“The training that graduate school gives in (analytical, communication and presentation) skills is a real benefit and is valued and sought after by companies” – Dr. Ryan Ward
Please tell us a little about yourself (academic background to current role)
I completed my Bachelors of Science degree at McMaster University in their pharmacology program. Then I completed my MSc from McGill and finally my PhD at UofT under the supervision of Dr. Peter Dirks at The Hospital for Sick Children. I am currently a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) in the immunology and inflammatory bowel disease group at Takeda Canada. This is a new position for me after spending 5+ years as an Oncology MSL at Boehringer Ingelheim.
What was the most valuable part of your graduate school and postdoctoral fellowship experience?
The analytical, communication and presentation skills I developed in graduate school are what serve me best in my day-to-day role. The training that graduate school gives in these skills is a real benefit and is valued and sought after by companies.
At what stage in your studies did you realize you wanted to leave academia and enter an industry profession/the medical science liaison field?
I was always open to non-academic positions and was fortunate to get an offer of employment as an MSL. My mindset at that time was to give it a try to see if I liked the role. I’m now here 6 years later and still enjoy my position and the challenges it offers. It is very different than a lab-based role and I do often miss my time on the bench. However, the MSL role is more clinically oriented which was something I was increasingly interested in towards the end of my PhD.
What does the role of a medical science liaison entail?
MSLs are the customer-facing, field-based medical representatives for the company. We satisfy scientific-related needs for the company in a non-promotional and non-commercial way. Much of the role is educative and is clinically focussed, so having a sound understanding of the clinical science is a real necessity.
What is your average work day like and what are some of the typical duties in your role?
There is no ‘average’ in the day of an MSL. Some days are spent travelling, some at meetings or conferences, and others are self-directed learning. It is a very varied role that affords many opportunities and challenges on a daily basis
As you have worked as an MSL at both Boehringer Ingelheim and Takeda Canada, do you find that there is a lot of variability in the MSL role between companies or do your responsibilities generally remain the same?
The roles are largely similar in scope. The major difference is that I am now working in immunology and inflammatory bowel disease whereas before I was working in oncology. I have enjoyed this change and am constantly amazed by the similarities between the two therapeutic areas.
What aspect of the MSL career is the most attractive to you?
I enjoy the clinical science of the MSL role. There is opportunity to have real impact in patients’ lives through education programs, clinical trials and helping to optimize the way health care is delivered.
What do you find the most challenging about your job or what do you enjoy the least?
The MSL role can be solitary at times of extended travel or when working from home. Staying connected to colleagues in a virtual environment can sometimes be a challenge as well.
What are some of the key challenges, if any, that you faced on your journey to secure this position?
It is a very competitive role to achieve and waiting for it to happen can be difficult. Many employers are looking for candidates with previous experience, but there are still companies who are willing to hire quality people out of academia and train them in the role. Finding the right fit for both the candidate and the company can be hard.
What advice would you give to current students who want to become MSLs and how could they get into this career path?
I would recommend learning as much as possible about the role so that when an employment discussion comes along, the conversation is knowledgeable and comfortable. Learning the clinical and pharmaceutical environment is also a benefit, as would be following postings from those companies with therapeutic areas that match individuals’ area of expertise.