Almost half-way into my PhD studies, I seriously started to ponder over “what do I do after my PhD”. One observes that this very same question resurfaces at various instances such as close to completion of bachelors, masters etc. My outlook was to simply follow “what felt good at that moment” and apply for a course/role without necessarily investigating what this choice would mean for my future. At a broader level I knew that I wanted to have an interesting career in drug development, but, what role exactly, was not clear to me. While applying for my PhD studies, I had no clue whether careers in academic research were abundant or too few or how competitive they are. Applying for a Postdoctoral position after a PhD was the natural route that many did, however, I started rethinking if that was the right choice for me. This is a difficult question because to identify one’s career passion is sometimes not easy and I had little information about various job opportunities.
I started writing down my key strengths and what I enjoyed doing the most. I came to a reasonable conclusion that I am good at project management, documentation, and scientific communication. I started researching what kind of careers are best suited for my personality type and started hearing roles such as Medical Science Liaison (MSL), Regulatory Affairs and Pharmacovigilance specialists. I started taking my Linkedin more seriously in order to connect with professionals in these roles with a similar background as mine. It was an opportunity to hear firsthand from them what they thought about their careers and how they ended up in their current roles.
I knew by that time that just a PhD would not help me get an employment because I obviously lacked industrial experience and a good understanding of these fields. I was lucky to do an internship at a biotech company for 2 months during my PhD studies. My task was to turn in a comprehensive white paper on the mode of action of a proprietary drug, study outcomes from both clinical and non-clinical experiments and do a comparative analysis with other drugs in the market. Since it was my first real industrial assignment, I was determined to give my best shot. I felt that the personality type that fit into an industrial role and an academic role can be quite different, at least in my opinion. The pace with which one works in academia and industry are astronomically different. In an industrial setting, deadlines are real deadlines, often busy with meetings with different stakeholders, work under stress, perhaps over time, demanding one to push his/her limits to achieve set goals. It was challenging, however, I felt I was thriving in that setting. The dynamicity of the work, how the employees manage to achieve their goals and work collaboratively were all good reasons to pursue a career in the industry. A colleague of mine at the company recommended the organization TOPRA, which helps create new professionals in regulatory affairs, which was my favorite field. I became an active member of TOPRA and started attending their courses and events. One such event was the “Regulatory affairs careers live!” in London, where I got good networking possibilities with various pharma companies and CROs and got a good feel for what a regulatory profession really entails. Several of the courses were expensive, nevertheless, I knew that this would pay off in the future.
During my PhD studies, I was fortunate to lead a team of students organizing a career fair at my institute. Now taking leadership roles and reaching out to various audience boosts one’s confidence, gain a good understanding of the complexities around people and event management. Our team became more noticed in the industry and our network grew considerably. An important point a doctoral student looking to transition to industry needs to keep in mind is to find a balance between their research work and endeavors towards finding an industrial career. Never jeopardize one over the other!
The last year of my PhD I fully focused on my thesis and defense and kept the extra-curricular work bit slow paced. Once I defended, I went on a 2-month holiday traveling a bit and I highly recommend a break for freshly graduated PhDs.
After returning from the holidays, the real job search began. It wasn’t easy, at times frustrating and feeling hopeless. My command over the Swedish language wasn’t the best and that was a major limiting factor. One very important point I’d like to communicate with the readers is that, knowledge of local language open doors to jobs, friends and a sense of belonging to the place where you reside. Even if you are not excellent, an honest attempt to begin somewhere is a vital element to your professional and personal life. I did my best and started doing intensive courses in Swedish and started feeling more confident to hold a conversation.
As I kept applying for jobs, rejections became a norm and I sometimes even wondered if the reviewer really read my application because the response emails were all automated and same-styled. I changed my strategy a bit and started applying for jobs for that were for total beginners and I wasn’t aiming for high roles at all. One such application was for a graduate trainee program in regulatory affairs at a renowned pharma company in Denmark. I suppose there were 1000+ applicants and I got enlisted into top 5 candidates and I was thrilled. It then further went onto 2 rounds of interviews including a personality test and a group task. Most of the candidates were master students and perhaps there were 2/3 other PhD students. They then narrowed it down to two candidates, me being one of the two. It was really thrilling and I was filled with optimism that I’d be selected. Now the decision date came and my phone rang. I was eagerly waiting to hear the outcome and they said that I wasn’t the selected candidate. The reason cited was that probably I was overqualified for this role and they suspected that I might leave the graduate trainee program for a better role if I be offered one. As strange as it may sound, I was powerless in convincing them otherwise and accepted their decision. I was devastated, but, never lost hope. Luckily within a month, I got a job offer in a biobank as a technician. While being there, I was still looking for roles in regulatory affairs and within 6 months, I got another offer in regulatory affairs in a junior role. This was a great start! I was quick in learning and won the appreciation of my colleagues and within the next year, I got a managerial role and thus began my journey in this wonderful field!
I’d like to narrow down my approach to a successful job search into these essential points;
a) Identify your passion
b) Strategize an approach and make changes along the way and
c) Remain positive all throughout. If a person like myself can make it, you definitely can!
Last modified: December 4, 2018