In this article, we will discuss how aspiring MSLs currently in a PhD program can prepare for an MSL role. We describe the efforts of the Aspiring Medical Science Liaisons at Emory (AMSLE) and share how this can be replicated by students pursuing terminal degrees at their own institution.
There are a multitude of career paths PhD candidates in biomedical sciences can pursue. At some point during their training, they must decide whether to stay the course in academia or change routes and pursue a career in industry. While graduate training gives candidates invaluable experience for an industry position, they may not be fully aware of the transferable skills they possess or how to apply them. Students can become quickly overwhelmed, especially when opportunities to network or learn about non-academic positions are scarce. PhD mentors help students hone their critical thinking and research skills but may lack the resources to help their students achieve positions in industry, such as a Medical Science Liaison. For students interested in industry positions, it is clear that a gap exists where additional support would provide a more cohesive transition from bench to industry.
One way that aspiring MSLs currently in a PhD program can navigate this problem is by creating a community of students and generating professional development opportunities. Kristen Easley and Julia de Amorim are two PhD candidates that founded the Aspiring Medical Science Liaisons at Emory (AMSLE). Here, we learn how they discovered the MSL role and how the 2022 MSLS Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada encouraged them to create this community at Emory.
When did you first learn about the MSL role?
“My graduate program requires us to complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is essentially a personality test that matches PhD students to prospective careers. MSL was number one on the list for me. After learning more about the role, I couldn’t imagine a career better fit for me.”
Julia de Amorim
“I knew I wanted to explore my options outside of academia and bench research, but I was unsure of what was available for me to pursue. I attended a panel on non-traditional careers that was organized by the graduate school. The MSL panelist described her career, and I have been learning about this exciting role ever since.”
What was something you experienced at the MSLS Conference that left an impact?
Julia: “I had no idea how diverse each MSL role could be and how well-suited PhDs are for the role. I honestly do not think I could have ever learned this without going to an MSL conference and asking about the nuances of the roles at certain companies.”
Kristen: “I was so impressed with the philosophy of paying it forward. Dr. Samuel Dyer opened the sessions by stating how important it is to help others who want to break into the MSL role. This philosophy encouraged me to think about how students could help support one another on the path of becoming an MSL.”
Kristen and Julia were eager to share everything they learned from the conference with fellow peers at Emory and created AMSLE. They formed a mission statement, defined goals, rallied student interest, organized an MSL panel, and planned a CV workshop, all within six months of attending the conference.
The mission statement of AMSLE is “to consolidate and provide medical science liaison resources for all those at Emory interested in pursuing a career in field medical affairs,” with the goals of (1) assisting others in obtaining an MSL position, (2) creating a network of Emory affiliates aspiring to enter field medical affairs, and (3) consolidating and sharing resources to help one another obtain an MSL position. Creating a support network for aspiring MSLs on campus has proved to be valuable for new members who share the enthusiasm for a career in the field of medical affairs.
After gauging interest in AMSLE across the graduate program, the club invited a panel of professionals comprising MSLs, an MSL manager, and an MSL recruiter. Putting together the panel was simple since Kristen and Julia leveraged their many valuable contacts at the MSLS conference via their institution’s alumni network on LinkedIn. The panel was well attended and served as an opportunity for AMSLE members to make important connections.
AMSLE recently organized a CV workshop using the resources obtained from the MSLS conference, The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break Into Your First Role (1), the MSLS eLearning course, and utilizing CVs offered by current MSLs. Over the course of 4 weeks, members participated in a “CV swap” and conducted peer editing multiple times. An MSL recruiter then provided additional feedback on each resume.
As they prepare for their defenses, Kristen and Julia reflect on what they wished they had known by the time they reached their 6th year. Knowing that junior PhD students receive little information about MSL careers, they created a year-by-year guide (Table 1) that can help students build and hone skills necessary for the MSL role. These efforts will often fit seamlessly into graduate training and can help guide students who decide on the MSL career late in their PhDs. This table was compiled using resources obtained from current MSLs and MSL managers and could be slightly altered to apply to any industry position. Undoubtedly, the best piece of advice was to not over-stress about this process and do what makes sense to create your personal story.
In conclusion, Aspiring MSLs currently earning their PhDs do not have to navigate this road alone. There could be other students at your institution in this same position, so find each other, and use each other’s connections, ideas, and resources to help one another succeed.
Julia: “I’d really encourage other PhD students who aspire to become an MSL to think about starting a club at their own institution. I can’t believe how quickly a simple idea and curiosity for new careers led to such an enthusiastic network of Emory students all looking to support each other.”
- Dyer, Samuel Jacob. The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How To Break Into Your First Role: A Hiring Manager Reveals the Secrets for Success! Medical Science Liaison Inc., 2014.
Colby Schweibenz, PhD candidate
Colby Schweibenz received her Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania in 2018. She is currently a PhD candidate at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Colby’s research focuses on identifying mechanisms of competitive epithelial cell growth in development and disease. She is interested in pursuing a career as an MSL in therapeutic areas such as oncology or genetics.
Kristen F. Easley, PhD candidate
Kristen F. Easley received her BS in Biology at Xavier University of Louisiana in 2015 and her MS in Pharmacology at Tulane University in 2016. She is currently a PhD candidate at Emory University and her research focuses on the synergistic effects of chronic alcohol use and COVID-19 on the lung. She aspires to obtain an MSL position after completing her PhD in 2023.
Julia L. de Amorim, PhD candidate
Julia L. de Amorim received her BA in International Economics and French from Georgia State University in 2013 and her BS in Biology at Armstrong State University in 2017. She is currently a PhD candidate in her 6th year at Emory University and an aspiring MSL. She will complete her degree in Spring 2023 and has been preparing for a role in medical affairs. She is the co-founder of Aspiring Medical Science Liaisons at Emory and has a focus on rare diseases and RNA therapeutics.