I didn’t know what I expected on Thursday when I traveled to Bridgewater, NJ to visit GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) Medical Affairs office. This was my first opportunity to get a day-in-the-life industry perspective during my time in graduate school. If you read any of our previous blog posts or even just the description of the iJOBS program, you will understand that its sole purpose is to expose graduate students and post-docs to non-academic career options. I was hoping to talk to professionals in my career area of choice, Regulatory Affairs, so that I could get a better picture of their day-to-day job tasks and what occupies their time.
When we arrived, their office was in a simple office park five story building. We moved to a rather large conference room and sat down for several Q and A’s with professionals in Human Resources, product development, and Regulatory Affairs. They discussed work life at GSK and their own career progression. A common theme I noticed from these professional talks is how diverse the career track progression can be; two out of the five panelists said they had worked at all the major pharma companies except one, and everyone else had worked at more than half of them. When the panel opened for questions, a six year post-doc asked, “I have been applying to jobs for months but without any industry experience I am not getting interviews!” One panelist answered almost immediately that they had gone through a similar experience when they first started applying for jobs. His message was to not give up, continue applying, because he had applied to over 100 positions before he landed his first job. Then another panelist immediately cut in and discussed how industry research at the bench was only limited to hiring from a select number of research groups. According to him these are known only within industry, and that they (the industry), were just beginning to hire outside of that applicant pool. Several of the panelists discussed how being active at iJOBS events and updating your LinkedIn profile increases your chances of getting hired. I caught up to this post-doc after and asked her a few questions about the answers she received and what she found useful about the site visit. She discussed how going on a site visit allows you to have the kind of face-to-face interaction which allows employers to speak on your candidature when choosing among job applicants. In other words, networking. She also said that you can learn from the speaker’s stories about the challenges they faced during their career, gaining insider knowledge which is not well-known to other first-time applicants.
Next, we had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Dr. Christopher Kocun, the Chief Medical Officer and head of consumer health medical affairs and clinical development. He started to discuss his life story about how no one had believed in him and how he would never have predicted his own career trajectory. He mentioned, that we should plan on setting up three, five, and ten-year plans, even though they will change as new opportunities become available. He discussed how the initial leap to industry is hard but after that, getting your next job becomes much easier. Also, when performing on your first job, prepare to push yourself and never say no to a new opportunity because this will unlock more future opportunities. When he opened the forum for questions I decided to ask one, “what is your process for learning something new?” We endured a brief pause and then he proceeded to break his answer into two parts. His first suggestion was to begin learning your new skill with the end in mind, that is have a good picture of what the end goal is before you start. His second part included information about analyzing data and knowing your facts. Another important piece of advice he discussed was how important trust is in all relationships, when people trust you and vouch for your skills you will excel. Do not lie, do not surprise your boss, be consistent and deliver excellent work.
Next, we embarked on the facility tour. I noticed how clean and new everything looked, in contrast to my experience in academic labs with lots of dust and dirt. We toured their medical affairs office, the office oversees designing and discussing over-the-counter products. Here decisions are made about whether GSK will introduce a product into a particular market. We also toured a lab where they made the over-the-counter drug prototypes, completed with several 3D printers. Our hosts explained that although many completed projects never go to market, the manufacturing ideas developed for these products are often recycled into other products.
Next, we went to another round table discussion, but this time in small groups. In this intimate setting we felt less intimidated when asking questions. I found this a great setting for getting an answer to a critical question I have. “I am going to graduate with a PhD in neuroscience, does that preclude me from applying to certain industry jobs that do not list a Neuroscience PhD as a requirement?” The short answer was no, you should expect to move around between jobs that might not have anything to do with one another.
After this, I finally arrived at the small group that I had been waiting for; Regulatory Affairs. I finally received an answer to my question, what is the average day of a regulatory affairs professional? She answered directly that it was always different, she had to take a conference call at 7am that morning before moving onto her next work task. She discussed how she often works as a liaison between the government regulations and the pharmaceutical industry. Her job is to make sure that government regulations are followed during the manufacturing and creation of new products. Regulatory affairs professionals ensure that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) manufacturing and product safety guidelines are enforced.
During the last fifteen minutes, many of my fellow iJOBS colleagues took the initiative and decided to make important network contacts. As we were told during the site visit, contacts and networks are invaluable for getting new jobs. Sitting on the bus ride home I watched the New Jersey countryside go by my window. There was new information to start chewing apart, analyze, and use to create a new three and five year plan. I wondered if in the future I would be making the same daily commute to and from Bridgewater, NJ. Note to future self: the traffic on the 280 north is terrible at 8am.