-traditional career for many PhD scientists in recent years. Pharmaceutical companies are always in pursuit of the next drug/target for a disease and to bring that next product into market. In a pharmaceutical company, medical affairs functions as a team connecting external customers with internal teams, such as research and development (R&D). Medical Affairs is also a scientific team that functions  alongside R&D in a company.

On November 19th 2018, Rutgers iJOBS hosted a workshop at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School on to topic of careers in Medical Affairs. This workshop was run by Dr. Paul Weber, currently serving as an Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and New Jersey Medical School. Previously, he has held many positions in pharmaceutical companies including Celgene, PTC therapeutics, Roche and Valeant Technology.

 Dr. Weber began the workshop by giving a brief overview of Medical Affairs. During this presentation, he listed the  teams that representatives in medical affairs must interact with including R&D, regulatory affairs, marketing, sales and legal. In addition to working with other internal teams, there are also specific roles played by the individuals involved in medical affairs, which are outlined below:


Medical Science Liaisons (MSL): Medical science liaisons act as the connection between internal company stake holders and external key opinion leaders in a therapeutic area. They must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Scientific Education (Continuing Education and Continuing Medical Education): People in this role are responsible for grant support in medical education to healthcare providers.

Innovation and Digital Health: This department mainly deals with developing new applications in order to improve outreach to patients or customers, and also provide them with accurate drug information.

Scientific Communications:  The main role of the scientific communication team is to put together internal data from clinical trials for public disclosure while taking into consideration legal and regulatory affairs related the drug.

Medical Director (Domestic/Global):  This is the highest position assumed by a person in medical affairs. The medical director oversees all teams in medical affairs, reviews critiques of company products, and is also aware of competitors in the market.

Dr. Weber also explained several other roles in medical affairs such as post market clinical research, health economics and medical information. He then went onto discuss requirements or credentials needed to secure a position in medical affairs. Scientific background is a must with awareness in business, public health and health policy. A certification in medical affairs is a plus. Anyone with an advanced degree such as PhD, PharmD and MD are eligible to apply for positions in medical affairs.

After the overview in medical affairs, we had what is called a “world café experience”. The attendees split into groups and discussed various roles in medical affairs over snacks. One of the most interesting things I learned during group discussion was that students wanted to pursue a career in medical affairs because it would allow them to work as a team and travel. This is quite contrary to the reclusive nature of PhDs in a graduate school program. Medical science liaison was the most attractive career choice for graduate students in medical affairs.

Later, Dr. Paul Weber went on to define medical affairs as a dynamic and rapidly growing area of the pharmaceutical and device industries that focuses on research, knowledge and education. Furthermore, medical affairs provide primary scientific and medical support for a company’s marketed products and development pipeline. He also pointed out advancements that came into existence in the past decade including electronic health records and applications (sensors, wearables and telehealth). Also, he discussed how social media has changed the course of medicine and platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter and Linkedin are in use to market drugs and treatments.

Finally, attendees participated in a medical affairs simulation workshop. There were six drug targets: HER2 Inhibitor, VEGF inhibitor, BRAF inhibitor, CAR-T, PD-1 inhibitor and Alk inhibitor. Each group selected a particular drug target and role-played different team members in medical affairs. After a brief discussion, the medical director in each group outlined the drug target and the responsibilities assumed by each team member to bring the drug into market. Overall, the simulation workshop was an excellent tool to understanding a career in medical affairs and what it might entail in the real world.

Thanks to Rutgers iJOBS for hosting this event and also to Dr. Paul Weber for conducting the workshop. It was a great experience and a refreshing way to learn about a career in medical affairs.

This post was written by Madhuri Bhagavathula. Edits to this post were made by Monal Mehta , Paulina Krzyszczyk and Eileen Oni


  1. Navigating the path to a biomedical science career; Zimmerman AM; PLOS One 2018 Sep 7;13(9):e0203783. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203783. eCollection 2018
  2. https://www.air.org/news/press-release/sixty-one-percent-stem-phds-pursue-nonacademic-careers


Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: Making Smart Choices for your Career Development

By: Jennifer Casiano-Matos

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a career development talk conducted by Lori Conlan, Ph.D.; Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Studies at NIH. In this panel, we discussed how graduate students should focus on the next steps after graduate school or the completion of a postdoc position. In fact, career exploration and the job search is not an easy task—it can almost take the time of a full-time job!

First, you have to figure out what you want. Keep in mind your options such as what jobs are available in your desired area and limitations such as geographic preferences, field, etc. For career planning, you first have to make the assessment of knowing your skills, values, and interests. Second, explore the what, who, and where you are on your career development plan. Look for the opportunities that fill those requirements for the position you want and focus on needed skills. Additionally, network with people in that field and build those connections. Remember to be aware and pay attention to how a position aligns with your interests, values, and priorities. While exploring jobs types, you can start by narrowing a list down by different fields such as academics, government, industry, non-profit or on/off the bench.

To make that first self-assessment, get to know yourself. Identify your interest in the field, your personality and learning style. Keep in mind your work values and preferences such as flexibility or work-life balance, your credentials and restrictions such as moving or family. Your ideal career should be somewhere in the middle of your skills, values, and interests. Always remember that skills can be learned and many are transferable. Luckily, two of our iJOBS own bloggers have excellent articles on transferable skills (Exploring your Skills by Monal Mehta and Discover the Transferable Ph.D. Skills that Make You Employable by Jennifer Casiano)! You will notice that the majority of the recruiters want skills that you currently have such as communication, problem-solving, time management, teamwork, etc.

Second, you need to focus on your interests. What do you actually like to do? Ideally, you want a job that combines as many of your interests possible. Keep in mind that while a skill can be learned, that does not necessarily mean that you are interested in it. According to Dr. Conlan, interests can be divided as follows:

  • Realistic (Doers) -Like to work with things
  • Investigative (Thinkers) -Like to analyze data and ideas
  • Artistic (Creators) -Like self-expression
  • Social (Helpers) -Like to work with people
  • Enterprising (Persuaders) -Like to build organizations
  • Conventional (Organizers) -Like to organize data/info systems 

Lastly, always remember your values. They can be defined as cultural, personal, and lifestyle values. Mismatches between your values and job is often a source of dissatisfaction and stress.

Now that you have an idea on how to start your career exploration and development you can start with some self-reflection. There is no book, internet page, or blog post that will help you with this. You have to start to know yourself and understand your wants and needs. Outlining careers that are interesting to you is a great way to start exploring! Identify the positions’ defining qualifications, salary, benefits and opportunities. In addition, scheduling informational interviews and networking with people on the field is extremely helpful. The hardest part is keeping in mind what is best for you, but you will never know unless you try.

Thanks to Dr. Lori Conlan for these recommendations and I hope they can be helpful for everyone!


Edits and contributions to this post were made by Eileen Oni and Paulina Krzyszczyk

Career Advice for the Bewildered Soul

By: Shekerah Primus

In life and career-planning, there is no shortage of advice. There are the motivational one-liners we’ve all heard since childhood, such as, “Reach for the stars!”, and, “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” There are also the chant-worthy slogans of, “Be all you can be,” “Just do it,” and, “Yes we can!” This has given rise to the rapidly self-replicating genre of self-help books with provocative titles such as “Girl, Wash your Face”—you obviously have to read it to get it. Honestly, I do appreciate that all this advice-giving is an endeavor to aid in our journey of self-discovery and the pursuit of happiness. But I wonder how much of the advice we hear actually leaves a lasting impact, and how much of it just leaves us bewildered and asking, “Am I doing this life thing right at all?” I admit it, I’ve definitely felt bewildered at times, but I would like to share a few pieces of career-centric advice that gave me some clarity.



  • To have a fulfilling career, determine where you would provide the most value.

This advice is not new; it basically means the same thing as “find something you love and do it well.” This particular phrasing resonated with me because of the component of adding value. In fact, much of our endeavor to “find where we belong” is fueled by the desire to be valuable. Don’t misunderstand, this does not mean to find the thing you do better than anyone else, instead, it’s a recommendation to choose a career path based on a thorough evaluation of your strengths and interests. As PhDs, we focus so much on our scientific training that we often don’t know how to describe the value we bring outside of our scientific expertise. Evaluate yourself (see here and here for ideas), and don’t sell yourself short. You are very valuable! Once you’ve evaluated yourself, navigate your career path until you find something that you care about. The perfect career for you does not have to be your first job—let your experiences guide you. Imagine the value you would add when you apply your strongest skills and qualities to doing something that really matters to you. That is a powerful combination!

  • Clarity of purpose and values will provide you with a renewable source of energy.

This piece of advice resonated with me particularly because I remember often saying the words “I feel re-energized” after attending an iJOBS or another career event. I make the most progress in achieving my goals when I feel energized. Clarity of purpose and values is essential for good leadership, as explained in “Too many bosses, too few leaders,” a book that I highly recommend, by Rajeev Peshawaria.  In this book, the author tells stories about remarkable leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Howard Schultz, and others who achieved extraordinary results despite the odds, in large part because they had clarity of purpose and stayed true to their values. Of course, defining one’s purpose is no easy task. It requires unfettered soul-searching and that you be brutally honest with yourself, but the rewards are boundless. The author proposes the following 6 questions—the first 3 to define your purpose and last 3 to define values.

Questions effective in gaining clarity:

  1. What few things are most important to me?

For example money, hard work, leisure, fun, adventure, travel, learning, being liked, being a good spouse or parent, being a good manager, making a difference to others, service, integrity etc.

  1. Do I want to:
    1. Lead a simple life rich with everyday small pleasures?
    2. Achieve great success in an individual endeavor?
    3. Lead others toward a better future?
    4. Do something entirely different with my life?
  2. What results do I want to bring about?
  3. How do I want people to experience me?
  4. What values will guide my behavior?
  5. What situations cause me to feel strong emotions?


According to Peshawaria, a large paycheck or a prestigious position can also be energizing, but these sources are finite. He suggests that a clearly defined purpose and associated set of values is the best way to get an unlimited source of emotional energy to fuel yourself.

And finally:

  • Your journey is your own.

Okay, I admit that this one isn’t typical career advice, but it definitely helps me keep things in perspective. We all have the tendency to compare ourselves to others, judge ourselves, and either find ourselves lacking or pat ourselves on the back. This tendency is a reflection of our society; we are trained from a young age to compete and compare. When walking your path, instead of comparing yourself to someone else, let your own experiences empower you. Compare yourself today to yourself from a year ago or even 5 years ago.  How have you grown since then, personally and professionally? What do you appreciate about the present you that you had not noticed before? What accomplishments are you proud of, and what steps have you taken that have helped you clarify or get closer to achieving your goals?

Remember, take inspiration from the paths that others have walked, but always take time to celebrate and enjoy your own journey.

Please share your favorite pieces of advice.


This article was edited by Monal Mehta, Maryam Alapa & Paulina Krzyszczyk

An Interview with a Medical Communications Leader

Vishal SoniPh.D., is the and CEO of Viridbio Solutions, a service-providing company focused on medical writing, med­ical communications and information technology. Prior to Viribidio, he served as global head of NTE and Clinical Pharmacology Medical Writing at Teva Pharmaceuticals and was the founder, president and CEO of Vir­id Biosciences and a team leader at Innopharma (now part of Pfizer). He taught Immunology, Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Medical School, and Medical Microbiology at the University of Massachu­setts and Fairleigh Dickinson University. With experience in regulatory medical writing, scientific communications, molecular diagnostics and drug development, Dr. Soni’s work has been published in nine peer-reviewed journals and presented at 12 national/international conferences. He has led global teams for development of global medical affairs plans and clini­cal development plans and has submitted more than 20 New Drug Applications, Biologics License Applications and 25 Investigational New Drugs. He authored two book chapters, named on eight patents and has supported clinical documents of more than 100 studies across 25 different programs. He completed his doctoral degree at the Institute of Microbial Technol­ogy, Chandigarh, India, followed by postdoctoral research in Cell and Molecular Biology at Harvard Medical School.

Viridbio Solutions mostly work with Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and a festreamlw medical devices companies. Viridbio Solutions helps them ine a clinical development and medical strategy. They also provide efficient documentation requirements such as Biologics License Applicatio andn Investigational New Drug Application. In addition, they often meet with Key Opinion Leaders and Key External Expert to seek their opinion on a strategy. They also help strategize to resolve different types of regulatory challenges that their clients may be facing. They also act as advisory committee to use their science background successful business development.

When asked about industry opportunities for aspiring leaders like me, Dr. Soni suggested that the most important thing would be to get to know who to work for. Then determine if the role being offered is the right fit. When these two are resolved then see if there is a mutual benefit for you and the organization. According to him, “Leaders fix what’s not working! “, therefore this is one quality that one should reflect on to see if they can develop in an organization. He also advised that a leader should not worry about failure but worry about not trying. He is a risk-taker and he promotes educated and smart risk-taking in order to receive meaningful returns. The one key skill that will be needed for all future leaders is Focus. The coming generation is the smart generation and have access to tremendous information, therefore, their thoughts might need some direction. There will be a need to bring focus in their thoughts in order to not get distracted and loose direction. In the words of Dr. Soni, Leadership is different for a team leader and different for an entrepreneur but consists of two main components – a Vision you believe in and your ability to make others believe in that vision. For an entrepreneur, the vision is owned by you and you are leading with it whereas a team leader is buying into a vision and aligning with it. Your role as a leader is not only to lead but also to facilitate your team and make them feel a part and grow with the vision.

We went on to discuss a comparison between an academic leader and an industrial leader. The two major differences that I was able to sum up were that one values education more while the other values experience and execution of the learnings. The lingo of the industry is very different from academia and would take some time for academic individuals to get used to. Leadership is needed in both spheres, but personality will identify what kind of role a person can take up. I asked him how a fresh graduate student, without previous experience, can successfully end up in an industrial leadership position. According to him, “the best thing to do is to find opportunities, during your studies, which allow you to gain industry-like experience by means of internships, externships and co-ops.

Leading a group of people comes with many challenges and Dr. Soni shared some of them with me. A major challenge is finding the right people to share your vision, add value to it and carry it forward. The way to overcome this is to first get to know a prospective employee in other capacities before adding them to the team. It is important for this to happen mutually as it is essential for the member to fully understand the company. This can be done by working in a consulting capacity first before moving into a more committed role. This will help you learn more about the candidate and they will also learn more about the company. Another challenge for an entrepreneurial leader is aligning the finances and this is very important for smaller organizations that may not always have enough resources to maintain routine activity. Therefore, it is important to be very aware of the situation of the organization at all levels and take appropriate corrective steps before it gets too late and difficult. The last challenge is providing adequate training and grooming for your people. This is very important as it helps you understand the compatibility/capability of the personnel in the organization. It is important to respect the thought process of others. If there is flexibility, offer that to them and see how well they develop. However, if a company cannot be flexible and a personnel does not connect with the team then the relationship should be severed. For smaller companies, financial situation matters and as that gets better then difficulties can be easily solved.

When asked about the future of his industry, Dr. Soni explained that there are not many big players in clinical/medical consulting and writing and communication space. There are a few big companies but there is still a lot of scope for growth. This segment of the industry has a bright future and there is a need to bring it from a fragmented and incohesive state to a structured state and more people are needed to make this happen. He advised that not trying is much worse than being afraid of failing. He advised that if you are figuring out the best area for you to work, talk to people doing it and then decide if you like it or not. Don’t just assume that something will not work for you because that can sometimes be the thing that works best.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

  • Don’t worry about failure, worry about not trying.
  • Leaders fix what is not working.
  • Leaders are required to find the right people for the right kind of role who share the vision of the organization and add value to it.
  • Leadership involves making others recognize the shared vision and make them believe in it.

This article was written by Vinam Puri and edited by Emily K. Castro and Maryam Alapa.

Why you should listen to podcasts if you are a STEM PhD student

by Helena Mello

If you could sum up the time you spend per day doing the following: commuting, eating, working on tissue culture, pipetting… how many minutes would that be? How about using that seemingly wasted time to further your scientific knowledge? This article will (hopefully) convince you to listen to podcasts while performing all those activities. From quick tasks such as cell splitting to hour-long microscope analyses, you will find episodes that fit your interest and your available time!

Podcasts are a fast-growing media in the United States, with one-third of Americans from ages 25-54 listening to it monthly. Why are they so popular? Podcasts are free and easily accessible, you can listen to them on various platforms such as Apple Podcast, Google Play, Podcast Addict, Spotify, etc. Podcasts are easy to engage with, as you don’t need to focus your eyes on a screen when you have the episode on. Moreover, there is a sense of connection given by the human voices, and the pauses and silences in it.

You can find podcasts in virtually any topic, from learning a new language to the story of a person you really admire. Podcasts also come in different formats such as storytelling, interviews, or even roundtable discussions. Each style will give you a different feel and you might have to listen to many of them to see what you like better. Personally, I like discussions and interviews for biology-related topics and storytelling for themes such as psychology and human behavior.

I have put together a short, but hopefully compelling, list of reasons on why you should listen to podcasts – and how they might help you further your career in science:

  1. Get informed

Instead of bookmarking dozens of articles (and never finding the time to read them) you can subscribe to news-related podcasts such as NPR Politics Podcasts, The Economist, or BBC Podcasts. If you are interested in up-to-date science topics you can listen to This Week in Science. The knowledge you will gain from these will help you break the ice on that networking session, or even help you in a job interview.

  1. Get inspired

If you have a passion for science communication, you should start listening to science podcasts right now. From science digests to technical discussions, there is definitely an episode out there that will pick your interest. My current favorites are Hidden Brain and Science Vs. In each episode, they dig into the science behind a specific topic to either prove or disprove it (or just say there is no consensus yet). They target the general public without getting too simplistic and are a great tool to help you get better at explaining your thesis project at that family dinner.

  1. Career development

There are great podcasts out there focused on sharing the stories of established professionals. Such is the case of People Behind the Science, in which seasoned scientists discuss their paths and share career advice. However, even if the focus is not on the career but on the field of work itself, you can still use that information to grow professionally. Imagine that you are listening to a medical writer of an advertisement firm. You will likely learn about that person’s tasks and responsibilities, the company’s processes, their portfolio, and much more. Now imagine that the interviewee is an alumnus from your school, isn’t that just a great way to connect to that person? “I listened to you on podcast XYZ and am really interested in learning more from your perspective on medical writing. Could we set up a phone call someday?” and you might land a great informational interview!

  1. Get relaxed

If I haven’t convinced you yet, here is the fourth reason that does not involve any “take-home message”. It is pure and simple entertainment. Podcasts are great at that too! Maybe you just want a break from science-related topics. Maybe you just want to listen to a nice and captivating story while you commute or pipette all of your PCR samples. There are thousands of podcasts for that purpose, such as Stuff Mom Never Told You, Serial, How I Built This, and many more.

In conclusion, podcasts are an excellent source of curated information in virtually any topic. They can keep you updated on global news, help you learn from someone else’s experiences, and make you dive deep into topics you haven’t yet thought about.

I hope this article has helped you see the value on this ever-growing media, which I benefit from immensely. If you are not completely convinced by it, get your headphones on and listen to any of the ones I have suggested! Please, comment below if I should try any podcast you are already a fan of!

This article was edited by Andrew Petryna and Maryam Alapa.

An Interview with a Pharmaceutical Leader

Dr. Navneet Puri is the Founder and CEO of Nevakar, Inc. in Bridgewater, NJ. He started this company in 2015, with a vision of creating a fully integrated specialty pharmaceutical company focusing on hospital injectables and ophthalmic products. As Chief Executive Officer, he sets the strategic and operational direction of the organization. Prior to this, he was the Founder and CEO of Innopharma, LLC (now a Pfizer company).

A Rutgers Alumnus, he received his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics from the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. He has received several prestigious awards such as the Future 50 magazine’s Smart CEO award and the EY Entrepreneur of The Year award from the state of New Jersey. He is also a current board member of Alzeca Biosciences, Inc.

In Dr. Puri’s words, “Leadership means having good vision, a good understanding of individuals and leading people in the right direction”. Good leaders lead by example. Dr. Puri referred to a famous Leaders lead from the front and take the entire team with them in order to achieve the objectives of the organization.


A leader establishes his credibility with examples. If a leader has strong fundamentals, is true to his own words, and takes ownership of his actions, people will want to follow his lead. In an organization lead by the CEO, the Executive Leadership team aligns with the shared vision of the company and once that shared goal is established, there is no other alternative. Leaders communicate with their teams as much as possible. Dr. Puri gives the highest level of importance to having a strong vision. His vision, being the CEO, is what drives the vision of the company. At Nevakar, the vision is to Improve patient’s quality of life and healthcare outcomes.

When talking about the importance of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the pharmaceutical industry, Dr. Puri said AI is a beautiful thing and by the natural process of evolution, it must be incorporated in the pharmaceutical industry. From pharmacy practice to manufacturing and even R&D, automation is a key part of helping the industry grow in all ways.

Dr. Puri is a role model to me and his strong attitude of determination in achieving his goals is commendable. I look up to him as a leader and have heard great words from the people who work in various roles at Nevakar. Personally, I have observed him setting a good example and being an energetic and cheerful personality at the workplace. At Nevakar, there are several team building activities that are regularly conducted that make employees feel like members of the family contributing towards growing together. A quarterly townhall, for example, not only updates all members about the progress made in all active projects but also reminds everyone about the shared vision of the company. Because of the excellent leadership at Nevakar, it is an extraordinary environment to work in and grow.

One piece of advice that Dr. Puri would give to future leaders is to have a vision. To promote growth, you need to have foresight. Be it a scientific project or the evolution of the industry as a whole, a leader needs foresight which is guided by insight. It is important to have strong as they are your foundation. That is what will give you a clear vision, vision is Key. Leaders definitely face challenges on the way and Dr. Puri shared some that he has faced on his journey. The number one challenge is Team Alignment, which means that everyone on the team is in line with the shared vision of the company. At the executive level, the leader listens to various perspectives and the executive team identifies and defines the direction for the company. At this level, you do not want yes-men but a culture of sharing perspectives. Once the direction is set and the vision is identified, the team has to be aligned and although it is challenging, it is very important to achieve alignment at this level. Another challenge is to envision the evolution of the environment. A leader has to be opportunistic and whenever there is a shift in the landscape – political, financial, regulatory, etc., they have to keep re-calibrating in order to head towards success. The leader also has to be strategic. Fundamentals as mentioned before, need to be solid and there has to be conviction and a strong belief in them but pragmatism has also to be kept in mind. One has to be flexible and must maintain a balance; one must retain the fundamentals while being pragmatic. Think of it from the example of a river flowing down from a mountain. The river has a final destination which is the sea and it could get there by a straight-line route but has to demonstrate flexibility and travel around the rocks and obstacles. If you are not willing to change, you better be right every time or the whole company will face the consequences of your actions. The third biggest challenge is to have alignment with all of your value providers. Value providers exist in various forms such as outside lawyers, vendors, suppliers, cross-country collaborators, global collaborators, etc. and it is important for a leader to work with them, bargain hard, at times, and stay focused on the goal. If this alignment does not exist, the business suffers.

Dr. Puri is optimistic about the industry’s future and thinks that the pharmaceutical industry will continue to grow, despite all the challenges- regulation, price control, lack of compliance or lack of oversight. When a couple of organizations lose the industry’s purpose and lead with the purpose of greed, they do not define the industry as a whole. The industry is much bigger and stronger than one or two companies who take the wrong direction. With a 5% average CAGR projected over the next five years, growth has to come, and it must come.

Finally, for all future aspiring leaders, here is the one skill that you should have according to Dr. Puri, absolute and relative value proposition of the mission. The value is the product and it is absolute because it is based on the identification of an unmet need. When the unmet need is validated, value is provided. Value is also relative because it has to be adjusted based on how the landscape is evolving. Hence, the value proposition has to be absolute and relative.


Here are some of the takeaways from the interview:

  • Leaders lead by example and from the front.
  • Leaders communicate with their staff as frequently as possible.
  • Leaders must have a clear vision, which is based on their fundamentals and guides their insight, which in turn directs foresight.
  • Leaders need to identify the evolution of the industry segment they are in, in order to steer in the right direction timely.
  • A successful leader is one who keeps re-calibrating from time to time.

This article was written by Vinam Puri and edited by Andrew Petryna and Maryam Alapa

Choose Your Adventure: Non-Traditional Careers in the Pharma Agency Space

Are you studying for (or already are) a Ph.D. in Life Science/Pharma/Biotech? Are you of a creative mind interested in the communication space but not sure if there is a career for you in it? Are you interested in going on an adventure and exploring an area you may not have known? Read right ahead and be just as amazed as I was when I learned about this.

Alli Aber, Ph.D. and, with the help of a workshop introduced me to a world of opportunities that immediately felt like my niche. Let me introduce this world to you. Not only is this going to expose you to some non-traditional careers in the pharma agency space but it will also enable you to analyze yourself and help you identify the career that fits you best.

Dr. Aber is the founder, Strategist and CMO at PRN Experts, a consulting firm. She manages a team of medical experts for pharmaceutical advertising. She has almost 10 years of experience in the Pharma Agency and Educational space. She guides and educated PhDs and Postdocs about non-traditional career options in the pharma agency space.

Let me explain all that I have learned about the Pharma Agency Space in the rest of the article. First, let us identify the factors one should consider when trying to find their career path in this space? It is really important to understand this about yourself before you start seeking your direction. The first and most obvious factor is your interests. What is it that you like to do, can you see yourself doing it in the next few years? Some of us like to write and are also really good at it, while others may not be like starting a project, but may be really good at editing the work of others. Some of us like to only stick to the facts and can effectively be communicated in a scientific language, whereas others may be great at explaining science to laymen. The next factor to consider is your access to the industry and your experience. Lack of experience is a huge job deterrent for many grad students, especially in the communication space. Therefore, it is important to build connections and gain relevant experience while in school. This can be done by participating in extra activities that are communication specific as well. Salary is also a very big factor that comes into consideration when people make decisions about their career paths. A personal piece of advice from Alli was to give more weight to what you enjoy doing over the salary, but this factor will vary depending on individual situations. Another factor is the work environment that enriches you the most. Do you like working from home or do you like working in an office? Do you like more of a cubicle or open workspace? Depending on that, you may feel more comfortable in a bigger agency vs smaller or perhaps freelancing. Finally, personality is something you should consider because regardless of your education, your personality forms the core of who you are. The way you like to interact with people will determine the kind of role that might be right for you in the pharma space.


“With a multitude of options available, it is best to make an educated guess by learning as much as possible about the options available and as much as you can about yourself.” – Alli Aber, PhD


Let us now focus on all the possible routes one can take to find a suitable role in the pharma agency. Pharma agencies work a lot with Big Pharma to produce content and are broken down into two main spaces – SciCom/MedCom and Advertising/Marketing Agencies. Within these branches, there are four main roles that you can do as a Ph.D. – Medical Editing, Medical Writing, Medical Direction, and Medical Strategy.

The difference in SciCom and Advertising Agency are identifiable from the names. Scientific Communication (SciCom) involves a lot of high science writing and can come naturally to a fresh Ph.D. A SciCom agency could be an in-house pharma SciCom or a stand-alone agency. They perform functions such as writing abstracts, writing peer-reviewed articles, making conference slides, etc. Since it is something that most science PhDs have experienced it is fairly easy to get hired into such positions, with the right industrial connections. Your coworkers in this space are going to be your peers with a lot of them coming from PhDs and the culture is mostly academic. Advertising Agencies can be a little bit tricky for PhDs with a slightly different lingo in this space. Content created at such agencies is more focused on the story and the message that is being delivered rather than the science. Roles might include writing content for a website or for a TV commercial. The kind of slide decks you may be making would be more broad overviews or teaching decks rather than scientific decks. Co-workers in such a role may include people who are not from a pure science background and the work culture tends to be more open. This requires you to blend the science and accuracy with creativity and marketing. Both are great areas and there are opportunities in both areas, however, one needs to decide where they best fit.

Coming now to the details about each of the roles in the agency space. Editing is a research role and responsibilities include fact-finding and ensuring that the science is accurate, ensuring the accuracy of references or even finding proper references for some specific information. This position also entails knowing what the Medical Legal Review team may be looking for to be compliant with the FDA. Editors may work on websites, brochures, graphics, outlines, and even metadata to ensure efficient search engine optimization. Work hours are comfortable in such a role and you can get home at a reasonable hour. Writing involves actually writing the content as compared to ensuring accuracy on someone else’s work. Writing could be high science writing that could be aimed at health care professionals or it could be patient writing and one could take their pick on which one they like more. Branded messaging, which is focused on the product or unbranded messaging, which is focused on a disease state, could be a part of the responsibilities. Writers partner with the creative team to assist with the high science content. Medical Direction and Strategy are roles that you can typically migrate into as you gain more experience. Directors guide writers and train teams and may involve teaching decks. Directors are the expert and they teach the rest of the group. They also interact with the client and are expected to know all about the science of your product. Directors may also work with the writers to give them guidance or outlines. You take in a lot of information, process it and deliver clean ideas to different outlets. Strategy takes the highest level of experience since you are not only needed to understand the science but also lingo of pharma. Not only are you looking at your product when in such a role, but you are also looking at the entire landscape. This includes knowing about the industry, competitor recognition and their products, pros and cons of your drug, the way the message about that should be delivered to the doctors and why your product would be prescribed over others. You are bringing the medical voice to the strategy and work with the business and accounts teams. This role also includes conducting KOL interviews or patient interviews and combine the primary research with the secondary research.

The work environment in the agency depends on the type of role you select for yourself and you could do that based on your personality. Would you want to work in a large agency with more room to grow or a small one with more personal attention? Getting into a larger agency would generally require some experience and would entail a higher stability with a relatively lower flexibility. You may have a bigger commitment and more expectations in a larger agency whereas in a small agency the format could be cubicle type and because there is lesser experience needed, may be the place to start out. Medical writing and editing areas could also be a great place for freelancing and there is always a requirement for this. It is easier to get freelancer work, however, if you have some experience and have developed a network in the space. Flexibility when freelancing is really high, but the role is not stable. Consulting groups are middle grounds with more stability along with flexibility. These are a network of people working together on things like contracts and more and dividing work amongst the team based on the expertise of members. The environment you are comfortable in depends on your work ethics and personality. Another thing to help decide is look at the Amplitude vs Attitude profile you are capable of achieving, which is the amount of effort you can put in over time. Can you consistently work on a high intensity or do you like to have periods of lesser intensity or breaks to be productive? There are personality tests that you can take, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and more to identify what kind of roles you are most suited for. Based on my personal personality assessment, I found out I am a more expressive person with a focus on the big picture. With some additional skills like learning the pharma lingo and about FDA rules and regulation, I could be great in a Strategy kind of role.

The one-year paradox

You like these roles and may be interested in pharma agency but see that most openings require a year or so of experience. As a fresh graduate, you may not have that. Here are some of the plentiful resources available for you to use. Resources like BadAd Course offered by the FDA that teaches about promotional and regulatory topics. American Medical Writers (AMWA) is another resource that you can utilize and get internships in writing roles so that you can put that on your resume. Networking is definitely important, and you can explore resources like Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association, BioPharma Networking Group (BPNG), Medical Marketing and Media (MM&M) website, etc. Make sure to put any such experiences on your resume so that you can get the required attention.

A role in the Pharma Agency may not be for all but if you feel like you are the kind of person who would enjoy utilizing your science background and combining it with your creative side and form a perfect amalgam, this non-traditional career may be the right direction for you!


This article was written by Vinam Puri and edited by Andrew Petryna and Maryam Alapa

Being Assertive: Asking What You Need in the Laboratory and in Life

By Jennifer Casiano-Matos

On September 18th, 2018, I had an opportunity to participate in a talk about assertiveness at the Office of Intramural Training and Education in NIH. It was conducted by Anne Kirchgessner, one of our career counselors. At the meeting, she talked about how being assertive can help you attain what you need and want. In her own words, “assertiveness is the will of being motivated on what is important for you and staying true to your values.” Everyone can learn to be assertive, however, several factors should be considered such as culture, location, environment, physical and mental health, career stage, and other life events.

184804_Body Language for Leaders

According to Anne, being assertive is simple. It is an honest and appropriate expression of your wants, opinions, feelings, and needs. In many cases, it includes standing up for your own rights and communicating your thoughts clearly while respecting others. It sounds easy in words, right? Our ability to be assertive can sometimes be tempered by a difficult situation.  Keep in mind that it involves courage, practice, and support from others. Even if you haven’t practiced being assertive it can be learned at your own pace and your own time.  Have a positive attitude and hope that the person pays attention to your needs. There are components that must be taken into consideration: eye contact throughout the conversation, good and relaxed posture, facial expression in agreement with the message, modulated tone of voice and timing.

We have been raised in a culture where we do not say our needs to our supervisors. However, if you want to be assertive and speak for yourself it is never too late. Keep in mind that you have the right to

  • be treated with respect and dignity
  • have and express your own feelings and opinions
  • be listened to and taken seriously
  • say: “I don’t understand” or “I disagree”
  • do anything so long as it does not violate the rights of others

Learning to be assertive is a gradual process that starts with small changes. For example, start giving positive comments on lab presentations, feedback on products and performance of group members, or ask people to do small tasks. An example of how you can build an assertive statement can be divided into 3 parts:

  • describe the behavior or situation,
  • describe how it affects you
  • describe what you want (I would prefer,).

Use key phrases like, I want, I believe, I feel, I would like; this will help you focus on yourself, avoid blaming the other person and being clear on your thoughts. You should also be a good listener and focus on the other person, with an active attempt to understand their response.

Quite often, we have different personalities in our lab/work setting. It is important to understand each one of them, especially how we interact, and being assertive, with everyone around us. In my previous post about Strategies for Managing Conflict and Feedback, I discussed how we can manage potential conflict and give positive feedback in our work setting. The main goal is to achieve collaboration or a win-win solution.


Keep in mind that being assertive will help you in your personal development and your self-esteem. To achieve assertiveness, you can:

  • Ask for help if you need it
  • Express positive thoughts and negative thoughts appropriately
  • Ask questions when in doubt
  • Understand what you want and need
  • Present your opinions even if they are different
  • Say NO if you don’t want to do something
    • Explain how this affect your priorities and life

Finally, let’s not confuse being aggressive with being assertive. Aggressiveness is violating other’s rights while assertiveness is standing up for yourself in ways that respect your rights and feelings and the rights and feelings of others. At the end you will feel good because you are expressing yourself and may get what you want, especially being heard and respect from others. If you are interested in learning more about how to be assertive and how this will help you on achieving your goals you can find more helpful information by watching Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk, where she explains how your body language affects how others see us. You can also watch “The Power of the Pose” for more helpful tips. Being assertive had a great impact on my well-being and I am more respected by others when I practice it.

Internship Prep for Graduate Students

On October 17th, I attended a seminar where 5 Rutgers students shared their internship experience with the audience. The student panelists were:

  1. Anna Giarratana, MD, Ph.D. candidate, Pfizer externship via iJobs 2nd phase
  2. Praveen Bommareddy, Ph.D. candidate in Tumor Immunology, Intern at Regeneron
  3. Victor Tan, Ph.D. candidate in Pharmacology, Regulatory CMC Intern at Celgene
  4. Xiaowei Zang, Ph.D. candidate in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Summer Intern at CSL Behring
  5. Pooja Khana. Ph.D. student, Intern at Genentech

They were all asked 5 questions:

  1. How did you learn about the internship?
  2. How did you approach your PI about your interest in doing an internship?
  3. How was the application process?
  4. How was your experience?
  5. What advice would you give based on your experience?


She met an employee of Pfizer at a conference she attended. She kept a constant communication with the person and showed interest in learning more about opportunities in the company. Anna, an MD/Ph.D. candidate, used this as an opportunity to explore non-academic careers. She was comfortable with letting her advisor, Dr. Janet Alder, know about her interest in doing an externship and was fully supported to pursue her aspirations. For a few months Anna shadowed her mentor, at Pfizer, to learn about Global Medical Affairs. The experience allowed her to have a broader idea about opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry and it also helped broadened her network. She advised the audience to “be open to networking, and also to be attentive with the people that you meet.”


Praveen had always planned on doing an internship, even before he started his graduate studies. So, he prepared a good CV/resume and looked for positions that matched the skills he had. Before starting in his lab, he communicated his desire with his PI, who was in support of the idea. His PI even helped him make connections that will get him closer to his goals. Praveen interned at Regeneron and the application process was done online. Rutgers students have an additional benefit since the company constantly visits Rutgers for recruitment.  Therefore, it is good to approach them when they stop by the campus. Praveen looked for internship opportunities nearby so he could come to lab on weekends or when needed. During his internship, he learned how to balance his time and prioritize. His advice was to plan ahead and let your PI know beforehand as this would make the internship process less stressful on you and your PI.


Victor is a 4th year Ph.D. student in Pharmacology and is also on the Biotech Training Grant. His experience was a little different since the grant requires participating students to do an internship. He also did not need support from a PI since he did his internship, at Celgene, while in the process of transitioning to a new lab. He worked in the Regulatory department, which is a different area from what he had been exposed to and this allowed him to learn about other career opportunities. He advised the audience to be flexible and keep an open mind about the possibilities.


Xiaowei, a 6th year student at the Pharmacy School, was an intern at CSL Behring. She had a unique route to her internship opportunity; someone approached her PI about the opening and he recommended her for the position. At CSL Behring, she worked on Pharmacokinetics modeling. She also did an externship and shadowing in the medical writing department at Johnson & Johnson. Her supervisor at J&J was really supportive and helped her increase her network. Her advice is to reach out to the connections you make and make a good impression with your colleagues because they will be your references for the future. Always be upfront and transparent!


Pooja is a 1st year Ph.D. student and was an intern at Genentech. She had just finished her Master’s degree when she reached out to contacts on her LinkedIn for possible internship positions. The smart idea led her to an internship at Genentech. She enjoyed the opportunities and activities Genentech provided to enrich their interns. Pooja says that a lot happens through connections, so it’s really important to make the connections. She also advised that having industry experience makes job applications easier for people looking to work in the pharmaceutical industry. Her advice is to be incredibly enthusiastic, show up, and ask questions.

Their overall advice is that we should look for opportunities to talk to the employees in the company we are interested in. This will allow us to learn more about interesting jobs and the company culture. As for interns, what you learn on the job is important and should enhance your career development. To hear more on their experiences you can listen to the podcast of this event.

This article was edited by Madhuri Bhagavathula and Maryam Alapa

Emotional Intelligence: Knowing your feelings and the path to success

By Vicky Kanta

On October 4th, I attended an iJOBS workshop on the topic of emotional intelligence. The presenter was Juliet Hart, the founder of Hart & Chin Associates, LLC., a start-up offering workshops for science professionals. Juliet started out as a bench scientist working for biotech and pharma companies such as Johnson & Johnson. However, she soon realized that she particularly enjoyed the human collaborative aspect of science. This led her to transition into human resources and then start her own company to “empower scientists as influential leaders”, which is the motto of Hart & Chin.

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? The “father” of this concept is the science journalist and author Daniel Goleman, who introduced the term in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. According to Goleman, traditional intelligence, as measured by IQ scores, is not enough to help people thrive in the workplace and become good leaders. There are additional skills that we should develop, and the combination of them constitute what is called emotional intelligence. According to Juliet, these skills can be summed up as follows:

  • Self-awareness

This is the ability to acknowledge the emotions you have in any given circumstance, as well as the actions necessary to change things in the future. A very important factor towards self-awareness is our individual personality (e.g. our Myers Briggs type), since different people might have diverse strategies in assessing their emotions.

  • Self-management

This can be summarized as having “adaptability and self-control”. It is important to always be in control of our emotions before we enter an important conversation, something that requires practice and perseverance.

  • Social awareness

This boils down to developing our empathy skills. How can we put ourselves in the shoes of our advisor or our future employer during a tough interview? Can we try to see our colleague’s point of view when we don’t agree on an important work topic? What would we feel if our roles were flipped?

  • Social management

To communicate successfully, we need to anticipate the other person’s needs before they come up in the conversation. For example, reassuring your recruiter that you have the skills necessary for the job before they even express their doubts can go a long way.


Since Juliet was a scientist for a big part of her life, she knew how to relate this topic to us and help us develop our emotional intelligence skills. Her trick is to think of emotions “as a variable in life”. Like most types of data, emotions can be qualified and quantified:

  • Are our emotions controlled or uncontrolled?
  • Are they positive or negative?
  • What is their intensity?

Using those questions, we can go through the “scientific process” of emotional intelligence: First, we identify what we are feeling now. Then, by assessing the factors that led us here, we can understand what stimulus caused this specific emotion. All of us have certain triggers in our everyday life and identifying them is key. We can now attempt to manage the situation and bring our emotions back under control to better achieve our goal. Our coping mechanisms can vary but it is important to experiment with different responses. Finally, we can explain to others what we are feeling and what we can collaboratively do to change the outcome. This way, we are taking control over how we respond.

So why is emotional intelligence so important for scientists in particular? Most of us have already realized that although scientists are smart, highly skilled and motivated individuals, many have not equally developed their self-awareness and interpersonal skills. Juliet pointed out that there is a very common misperception among scientists that “if the science is right, everything will fall into place”. However, this is far from the truth, since this belief can make us avoid the real issues at hand and likely not communicate our real needs to the people that matter, such as our advisor or boss.

Juliet helped us practice on identifying our values and skills by teaching us the “lifeline exercise”. In this exercise, we draw our emotional highs and lows as a function of time for some specific period in our lives. By identifying the “peaks” and relating it to our values, we can find out what we care about the most (e.g. community, success, merit). Furthermore, we can find out how we got there by looking at our actions right before those “peaks”. Those reveal the skills we have utilized in the past that led us to a better emotional place, and we can make good use of them again.


Finally, we had another group exercise in which we were faced with the scenario of asking our advisor for permission to do an industry internship. Given that this is a very real but also scary prospect for many of us, it was very interesting to see how Emotional Intelligence could help us tackle it. To achieve this, we used the “six thinking hats” of Edward de Bono. This process allows us to follow six simple steps to have a successful face-to-face conversation on a topic that we might be dreading on:

  • Gather the logistics of the situation. Where and when is this discussion taking place?
  • What is the main thing you want to achieve? In this case it would be the fact that you are asking for permission to apply for an internship.
  • What are the emotions that both sides are feeling? Putting yourselves in your advisor’s shoes is very important here. What are the doubts and concerns they might have?
  • What are the benefits for both sides? Your side of the argument might be clear, but you have to find something that can benefit your advisor too.
  • What problems might arise for both of you during this internship? Empathy and understanding are useful here.
  • This is the final step, where you come up with solutions to any problems that may potentially arise during the conversation and have answers ready to go when necessary.

At the end of this event, everyone had a better understanding of what it means to have emotional intelligence, as well as some interesting ideas about where we can implement it in our everyday interactions. Whether it is in future interviews, negotiation, or any other situation in which our emotions are key, thanks to Juliet and her useful workshop, we are all now better equipped to handle anything that comes our way.


This article was edited by Helena Mello and Aminat Saliu Musah.