Associate Principle Scientist (BioPharmaceuticals)
Being able to find a role that I really enjoy and that I can make a real contribution to, from all the possibilities out there, is extremely satisfying. Matt
So, what do you do?
Having previously worked in the early stages of drug discovery for 13 years, I now work in late stage development in a product development discipline called BioPharmaceutics. This involves ensuring that new medicines have reproducible and efficacious drug levels in the blood, irrespective of the batch or site of manufacture of tablets or injectable drugs.
What qualifications and experience did you have when you entered the industry?
I studied Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry at university and found the topics relevant to the pharmaceutical industry extremely interesting. I was then fortunate to study for a PhD that benefited from a CASE award studentship sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. This meant that as well as having an industrial supervisor’s input to my project and regular visits to the company site, I had extra money during my PhD.
On completing my PhD a postdoctoral research position became available in my industrial supervisor’s team. My PhD covered an area of research that was relevant to the role but most importantly it had provided me with the technical skills, communication skills and problem solving experience I needed to be successful in industry. Since then I have had a variety of scientific and leadership roles across both drug discovery and drug development.
What does your typical day involve?
My typical day is varied and interesting, involving a mixture of research into new assays, experimental testing of compounds, discussing results, giving expert advice at meetings and providing leadership to my team. It requires me to manage my time effectively, and to meet challenging deadlines. The work is rewarding and valued by project teams.
Why did you decide on a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
Originally I was more interested in an academic career. However, the exposure to industry I obtained during my sponsored PhD gave me a fantastic insight into the scientific, societal and personal impact that pharmaceutical research generates. In addition, I could see that the great facilities and engaged researchers, all working towards a common goal to improve patients’ lives, made the industry a great place to work. This experience motivated me to pursue an industrial postdoc and I have never looked back.
Do you work mostly on your own or as part of team?
Teamwork is very important, both in my group and in the projects I support, and there is always someone available to provide helpful advice. Sometimes we will work together in small teams to solve a difficult problem or deliver a new practical solution. At other times we will work alone to generate data analysis or new ideas before discussing them collectively in project meetings. Often we will get the help of colleagues who are experts in a particular technique in order to improve the quality of our work, or input our experience into the work of others.
How has your career developed since you left university?
After my postdoc I obtained a permanent position as a Senior Physical Chemist at a different site in the same company. Since then I have gradually taken on an increased level of responsibility and moved between different roles over a period of 15 years. Having supported several drug discovery projects as their physical chemistry/DMPK expert, leading a small team of physical chemists and then larger group of DMPK scientists, I moved from drug discovery to drug development 2 years ago and now hold a science-focussed role much closer to clinical trials patient.
Throughout my time in industry I have been actively encouraged to attend a variety of internal and external training courses and conferences. These have focussed on both my scientific and personal development. Working in the pharmaceutical industry has provided me with a large number of opportunities to grow as a scientist and as a professional. In addition, the leadership skills obtained in my management roles are now extremely useful when working in project teams and networks.
What is it like socially where you work?
There is a leisure centre on site with a gym, sports facilities and bar. They also provide various sports clubs and activity weeks for kids in the holidays. There are a variety of social events that occur throughout the year and as a group we regularly celebrate each other’s birthdays as an excuse to go out together.
What are you most proud of in your career?
When I studied for my degree I didn't really know where I wanted to end up. Since then I have adapted my skills to follow a career path that both interests and challenges me. Being able to find a role that I really enjoy and that I can make a real contribution to, from all the possibilities out there, is extremely satisfying. I have been really lucky in being able to find a series of such roles in the Pharmaceutical industry.
Along the way I have also supervised several students and managed teams. I'm proud of the contribution I have made to the development of other people and their careers, as well as developing my own. I'm also highly motivated by the possibility of helping to discover the next breakthrough in treatment for patients. I am currently working on a project that is having a real benefit in the clinic on patients' lives and you can't really get a better motivator.
Do you think additional qualifications or experience would be an advantage for someone entering the industry now?
Absolutely. It is getting more and more competitive in the applications process. However, it is not just about high quality qualifications but also the extra-depth you can offer. Industrial experience through placements and work experience as well as extra-curricular activities that highlight your inter-personal skills are just as important to make your applications stand out from the crowd.
What possibilities are there for your career in the future?
You don’t always know where the next step will take you and I’ve not been in my current role very long. In the long term there might be opportunities to further develop my management skills with a new leadership role or alternatively I might progress in terms of scientific or project leadership. The route taken will depend on my interests, performance and how the organisation develops around me, leading to new opportunities.
What do you think are the most important skills for someone in your role to have?
The ability to focus on the most important task at any particular time. There are always several options for you to work on at any given moment, some of which will develop science in the long term, some of which will impact a particular project straight away. You need to get the combination right, delivering where you can have a timely and focussed impact and at the same time improving your skills and science with a long-term vision.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone seeking a career in the pharmaceutical industry?
Practise your interview skills. Research around the roles you want to apply for and the company you are applying to. Spend some time role-playing in the interview situation to improve your confidence and get advice on technique. The interviews are tough but fair and it’s your only opportunity to sell yourself, your skills and why you want the job.