In careers, PhD/Postdoc Blog, Science communications

Recently our BESST program offered a workshop on Medical Science Liaison (MSL) because it is a high paying popular job option for biomedical STEM graduates. Gaining relevant MSL experience to get a job is not easy. Hence, it is necessary to be extensively aware of the details of MSL, to help us best develop relevant transferable skills, to qualify for the job. In this direction, the BESST program’s workshop significantly educated us about MSL.

MSL are a company’s resources of scientific knowledge, who primarily educate the company’s clientele about novel therapeutic strategies through effective communication, from a non-commercial aspect. The clientele of MSL are Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). Dr. Jeffrey J. Meffert’s publication in Dermatologic Therapy states that KOLs are “also known as thought leaders, are the experts in their field upon whom we depend for original research leading to disease understanding and new therapies.”1 For MSL, KOLs are mainly physicians, and healthcare professionals, working at major medical and academic institutions. Based on their own area of expertise, MSL convey the efficiency of therapeutic interventions which their companies specialize in. MSL discuss scientific data in their communication to KOLs as peers, and hence their roles significantly differ from a sales representative.

Communication with KOLs being their primary job duty, MSL need to have a very strong scientific knowledge of the therapies which they discuss. Hence, if your Ph.D. dissertation or postdoctoral work focus on a therapy which is relevant to the company hiring MSLs, you are more likely to qualify for the job. As STEM graduates, we feel encouraged to know that Ph.D. is one of the three degrees held by MSL professionals, the other two being MD, and PharmD, as published by Sam Barry2, an eminent blogger and executive. Usually, MSL are assigned specific geographic areas to work on. Again, if your Ph.D. or postdoc institution is one of the key field locations of the company recruiting MSLs, it increases the chances of obtaining the job. This is because you will be able to leverage the professional networks, and relationships, which you have already built at your institution during your training there. MSL need to work at their assigned locations for a significant amount of their time, which consequently entails lots of travel. Further, if you gained any customer-interactive experience from your previous training, then it counts as an added advantage.

The workshop further took us through the general recruitment process for MSL. As already mentioned, it is important to look for MSL jobs which match with your therapeutic expertise, and other transferable skills, as mentioned in the advertisement. Usually, there is an initial phone screening of the applicant by the recruiter which can lead to a phone interview, if the applicant appears to be a good fit during screening. If the applicant aces the subsequent phone interview, then they are called for an in-person interview, generally in front of a panel. Some recruiters may also ask interviewees to present a scientific paper at the interview to gauge their scientific communication skills. Professional attire at the interview is very important because of the nature of the job. Once the recruiters select the best fitting candidate, they are trained by experienced MSL managers regarding their presentations designed for KOLs. Some key areas of training include opening, introducing, organizing, concluding, and summarizing MSL presentations. They are also trained in body language, maintaining composure, and handling challenging questions.

Overall, many skills learned during our Ph.D., and postdoc, can be leveraged towards a career in MSL. Recruiters want candidates to be great communicators who can deliver excellent presentations to both large, and small groups. In addition to communicating in person, the job also involves extensive email, and telephonic interactions. Graduate students and postdocs are well-trained communicators because they regularly present at journal clubs, conferences, lab and committee meetings, and write grants and papers. Recruiters also prefer candidates who can adapt to a highly evolving entrepreneurial environment. Likewise, graduate students and postdocs are constantly updating their approach to work according to the continuous rapid evolution of their respective fields of research.

The growing demand for MSL opened a lucrative job area for biomedical STEM graduates. It is amazing to see the growing success of this field, and establishment of the Medical Science Liaison Society, following the initial conception of MSL by Upjohn Pharmaceuticals in 19673. If you are interested in MSL, can you think of other skills acquired during your STEM training which you may leverage towards this career?


1 Meffert, J. J. (2009), Key opinion leaders: where they come from and how that affects the drugs you prescribe. Dermatologic Therapy, 22: 262–268. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8019.2009.01240.x

2 ProClinical Life Sciences Recruitment Blog   How to get a medical science liaison job

Posted by Sam Barry   16/11/16 14:24

3 MSLS Medical Science Liaison Society

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