Case study

Medical science liaison (MSL) — Anna Pickin

Towards the end of her PhD, Anna's research into careers beyond the lab led her to the dynamic world of medical science liaison

How did you get into medical science liaison?

After an undergraduate degree in biomedical science, I worked as a research scientist in industry for two years. I then went on to do a PhD in cancer research. During this time, I much preferred my non-laboratory experiences and wanted a role outside of academia.

Towards the end of my PhD, I researched my potential career options and the MSL role really appealed to me. I was lucky enough to find an entry-level MSL job requiring no previous MSL experience, which I started straight after my PhD.

What are your main work activities?

I work as an MSL for an in-vitro diagnostics company, specialising in tests for blood cancer and immune system disorders. The role involves a considerable amount of international travel, as I work alongside the international sales department. This makes my job slightly different to other MSL roles, which are predominantly UK field based. However, my key responsibilities are quite typical for an MSL. I regularly:

  • deliver presentations at universities, hospitals and conferences
  • hold meetings with clinicians and laboratory staff to discuss current literature, assist with results interpretation and troubleshoot any issues relating to the company's products
  • help set up clinical studies and assist in data analysis and manuscript preparation
  • keep up to date with relevant scientific literature
  • work closely with the marketing department to develop marketing materials
  • deliver training courses for other staff members.

In what way is your PhD relevant?

My PhD was in the field of oncology and cancer biology. As my MSL role involves working with immunoassays used in haematological malignancy, there was a close link between my academic background and the focus of the job. Many MSL roles are highly specialised, so it's important to have a good grounding in the relevant field or therapy area.

What do you enjoy most about being an MSL?

I really like how varied and fast-paced the work is. One week I could be in China delivering presentations on multiple myeloma, then a couple of days later be back in the UK analysing data from a multiple sclerosis study. Furthermore, there's always something new being published, which keeps you on your toes. The international travelling is also exciting and has enabled me to experience different cultures and meet many interesting people.

The collaborative nature of the role is also very enjoyable. I work with many different departments in the company and with people from all over the world. In conclusion, it's very unlikely that you'll get bored as an MSL.

What are the most challenging aspects?

Travelling for work can be exciting, but jet lag can be tough and being away from home a lot can make the work-life balance more difficult. Also, research is always changing, and new studies are always being published, so it can be challenging to keep up with literature and new developments.

What are your career ambitions?

I have learned a lot in my role and my next planned step is to move into a medical liaison manager role in the pharmaceutical industry.

Any advice for those aspiring to work in MSL?

  • Get as much presentation experience as you can, and try to set up some collaborative research with industry if possible.
  • Before you apply for a job, try to learn as much as possible about the role and the company.
  • When attending interviews, make sure you can give a clear reason why you would like to leave academia and be an MSL.

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