Crossroads I – Career tracks: Consulting

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Crossroads
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Life science graduates, postgraduates or early career researchers often encounter a number of crossroads for career options spanning between academia, industry (R&D or Business strategy development in pharmaceutical, medtech and biotech industries), government, and academic medical centers (Read on Biotechin.Asia’s ‘The Right track for you’ event highlights).

For problem solvers and trained analytical minds, consulting for life sciences, biotechnology and medical devices regulatory industries is a lucrative option with promises of  providing the business sense of science, industry alignment, exposure to real world market and excellent network of key opinion leaders and industry partners. So we reached out to a couple of consultants in our network and interviewed them on how they perceive consulting as a career option and how they made this transition from academia.

This series titled, ‘Crossroads‘ caters to graduating students and early career researchers interested to learn more about various career paths and opportunities and maybe provide them with a useful guide to decide on their future career.

We interviewed two industry consultants (their names have not been revealed) with different backgrounds and industry experiences. This is the first article on the consulting series.

Brief background on the consultant in this interview

The consultant majored in science at school, did a Bachelors in Biotechnology in India, went on to complete a doctoral degree and pursued two post doctoral fellowships in the US before becoming a Senior Industry Consultant – Pharma and Life Sciences with a leading consulting firm in India. Always been a Science enthusiast and decided to do something different during the post doctoral trainings.

  • What interests you in consulting as a career? What were your other top options?

It gives me a chance to apply my academia knowledge to provide solutions to my clients. I did consider a scientist position in Pharma companies.

  • PhDs generally have credible analytical skills. What are the other critical skills required for a consulting role?

Analytical skills, Scientific knowledge that helps you to be a domain expert, Presentation skills and of course communication skills which are important in client handling.

  • How do you train to become a consultant while completing the studies? Can these skills be learnt on the job?

Well as a PhD you carry the domain specific skills. Need to understand the market, its current trends and the pain points of the industry. Any other role specific skills needs to be picked up on the job.

  • How would you rate the salary compared to a regular postdoc salary?

Any day. It is a no-brainer. Any job gives a better salary than a postdoc 🙂

  • What are the downsides?

The only thing I sometimes miss is doing research (it is mostly because that is what I was doing for the last 9 years :)). But I do not regret that as I have chosen this and this role has a lot more to offer.

  • Can you describe the nature of your job interviews?

My first round was technical with questions about my previous roles and career aspirations. Other than the scientific knowledge it required knowledge regarding the organization of the Pharma industry (specific to my case as I am a Life Sciences consultant) and the pharmaceutical development processes, the current challenges and trends of the Pharma industry etc. The second and third rounds were mostly HR rounds trying to gauge my attitude and strengths followed by salary negotiation.

  • Is the work more information driven or networking driven?

It is definitely a mix of both information driven and word of mouth insights.

  • Do you use data science and analytics to derive your case results?

Yes, because the complete story, including past trends, future potential etc can be gleaned only through proper analytics. So case results are incomplete if the underlying numbers have not been analyzed.

  • Do you see data science complementing or replacing the role of consultants?

Yes and No. Data science as a subject is itself complimentary to consulting as data science is more objective from where the subjectivity has to gleaned by consultants.

However an experienced data scientist is often in a position to act as consultants as well and can in future take over to some extent the role of consultants

  • What is your opinion about lifetech consulting in Asia?

It is quite young, the primary reason being there is very little Life Science R&D that is carried out in Asia, including China and Japan and a Life Science consultant mostly works with American/European clients. The situation will get better as and when more emphasis is placed on innovative drugs/products rather than be a purely manufacturing/assembling/generics hub

  • How is the market receptive of consultants?

The market is very well receptive as consultants come with a set of expertise/experience that a client typically does not have. That is why we see so many consultants in staff augmentation roles.

  • How is the work-life balance in a consultant role? Is it a myth?

Till now work-life balance is working out well 🙂 But there are high pressure deadlines that need to be met where that balance gets affected of course. But there are also work from home options which acts in favor of women employees especially the ones with kids. So it always good to have that option which you can avail when needed.

  • Do you think you have found your fit?

Well I like what I am doing 🙂 It has given me a chance to broaden out (other than just doing bench work), understand the real market, apply my knowledge, gain new skills and take up new challenges

Excellent resources for learning more about consulting

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2014/09/science-careers-guide-consulting-careers-phd-scientists

http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v25/n12/full/nbt1207-1489.html