On November 1, 2017, iJOBS hosted a site-visit to Bayer in Whippany, NJ. This location is Bayer’s U.S. headquarters for the Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Care divisions.
The day began with a talk by Edio Zampaglione, MD, Vice President of U.S. Medical Affairs for Women’s Healthcare and Neurology. He began with some interesting historic facts including Bayer’s beginnings in 1863, its first major product—aspirin, changes to the company throughout the world wars, and acquisitions in the 21st century. He proceeded by giving a thorough overview of the company by describing Bayer’s four product areas: pharmaceuticals, consumer health, crop science and animal health. Products in the pharmaceuticals division pertain to cardiovascular health, oncology, women’s health, opthamology, neurology and radiology, to name a few. In terms of consumer products, many household product names are actually owned by Bayer. These include Alka-Seltzer, Coppertone sunscreen, Dr. Scholl’s, One-a-Day vitamins, Aleve, and many more. The crop sciences division contains fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, and more. Pet-owners and -lovers may be interested to learn that Bayer’s animal health group produces Advantage Flea and Tick Prevention.
Dr. Zampaglione also stressed that something that makes Bayer unique is its focus on developing products rather than acquiring from smaller companies. In other words, Bayer prioritizes research and development, which is good news for those who are seeking such jobs in industry. Specifically, Bayer has product development sites in California, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee. They also have “Innovation Centers” which are research-intensive hubs that collaborate with academia and other institutions in order to stay on the leading-edge of biotechnology. These centers are located in Massachusetts and California.
For those graduate students and post-docs not interested in industry research positions, Bayer also offers careers for Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) at several locations in the U.S., including the local, Whippany, NJ site. Their role is to provide scientific information about products and to tackle some of the more difficult questions, including those pertaining to off-label use. They are highly valued at Bayer because they possess high-level understanding about the science behind a product, and are able to communicate that to physicians.
Dr. Zampaglione then handed the floor over to Mark Rametta, DO, FACOI, FACP, Medical Director of Neurology, who described Bayer’s fellowship program and its partnership with Rutgers. Each year, recent PharmD graduates from Rutgers and other universities, who are interested in working in industry, enter the fellowship program. They are placed with a preceptor and program director, and complete rotations across different divisions of the company. Chief fellow, Valentina Pampulevski, PharmD, RPh, spoke and gave a positive review of her experience in the Medical Communications department. Although the program is currently for PharmD students, there is hope that a similar program for PhD students will be developed, as there is a high level of interest, especially from iJOBS participants!
For the remainder of the visit, iJOBS trainees heard from two employees who successfully transitioned from academia to careers at Bayer. The first, Solveig Halldorsdottir, PhD, Director of Medical Communications, provided an interesting perspective to many struggling iJOBS trainees in the room. As an international student once herself, she described how she was able to successfully break into industry. During her post-doc, a colleague reached out to her about a position at a small start-up company as an MSL. Although she was not familiar with the work, she took advantage of the opportunity and was transferred to Florida. Over several years, she worked hard, developed connections and built her repertoire within Medical Affairs. As a result, she acquired experience, and it was much easier for her to land her next job. Wanting to return to the Northeast, she found a junior position that she was qualified for—in spite of a significant pay cut. However, to her, it was worth it. Again, she proved herself, and worked her way up from that position. The other Bayer employees at the event also had similar experiences and each chimed in. Their overall message was this:
The career ladder is not straight up. In fact, it is a staircase. Depending on circumstances, you may have to take a lateral position or even a few steps back, but it will ultimately get you where you want to go.
Now at Bayer, Dr. Halldorsdottir works in Medical Communications. Her team is responsible for reviewing and approving commercial product content. Last to speak was Heather Goolsby, PhD, Deputy Director of Marketing for Women’s Healthcare. She started with three messages:
1) Adapt and be flexible
2) Don’t set boundaries
3) Everything is connected
In terms of adapting, she described several changes, including company acquisitions and how they threatened her career at times. However, she adapted and persevered. After other similar experiences, she came to realize that adaptability is key, because, “Pharma equals change”. To her second point, she stressed that PhDs looking for careers must differentiate themselves. They should focus on experiences outside of the hard skills that all PhDs acquire along the process. Networking is also incredibly important for getting the job, which led into her third point. Everything is connected, and collaboration is necessary. She discussed how this contributes to the family-like work-culture at Bayer, which adds value to her day-to-day life.
A main thing that the Bayer employees expressed that day was their appreciation for the fact that their work can help millions of people live healthier lives. At such a well-known, international company as Bayer, there is no doubt that their efforts truly make an impact on the world.
For those interested in learning more about MSL careers, check out past blog posts on this topic.