How PhDs Can Make a Difference
as Medical Science Liaisons

Dr. Samuel Dyer, CEO of the Medical Science Liaison Society, claims that “MSL jobs are one of the best-kept secrets in the industry.” The medical science liaisons we’ve interviewed all claim that they feel energized about their work in this sector because they feel they are making a real, day-to-day impact in the work that they do.

What does a medical science liaison do?

A medical science liaison works in the medical affairs sector. They serve as intermediaries between healthcare professionals and the products developed by the companies they work for. Mariya Krisenko, PhD, explains that largely, medical science liaisons carry out three major tasks: they provide education to key opinion leaders and healthcare professionals about their company’s products; they gather field insight from health care providers; and they support clinical trials for their company’s products. Tanu Thote, PhD, succinctly says that the MSL “answers questions that the sales team can’t answer.” The role of a medical science liaison will differ, depending on where you work, and the size of the company you work for. You could be responsible for one of these tasks, or for all of them!

On a day to day basis, Ryan Ward, PhD, says that the variety of activities he performs is extremely diverse. In Ryan’s case, he travels, meets with key opinion leaders (KOLs) to discuss findings and research data, collaborates with other colleagues, attends conferences, or completes solo projects. This is one aspect of his job that Ryan absolutely loves. “There’s a lot of different things to do to keep you busy, and to also keep you interested,” he says.

How should you get started?

Any successful career change starts with researching and networking. For example, Ryan began thinking about whether he wanted to complete an academic postdoc. He began talking to people outside academia, exploring options in all sectors (including finance and education!) Networking was important, because contacts in the pharmaceutical industry introduced him to the role of the MSL. He began learning as much as he could about the positions he was interested in.

This career path is particularly well-suited for medical science and life science PhDs as it may be difficult for other STEM PhDs to get the experience sometimes needed for entry-level MSL positions. Depending on where you are job searching, you might need previous clinical experience to get your foot in the door. For both Mariya and Tanu, this was the case. Ryan’s experience, and those of his contacts, suggests that this field can be a good career fit for new PhDs and postdocs leaving the lab. Be sure to ask your MSL contacts for their advice on this matter: they’ll know best!

Once you start applying and interviewing for positions, demonstrate the value you can bring to the position. Companies are looking for candidates that can highlight your capacity to learn and become an expert in your field. If the employer is looking for a strong communicator, highlight your experience with public speaking, presenting, and lecturing.

What skills should you showcase?

Scientific literacy, data analysis, creative and critical thinking, and problem solving are more essential to this field than hard lab skills. This career path taps into the PhDs love of continuous learning. If you loved communicating complex scientific ideas to others and science advocacy during graduate school, and enjoy meeting people and having a real impact on patients’ lives, you could be well-suited for a career as a medical science liaison.

Watch the entire career panel here:

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