Dr Serika

Dr Serika Naicker |   Senior Medical Affairs at Pharmacosmos UK Ltd

I put my research skills to good use and did my homework. I spoke to anyone and everyone, at conferences and beyond, about available career opportunities. I kept an open mind and aimed to gain as much insight as I could into what roles were available, and identify additional skills or expertise I might need to pursue these types of careers. When I came across the medical affairs role within the pharmaceutical industry, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for

NUI Galway Posts: PhD researcher; Postdoctoral researcher
Years in NUI Galway: 2013-2018
Research Discipline: Nephrology & Immunology
Project Title: Phenotypic and functional characteristics of blood monocytes in chronic kidney disease

Tell us about your experience as a researcher at NUI Galway

I loved my time in NUI Galway as it allowed me to experience numerous aspects of both clinical and translational research, and to achieve a broader understanding of not just the academic but also the clinical environment. My PhD and Post-Doctoral research topics were very patient-focused, which triggered my interest in improving patient care by moving medicine forward. I am also very grateful that my time in research afforded me the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to widely pursue disease-focused research and bridge gaps between basic science, clinical science, and industry, always with the patient in mind. I think the skills I have found most useful in my career to date are time-management, project-management, self-reliance, self-confidence, critical thinking and problem solving. Other vital skills learned as a researcher, ones which I use daily, are organizational skills, people skills, collaborative skills, statistical and descriptive analysis and perseverance. Sometimes you just don’t know what the day will bring.

Tell us about your career journey since your time at NUI Galway

During my last year as a researcher, I realised that, based on my outgoing nature, I wanted to extend myself beyond early-stage, lab-based research. I felt I could be well suited to a role where education and interaction with medical stakeholders could add value to the treatment pathway for patients. At the time, I wasn’t sure if a role like this existed; so, I put my research skills to good use and did my homework. I spoke to anyone and everyone, at conferences and beyond, about available career opportunities. I kept an open mind and aimed to gain as much insight as I could into what roles were available, and identify additional skills or expertise that I might need to pursue these types of careers. When I came across the medical affairs role within the pharmaceutical industry, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for. At the time, I was very lucky that I had the opportunity to speak to a lady who had a very impressive and successful career. She offered me an excellent overview of the role and she took the time to highlight the skills I already had that were perfect for this type of position. She was kind enough to propose one or two things I could do over the next year that may give me an added advantage and help my CV stand out.

In 2018, my contract at NUI Galway was coming to an end and I was offered a role as a Diabetes Medical Science Liaison (MSL) for Ireland in a small pharmaceutical company. Scientific and medical experts have a special need for in-depth and cutting-edge information to help design and implement novel research that fills educational gaps, helps informing everyday medical practice and helps educate colleagues and student. My role was specifically designed to meet these needs through a field-based group of medical professionals with deep content knowledge about the most up-to-date treatment options, clinical studies and current issues in Endocrinology, Cardiology and Nephrology therapeutic areas. By facilitating scientific exchanges between industry and the academic community, MSL’s have an opportunity to shape the future of healthcare with needed information that addresses important clinical and scientific questions. Six months later, I was promoted to Medical and Diabetes Lead, and in addition to my previous responsibilities, I was tasked with gathering feedback and insights from scientific experts to help inform and influence the overall national and global medical strategy for the company.

In 2019, I branched out into a broader position in Medical Affairs within a small to medium sized pharmaceutical company based in the UK which focuses on Iron Deficiency. I took on a position that also incorporates elements of a medical advisor role in addition to similar responsibilities to my previous role. I now cover more therapy areas such as Nephrology, Cardiology, Gastroenterology, Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Surgery across the UK/IE and I am the National Heart Failure Lead. Separately, I also offer contract support as a Medical Affairs Manager for a new medical start-up company since Dec 2019. I really enjoy my job as I feel it offers exciting challenges, captivating career progression opportunities and a great sense of personal achievement by allowing me to play my part in helping to improve medical care for patients. I wholeheartedly believe that my time in NUI Galway offered me invaluable experience which allowed me to pursue this fascinating career path beyond academic research.

What advice would you give to current NUI Galway researchers?

Think more broadly and always keep an open mind. You are not siloed, but you do need to do your homework! As researchers embarking on a similar journey, we tend to think that our most promising career options can be found in academia or research within industry, without really knowing what that truly means. This is not the case! There are many jobs outside of research, both in your field of interest and beyond. These include medical writing, teaching/higher education, sales representation, journalism, various government positions… the list really does go on. There are also many broader career opportunities that you may not have even considered yet. These possibilities allows you to put some of the more technical or transferable skills, learned during your time in research, to good use -such as project management skills for management consultancy, using numerical skills in the financial sector, and using writing and editing skills in journalism or publishing. These are just a few examples but, essentially, you can do nearly anything. The most striking observation, which I have made since leaving academic research, is that you just need to be resilient, passionate and driven to have a successful career so just don’t hold yourself back.

 

Dr Tara

Dr Tara Sugrue |   Scientific Officer & Strategy Manager at BRCCH

When choosing a job or a career path, my advice would be: do what makes you happy and pursue what you love because, in the end, this is what motivates us to keep going

NUI Galway Posts: PhD researcher
Years in NUI Galway: 2010-2013
Research Discipline: Regenerative Medicine
Project Title: Investigating the Response of Mesenchymal Stem Cells to Radiation Exposure

Tell us about your experience as a researcher at NUI Galway

If had to choose the best words to describe my time as a PhD researcher at NUI Galway, it would be: highly enjoyable, challenging, sometimes frustrating and gratifying. Sometimes all of those combined in a single day! I carried out a joint research project between the laboratories of Professor Rhodri Ceredig (Previous NCBES Director) and Professor Noel Lowndes (Director of Centre for Chromosome Biology). We also collaborated closely with the immunology and transplant biology group led by Professor Matthew Griffin. As a result, I was very lucky to carry out my work in a highly collaborative and supportive environment and to have the opportunity to learn about different research domains including stem cell biology, cancer biology and immunology. This was an excellent learning experience that has stayed with me ever since because it showed me the importance of combining different areas of knowledge, approaches and perspectives in driving science forward. This experience also highlighted to me that I highly enjoy working in a multi-cultural environment, and I have since pursued positions in which I could continue to meet people from all walks of life.

Since I worked between two laboratories based in two different buildings, I had to manage my time well! Often, experiments were only possible in one lab or the other, so I had to develop good organisation and time management skills to make sure I could complete my work as efficiently as possible. These skills have since been a great asset for successfully managing different projects and tasks on a daily basis. At the beginning of my PhD, I was often afraid of making mistakes and of things not working out as planned, which made me quite stressed. Over time, I realised that mistakes happen all the time – especially in science! - and I decided to approach mistakes and challenges as opportunities to learn and improve. This perspective has helped me to become much more open to taking on new challenges and managing unknown and difficult situations arising at work throughout my career.

As a people manager later in my career, this experience also helped me to be empathetic towards different ways of learning and to encourage my own team members to embrace their own mistakes and to keep growing in their roles and in their personal development. Before my PhD, I found presentations and public-speaking nerve-wracking. However, I was grateful to have the opportunity to give talks about my work during internal meetings and at conferences. With continued practice, I became more self-confident in communicating about research and it actually became something I really enjoyed doing! At the same time, I had to gain skills in scientific writing and editing to be able to successfully write research publications and my thesis. With my primary supervisor, Professor Ceredig, we wrote and revised many written pieces together and, thanks to his support, I became proficient at writing. This has helped me tremendously in the work positions I pursued after my PhD.

Tell us about your career journey since your time at NUI Galway

Following my PhD, I moved to Switzerland and I worked as a postdoctoral scientist at the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) at the EPFL in Lausanne for three years. This was an excellent opportunity to gain international experience in two areas I became very passionate about during my PhD - Immunology and Cancer. During my time as a postdoctoral scientist, I realised that I wanted to stay connected to my passion for science but wished to explore other opportunities to do this beyond the bench. The strong interest in science communication and writing I had developed during my PhD stayed with me during my postdoc and so I decided to pursue a position as an editorial specialist at the scientific publisher Frontiers Media SA based in Lausanne. At Frontiers, I was initially responsible for leading the creation of special issues for the journal, Frontiers in Immunology and, later, I became a manager of a team of editorial specialists who worked across Frontiers’ biomedical sciences journal portfolio. My work as an editorial specialist was highly enjoyable as I was able to learn about new areas of science every day, to build relationships with scientists across the globe, and to contribute to advancing research forward from a more general perspective. My work as a people manager also helped me to gain excellent leadership and team management skills and the opportunity to see my team members grow in their roles and in their self-confidence over time was very gratifying.

As I developed as a manager, I became progressively more involved in tasks such as organisation management, staff recruitment, training programmes and change management. Whilst this work was highly interesting and challenged me to develop new skills, I missed the connection with scientists and being able to contribute to the advancement of research and the development of the journal, which I had thoroughly enjoyed in my previous position. At the same time, career opportunities for my partner had also arisen which he wished to pursue further. We decided it was the right time to make a change and we moved to Basel, where I now work as a Scientific Officer & Strategy Manager for the Botnar Research Centre for Child Health (BRCCH).

The BRCCH was founded in January 2019 with the core mission of advancing new health solutions for children and adolescents, particularly for those living in low- and middle-income countries. In my role, I am responsible for supporting the strategic development of the Centre which consists of a variety of tasks such as investigating promising research areas of importance to the BRCCH, helping to establish professorial positions and research projects at the Centre, identifying potential strategic partners, and managing relationships with various stakeholders involved in the BRCCH. For me, being involved in helping to develop a research centre focused on improving the lives of children and young people who are most in need is very gratifying and motivating. As a new Centre, we regularly face new activities and challenges, and the skills and experiences that I gained in academic research and in publishing have been invaluable for helping me contribute the best I can to the team. It has been a very enjoyable journey so far at the BRCCH and a bright future lies ahead!

What advice would you give to current NUI Galway researchers?

1. Explore opportunities in gaining international experience, if you feel this is something you wish to try. From the perspective of both academic research and the commercial sector, work experience abroad, even for just a short period, is something that is appreciated. Soft skills such as being able to effectively work in a team, adapt to different situations, and be considerate of different perspectives are extremely important in any work position. From my own personal experience, working in a country with a very different culture to that in Ireland has opened my perspective to different ways of working, and has helped me to build strong relationships with international team members, company clients and stakeholders. In addition, although often underestimated, competencies in an international language are more and more sought for as the world of work becomes increasingly international.

2. Embrace Change. When I realised, after my postdoctoral work, that I wanted to explore other opportunities outside of the lab, I felt that I had failed as a researcher and that I had let down many people who had provided me with great mentorship and support during my research career. However, as time went on, I realised that it was the right choice for me, and many of my colleagues and friends have also explored different opportunities – both in academic research and in other sectors. When choosing a job or a career path, my advice would be: do what makes you happy and pursue what you love because, in the end, this is what motivates us to keep going. It’s ok not to have your life worked out for the next ten or twenty years when your PhD is done. Often, life brings us on paths and detours that we were not expecting and, although this can be scary, it can also be an opportunity in disguise.

3. Expand your personal skillset. Since we are often highly invested in doing laboratory or research-based work during our PhDs, it can be difficult to find opportunities to develop other skills like communication, organisation and teamwork that are also very important for preparing for the world of work. Particularly as you come to the end of your PhD and start to think about what you would like to do next, I would encourage you to think about what else will be important for your next job, in addition to your research skills. Luckily, there are now more flexible options than ever to build these skills at your own personal pace.

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