Interview with Dr. Norman Chan, Medical Scientific Advisor at Bayer 

Be persistent. Be confident.” – Dr. Norman Chan

Please tell us a little about yourself (academic background to current role).

I obtained my BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Waterloo and my PhD in the department of Medical Biophysics from the University of Toronto. I began my PhD mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.

After graduate school, I got a position at Bayer as an intern. Following that position, I have moved through several positions at Bayer in study management and medical affairs. Most recently, I’ve taken on the role of Medical Scientific Advisor for Bayer’s Pulmonology division.

What was the most valuable part of your graduate school experience?

The most valuable part of graduate school was the skills that I developed, including critical thinking, problem solving, presentation skills, and technical writing skills. Basically everything except what I actually researched in the lab. That being said, having a graduate degree is very helpful for your credibility in any medical affairs role.

Graduate school was the best time of my life. I had no responsibilities, made just enough money to get by, and was surrounded by friends in the exact same situation. Eventually all good things come to an end and I realized I needed to move on with my life.

You’ve held numerous positions at Bayer over the last 6 years. In your opinion, what are the benefits of staying with one company versus moving between companies in the first few years of your career?

The biggest benefit to staying with one company is being able to build strong lasting relationships. One of the most important keys to my professional success has been having fantastic mentors at Bayer who I can count on to provide honest direct feedback and advice. I wouldn’t be in the position I am now in without them.

What does the role of a Medical Scientific Advisor entail and how is it different from your previous position as a Medical Science Liaison?

A Medical Scientific Advisor is a primarily internal facing role to develop medical brand strategy. A Medical Science Liaison is a primarily external facing role that executes medical brand strategy.

What skills and qualities do you think are necessary to be successful in an MSL/MSA position?

The most important skills in these roles are the ability to develop interpersonal relationships, to assimilate and communicate complex information, and to be independently motivated. My first manager described it as the 3 A’s – Attitude, Aptitude, and Ambition. In my opinion, these are the same skills you need to be successful at anything in life.

What aspect of your career as an MSL/MSA is the most attractive to you?

The best part of being in the field is that you set your own schedule and you get paid to travel and talk about science all day. Anyone who has been an MSL will tell you it’s the best job in Pharma!

What do you find the most challenging about your job or what do you enjoy the least?

The hardest part is being field-based because it can be isolating and lonely. It can also be challenging to develop and maintain head office relationships.

What can graduate students do now to prepare themselves for a career in industry?

It is important to identify industry trends such as upcoming product launches and patent cliffs. Get involved in extracurricular activities that demonstrate a well-rounded skill set. Network!

  1. What three pieces of advice would you give to current graduate students who are pursuing an MSL career?
    Think about how your current experiences provide transferable skills. For example, presenting at a conference demonstrates the ability to succinctly communicate scientific data.
  2. Talk to people in the industry. We can often give you the inside scoop on openings.
  3. It may not always be possible to move directly into an MSL position from grad school. Be persistent. Be confident. You may benefit from taking another customer-facing role such as a CRA or sales rep. Bayer has also recently implemented a Medical Education Liaison role which is similar to a junior MSL position.

Interview by LSCDS Exec Member Neeti Vashi

Neeti is a PhD candidate in the department of Molecular Genetics, pursuing her research in the lab of Dr. Monica Justice. She is interested in a career in Medical Affairs or Medical Writing. She can be found on LinkedIn here.