Crossroads II – Your future career path



Brief background on the consultant chosen for this interview

The consultant has a bachelor degree in biomedical engineering and a master degree in management in health and life science. She is a hybrid between natural science and social science. She tried out a PhD program in biomedical engineering before, but it didn’t work out in the end. That did not stop her and she carried on her quests and now she works as a consultant in medical device regulatory compliance industry in Amsterdam.

  • Why did you choose consulting?

If you are looking for some eureka-moment story in which I woke up one day and decided to become a consultant, I am afraid that I will disappoint you. My story is a bit dull. I never had this eureka moment and am also not the plan-ahead type.  But rather it is because a series of choices/ decisions that I made along the way that brought me where I am today. So I guess in the end, it is just an ‘obvious choice’ to choose a consultant career. It is ‘obvious’ not because the opportunity just happened or dropped on us, and it is obvious to just take it. It is ‘obvious’ because during the way (of growing up in the broadest sense), through various experience, through trial-and-error, through exploration and learning, we learnt at least what we don’t want, if not what we want. And that experience is very dear to me, and that’s pretty much the base for an ‘obvious choice’.

  • What other options were you considering before opting for this role?

Options are always abundant I guess, volunteering at NGOs, business analyst, furthering study to become an academic, internships, training, graduate program at companies, pharmaceutical industry, medical device industry, healthcare industry. It is actually quite stressful to think that there are so many choices. Again, I don’t think I am a good example for my fellow students,  I was never that focused in terms of building a career until very recently. I tried out a lot of things, a lot of roles, a lot of places before I come to peace with myself.

  • What skills do you think are crucial for this job?

I guess in a sense, my past hodge-podge experience helped in the line of work I am doing today. As a consultant, as opposed to an academic, you have to be a little bit more adaptive, dynamic, practical. Analytical skills, reasoning skills and other professional knowledge are undoubtedly important at work, but as a consultant, your personality, your social skills, your practical problem solving skills are constantly put at test.

  • PhDs generally have credible analytical skills. Is market awareness perspective a must? How about knowledge on the current trends?

Analytical skills are indeed important, whether it is in academia or on the job market. I have read a fair share of job descriptions, and most of them demand the candidates to have certain level of analytical skills.

With regards to ‘knowledge on the current trends’, the difference between academia and industry is that the latter is way less romantic and way more practical. Yes, knowing the trends is an important asset, in academia we read loads of papers/literature/news on ‘what might be the next big thing in life science industry’, ‘what might change to our healthcare systems in the next ten years’, ‘what’s the future for food industry’ etc., and we all got excited, or worried, or feel like some actions need to be taken right away. That’s, in my view, a romantic way of reacting. But what’s actually happening or will happen in the industry is way behind, simply because the shear amount of human/ economic resource, logistics, stakeholders etc. involved in changing the font of your company’s address on your company’s pens. I am exaggerating here, but the reality is that industry takes a practical approach in addressing trends. Unless you are working in stock market or venture capital companies, knowing or anticipating what’s gonna happen next week is absolutely crucial. But otherwise, be smart (having knowledge is always a plus) but also be practical.

  • Is the work more information driven or networking driven?

Because I work in the medical device regulatory compliance industry, and because the regulatory framework is regularly, if not constantly, updating. This means that we have to be up-to-date with the latest regulations on medical devices in Europe, in US, and in China all the time. As a result, information and knowledge is vital, because those are exactly the things that we sell to our clients. Depends on different lines of work, the weight of ‘information’ and ‘networking’ may varies, in my opinion. Consultancy companies are very often knowledge-based companies, thus information often is on the driving seat. However, like any other business, consultancy companies also have their marketing department, also need to make themselves known, also need to convince potential clients etc., networking is indispensable.  In my own case, I work more on the operation side instead of marketing side, thus my work is more information driven.

  • Can these skills be learnt on the job?

Absolutely. In two of total four interviews I had with my current employer company, I was jovially called ‘a blank canvas’ by my interviewers. Regulatory compliance was never on school program, I had indeed no prior professional knowledge. But I guess as long as you want to learn, relevant job-specific skills can definitely be acquired on the job.

  • Can you describe your typical day at your workplace?

Traveling, coffee, emails, more coffee, meetings, talking a walk with colleagues during lunch break, phone calls, more emails. As part of job, a consultant often has to travel a lot and has a rather flexible ‘workplace’. Sometimes, work is done in the company’s office, sometimes it is in client’s office, sometimes it is in the lounge in the airport. But besides that, the essence of your day is trying to solve your client’s problem, basically.

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

It is not when you live in Amsterdam! Dutch people knows when to work and when to party.

  • What are the perks about being a consultant?

You get to work on different projects, solving different problems. The salary depends on what kind of consultancy work you do, the salary level differs.

  • What are the downsides?

Drink too much coffee. Kidding, I think it is too early for me to pass a negative judgement yet, I still like the work very much so.

  • What was the nature of the job interview?

For me, the four interviews that I had with current employer are more about ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I know’. Because they know that job specific knowledge is not all taught at school or gained from research, and I am to certain extend a blank canvas to them. But it does not matter that much. Because in the end, the interviewers ultimately want to know, whether they can work WITH you, and work ON you (in case you are inexperienced).

  • What is your take on the role of data science in biotech or life science consulting?

I think data, no matter in which line of work (in research or consulting), is fundamental. It is the base from which the information and knowledge can be drawn. And information and knowledge often are what actually is being valued and what is billable.  But to transition from data towards information/knowledge, it is again linked to the key analytical capabilities that I mentioned earlier.

So YES, I work with and glean information from data, but the final product I deliver is  information/knowledge. And I think it is an integral part of a consultant life: the process of working from data to arrive at information and ultimately to knowledge.

  • Do you think you have found your fit?

Right now, I am on a steep learning curve, and that’s what gets me going.

Further external reading on different career paths and management consulting