Workshop 'Careers in the pharmaceutical industry'

Insights into the pharmaceutical industry for young academics - Haarlem, 25 September 2009

‘Only few of the big pharmaceutical companies do Research & Development in the Netherlands!’

‘If you cling to doing research, the big pharma’s in the Netherlands may seem uninteresting to you but if you open up and look beyond R&D, you may discover a variety of most interesting careers.’

‘When recruiting for new employers, pharmaceutical companies select people rather for their personality traits than for their qualifications.’

Insights into the pharmaceutical industry for young academics - Haarlem, 25 September 2009

‘Only few of the big pharmaceutical companies do Research & Development in the Netherlands!’

‘If you cling to doing research, the big pharma’s in the Netherlands may seem uninteresting to you but if you open up and look beyond R&D, you may discover a variety of most interesting careers.’

‘When recruiting for new employers, pharmaceutical companies select people rather for their personality traits than for their qualifications.’

‘Having a PhD does help to get you into the pharmaceutical industry, even if it is not stated as a requirement. The trick is to underline all transferable skills you acquired during your PhD!’

‘A PhD does not automatically buy you a place high up on the pharmaceutical career ladder, but as a PhD you are likely to have developed the right qualities to climb quickly’

‘Academics tend to underestimate themselves while for the pharmaceutical industry it is extremely important to know what you are worth and how to sell yourself.’

This is just a selection of what forty Early Career Researchers learned when visiting pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) in Haarlem with PCDI and Nefarma. Coming from academia few young researchers know what is actually going on in the pharmaceutical industry. At this conference postdocs and final year PhD students explored their career opportunities.

Already from a distance the offices, factories and the tall storage building were distinctively industrial, so were the forklifts and the fully automated freight carts at the site. Situated at an industrial zone, it was clear that the venue would be different from the small scale university campuses.

We were welcomed by medical directors from MSD and Roche who presented the challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry. Patient care and quality always come first, but of course, profit is also to be made. Our first thought about their activities was Research & Development, but the fact that only few of the big pharma’s have R&D departments in the Netherlands (only Solvay and Schering-Plough/formerly Organon) came to many as a surprise.

There are however other places than just R&D where Life Scientists could thrive. Pharmaceutical companies have to deal with activities such as contact with doctors and health authorities, drug safety, licensing, politics and media attention. Depending on what your interests are, you could be a CRA (clinical research associate) or pursuit a career in departments like Marketing & Sales, Medical department, Regulatory affairs, Drug safety or Scientific Liaisons. To ensure that people from academia understood what the responsibilities of these department are, GlaxoSmithKline’s Head Pharmaceutical Affairs gave examples for each of them.

He also put the PhD student/postdoc into the perspective of the pharmaceutical industry. Having successfully done a PhD means that you have proven many transferable skills, from your ability to work independently, to cope with setbacks to stamina and medical writing skills. All kinds of features that are sought after by the pharmaceutical companies. A PhD is perhaps not be demanded for some jobs, but it certainly increases your value as an employer.

Cultural differences between industry and academia were tangible when it came to the recruitment procedure. While postdocs and PhD students wanted to know about the added value of having a PhD, medical directors emphasized on transferable skills and personality. Enthusiasm, eagerness to learn and to excel are key. It is therefore important to know how to present yourself at the interview. Approaching the companies directly can be another strategy to get in. Find out what the company wants and tell them what you think you can offer!

The Question & Answer session turned out to be way too short to satisfy everyone’s need for information. Fortunately the speakers went along with the company tour, remaining available for individual questions. It was clear that this opportunity was grasped: they were constantly surrounded by interrogating young researchers!

As concerned the guided tour: it was a unique opportunity to see what the pharmaceutical industry was like in reality. Even though it did not show the workspaces where ex-postdocs would spend their day, the up-scaled manufacturing /packaging units and the logistics required for storage and shipment to over 140 countries were very impressive, no doubt this was industry!

If you have questions for the speakers of this event, please contact Nellie Kraaijeveld, senior policy advisor Medical Affairs of Nefarma: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She will forward your questions.