Alice and her friends answer questions that you don’t want to ask your preceptor, peer, or colleagues regarding your career in science.
Q: I am a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences. I want to develop a career that does not involve research or teaching. Some options I’m familiar with are regulatory affairs and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewer, but I would like to know what other career options are available that offer a top salary.
Also, how do I land those careers? If I want to pursue regulatory affairs after my graduation, how do I do that? Is there any advantage to joining the FDA first, gaining experience, and then moving to regulatory affairs at a company?
Focus on courses that provide you with broadly applicable tools: information technology, informatics, drug development, clinical trials, medicinal chemistry, operations management, and regulatory affairs are obvious choices.
A: Ph.D. training in pharmaceutical sciences trains you for many different types of jobs. At this stage, it is important to pick courses that fit with your goals. Focus on courses that provide you with broadly applicable tools: information technology, informatics, drug development, clinical trials, medicinal chemistry, operations management, and regulatory affairs are obvious choices.
Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to the top paying jobs. As in most careers, unless you have special connections, you start at the bottom and work your way to the best jobs. Doing your very best at each stage, no matter how menial the job may seem, will help you to reach your goals.
To get started in regulatory affairs at a company, you need to get your foot in the door and show your special capability and interest in regulations and compliance. Having had a fellowship or internship at an organization like the FDA (here’s another example) is one way to build your credentials. Another is to find a fellowship after your graduate training in an agency or office involved with regulatory affairs; such fellowships are offered by AAAS (the publisher of Science Careers). Several companies also offer fellowships related to regulatory affairs. Another route is through the recently founded Postdoctoral Professional Masters in bioscience management program offered by the Keck Graduate Institute, (KGI) which consists of 9 months of training in business, management, strategy, marketing, regulation, accounting, and other business skills, together with experience in industry-sponsored team projects.
Also watch the changing medical environment in this country. Pharmacies are starting to offer health- care services beyond filling prescriptions. Just in the last few years, more and more individuals are walking into their local pharmacies to get not just their annual flu shots but also vaccinations. As a pharmaceutical sciences Ph.D., you may be able to contribute to the development and operation of similar new business opportunities. These are exciting challenges for your chosen profession.
—Alice, with Kathy Webster, dean of the KGI School of Pharmacy, Claremont, California