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7 Stages Of Career Change PhDs Go Through

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3:16 – Show Me the Data
19:27 – 7 Stages Of Career Change PhDs Go Through w/ Joseph Liu
41:37 – Medical Science Liaison Career Track w/ Elizabeth Jeanne Thatcher, Ph.D.

Are you struggling to make the shift from academia to industry? 

Ready to learn how you can initiate your own career change?

In this episode of Cheeky Scientist Radio, we are joined by Joseph Liu, a Career Consultant, Public Speaker, and Podcast Host who discusses how PhDs can successfully navigate career changes and pursue meaningful work. We also have on Elizabeth Jeanne Thatcher, Ph.D. Field Medical Director, Compound Lead at Pfizer, who gives us great insight into how she landed her first industry role as an MSL and the career path she took as she was promoted into her current role.

About Our Guests

Joseph Liu is a Career Consultant, Public Speaker, Podcast Host and Certified Coach who is dedicated to helping people pursue meaningful work. As the host of the Career Relaunch® podcast and a seasoned, international keynote speaker Joseph has crossed paths with thousands of professionals during their career turning points, sharing and learning about what it takes to successfully change career directions. He has shared these insights as a contributing writer to Forbes, Fast Company, and Glassdoor, and has been featured in The Guardian, SUCCESS magazine, Career Builder, HuffPost, Monster, The Muse, CityAM, and Square Mile.

Elizabeth Jean Thatcher, PhD  did her undergraduate training in biomedical engineering at Mercer University and Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at Vanderbilt. She then worked as a Research Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. With her pick of three concurrent job offers, Elizabeth transitioned into her first industry role as a Medical Science Liaison and later Medical Director at Piramal Life Sciences. She recently accepted a new role as the Compound Lead at Pfizer. Elizabeth is also a Program Leader for the Medical Science Liaison Alliance.

Key Takeaways

1. Career change is much more common than you think, and on average people change jobs 10 different times by the time they are in their 40’s.

2. Most people go through 7 clear stages of career change which are: Doubt –> Dismay –> Mitigation –> Exhaustion –> Departure –> Reflection –> Decision

3. There is so much more to a Medical Science Liason Position that just educating doctors and KOLs, if you really want to stand out you need to learn what it’s really like to be an MSL.

Why Career Changes And Unemployment Are Way More Common Than You Thought 

It is much more common than you think to switch jobs and to have periods of unemployment.

Your parents might have worked at the same company for 30 years, but that is very, very rare today.

According to data published by the US Bureau of Labor Services, by the time a person is 48 they will have switched companies an average of 11 times.

11 times.

It is completely normal for your career to switch, shift and change,

This could be a completely new career path or a merely a change to a new company.

And with this change comes time in unemployment.

It feels horrible when you are unemployed and you want nothing more than to find a job, but it’s important to realize that these career ‘gaps’ are totally normal.

The US Bureau of Labor Services also reported that from age 18-44 on average a women will have spent 22% of the weeks during that time out of the labor force, and men on average were out of the workforce for 12% of weeks.

That’s a significant percentage of time.

So if you’ve been unemployed and are worried that it’s not normal or that no one will hire you because of it, stop worrying.

7 Stages Of Career Change PhDs Go Through: A Conversation With Joseph Liu

Isaiah: You’ve really narrowed down career change to these seven key components, and I would love to start just by hearing about those components?

Joseph: Sure. Well first of all, thanks so much for having me on the show, Isaiah, and it’s really great to hear you talking about this topic of career change. I was listening into some of the interesting stats that you talked about, and I know that one of the things you pointed out was that people are changing careers quite often.

And one of the things I noticed in my own line of work, because I do work with a lot of different career changers, is that they do go through pretty much seven common stages of career change, and it’s quite predictable, and it tends to follow the same pattern across industry, across sector, across geography, and I’ll just high-level summarize what they are right now, and I can … If you want me to go into more detail I’m happy to do that.

Basically the first stage is doubt, where you’re feeling disengaged and you don’t like your job.

Second stage is what I call “Dismay,” where you don’t like your career and you’re pretty convinced that you’re not that happy with your job and where your job is going.

Third is mitigation, where you feel like, “Okay, maybe I’ll stick it out. Maybe I can fix this.”

The fourth is exhaustion, where you’re trying to mitigate it and you’re trying to fix it, but it’s just physically and emotionally tiring and you’re wondering how much longer can you go on like this?

The fifth is departure, where you decide that you really just can’t do this anymore, and sometimes that means leaving your job behind or leaving your past industry behind.

The sixth is reflection, where you need a bit of a break and you reflect on what you want to do next.

The seventh is the decision to relaunch your career and to start a new chapter in your career, similar to what you were talking about, maybe shifting out of a PhD to go into industry, or some other career change that involves a pretty major shift from what you were doing.

Isaiah: I think a lot of us as PhDs were so stubborn that we stayed in that exhaustion stage for, I don’t know, two years, right? Longer? And so I guess maybe I’ll just jump in and say, what do you see that really makes people shift gears from that exhaustion stage to that critical deciding to leave stage? Is it just pain?

JosephWell, Isaiah, that’s part of it. I think that first of all, like so, just to be clear, I did not do a PhD. I know plenty of people who have done a PhD. Actually, my wife has done a PhD, and she’s involved in academics right now. So she decided to stay down that path

One of the things I saw with her with a PhD is that I know it’s really challenging, and really intensive, and sometimes you’re so deep into something and you’ve invested so much time into it, especially as you mentioned with a PhD, you’re investing years into that, that the inertia of that is really hard to walk away from. So I’ve found that people don’t tend to move on until they reach what I would call kind of a breaking point, where you feel like you’re completely drained, you feel like you’re spending your days pretending to be someone you’re not, you don’t feel like you’re developing as a person or a professional.

And also you’re just in a bad mood all the time, not only at work, but other people in your life will start to notice that. So I know in my own life the moments where I’ve realized, “Gosh, I need to make a change” is when it’s actually started to trickle out into the rest of my life.

And people have started to tell me, “Hey, you don’t look very happy. You’re not that fun to be around right now,” so I think that that’s when it really happens, when it turns from what has started off to be an ache, to something that’s completely debilitating.

Isaiah: How do you get yourself to that seventh stage of, “I am ready to make a career change?” How do you empower that in yourself, or with other people, other tools, other support?

Joseph: Well, so I’ll just start off by saying, Isaiah, that’s there’s not one magic bullet that I’ve found works well for people, and at the same time I have noticed similar patterns amongst people who have managed to successfully enable change in their careers, and I’ll just mention three that come to mind, moving you from that stage of being stuck to that stage where you’re really determined to relaunch your career.

And the first one I think is just giving yourself permission to test the waters with something on the side.

I think for whatever reason, either being too busy or just not feeling like you should be diluting your time and kind of experimenting with something on the side, people don’t tend to want to do that. But I’ve seen time and time again … Just to give you an example from the podcast that I host, a woman named Vicki Dane who’s based in London, she was a corporate lawyer. She ended up becoming a clinical psychologist, and she spent some time just … She literally worked on a farm, she learned to bake, she spent some time fishing. She just kind of explored, and so that really helped her gain some clarity to decide what to do next.

Another thing that you can do is to try to surround yourself with the people doing what you want to do. So if people are shifting away from wanting to go into academics to working in the industry, one of the, I think, natural inclinations is to stick with the tribe you feel most comfortable with, and what I would say is if you want to enable career change, you almost have to force yourself to go spend some time with people in the industry, or with people who are in those jobs, or who have made the transition successfully into the career that you want to get into.

And another example from the podcast, a woman named Reena Inie, who was a professional tennis player, and she ended up wanting to work in finance, and so she went to the London School of Economics, got her degree there, so surrounding herself with other people interested in that, and she went to Wall Street to surround herself with other bankers who were passionate about finance, so that’s another thing you can do. And then the final thing I’ll mention is just to make sure you re-craft and rehearse your personal brand pitch, which I know you were talking about before. Just trying to get really clear on … Not necessarily sticking with the vernacular that’s used in your current industry, but trying to use the vernacular of your target industry.

Medical Science Liaison Career Track: A Conversation With Elizabeth Jeanne Thatcher, PhD.

Isaiah: So you’re career has really taken off since you transitioned. I guess I just wanted to start from like a high level overview of what the transition process looked like, what these titles mean right? We’re talking about medical science liaison, but it’s in like the medical affairs field kind of, but it’s a specific role and now you have a director role. Can you help us understand I guess the framework of what these different roles are and how they fit together?

Elizabeth: So medical affairs is really like a departmental title name. And under medical affairs there are many different areas where you could be employed, and it really depends on the company as to how they break it out, but field medical team is one of the areas under medical affairs. A lot of times regulatory affairs is also under medical affairs and medical information, which includes like medical writing is also under medical affairs usually. So it can be very an all encompassing phrase when you say medical affairs.

Now if you’re in a tiny company, then they don’t have all of those different branches anyway, so it doesn’t seem as big. But in a big company like Pfizer, they have all of those branches plus some.

Isaiah: What would you say is at the essence of the medical science liaison career path, if you had to define that in like a sentence or two, what is the main job of an MSL?

Elizabeth:  It’s hard to say because there are actually many jobs of an MSL, but the distinction that MSLs have in the medical affairs department is that they are the face to the customer or the healthcare provider, the KOL which we call key opinion leader in this field. So they are the face and the one stop shop for any interaction with the company. If anybody has any questions in my field for Pfizer, they would come through me, the [inaudible] advisor. And I am a master administrator essentially in discussing initial scientific insights with the KOLs as well as managing expectations for things that they possibly want to get back from Pfizer, because that’s a huge part of the job. You don’t want to break up a relationship because you gave them unrealistic expectations.

Isaiah: And that’s what the word liaison means right, you’re a liaison between these two components.  And how has your role changed as you’ve progressed into these higher level positions the more of the director manager lead positions versus the MSL. What are some of the changes that have happened?

Elizabeth: So it obviously depends on the company but you know, an entry level MSL position is called usually an MSL. And then you have senior MSL, or some people call it an executive MSL. Then you have medical directors above them and then senior medical directors. You know, it goes like that. And basically you are just taking on more responsibility for medical strategy behind the scenes. And that medical strategy can encompass many things. It can encompass medical trial design, it can encompass publication strategy, it can encompass you know, advisory board focuses. And how the company decides to spend their millions of dollars on future clinical trials that you know, might have holes and you’re hearing in the field that people have concerns about X, Y, Z about your product, but if you haven’t done a clinical trial you can never answer that concern without real world data, so you help them figure out what is important for the field in order to communicate the correct science.

Watch the full podcast episode above to learn more about how to make a smooth career change from Joseph Liu and learn more about the Medical Science Liaison career track.

To get advanced access to the full length versions of these podcasts, as well as access to our live training webinars, exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the waitlist for the Cheeky Scientist Association now.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.

Isaiah is a Ph.D. in Anatomy & Cell Biology and internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant. He is an expert in the biotechnology industry and specializes in helping people transition into cutting-edge career tracks.

Isaiah believes that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life right now, you should make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.
Isaiah Hankel Ph.D.