Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

How To Know If A Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Job Is Right For You

I don’t have a story about an academic advisor who mistreated me.

I don’t have a story about being overwhelmed with academic stress either.

But sometimes I wish I did.

Maybe that way, I would have transitioned out of academia sooner.

The truth is, I had a pretty cushy academic experience.

My PhD advisor was a young assistant professor who was passionate about research.

We published numerous manuscripts and presented at countless regional and international conferences together.

Things went by fast.

In fact, I completed my PhD in a little over 4 years.

Then I started my postdoc, which was altogether a good experience.

So I stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

I ended up doing a postdoc for 7 years.

7 years!

This is why I sometimes wish my immediate academic environment was more broken—so I would have realized it was time to leave sooner.

Instead, it took me a long time to realize that the overall system of academia was broken.

But I have to admit, there were hints along the way…

After completing my first postdoc, I was unemployed for over 6 months.

So I settled for another postdoc.

Then, I had trouble getting any external funding.

I went for small project grants.

I went for postdoc fellowships.

But I failed every time.

Next, my lab’s funding started running out, and with it went the fun of doing research.

It is impossible to operate in such scarcity.

There were constant talks of my position being in jeopardy.

No one could work in such a negative environment.

The writing was on the wall, and something had to be done.

It was finally time to leave academia.

That’s when I began looking into alternative careers for PhD science graduates and realized that a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) position was right for me.

How To Know If A Medical Science Liaison Position Is Right For You

MSL roles are growing fast.

As such, these roles are one of the top 10 alternative career for PhDs.

Jet-setting across the country in your tailored suit, discussing science with high-level thought leaders, while earning a great salary is a nice change from working in a lab for peanuts.

But a MSL position is not right for everyone.

There has to be a strong match between your personality and values, and the culture and values of the company you’re looking to work for.

This means you need to understand yourself and what you want.

You also need to understand how other people see you.

Everyone, from my colleagues to my superiors, told me that I was personable, outgoing, a natural communicator, and excellent teacher.

At the same time, I hated doing work by myself.

On the days that I had to do confocal microscopy, alone in a dark room, for 8 hours, I was beside myself with boredom.

Sitting quietly for hours at a time was at complete odds with my personality.

Yet, I kept trying to fit myself into a box.

I kept trying to be someone I was not.

On the other hand, I did enjoy presenting my research in front of others, mingling at conferences, and discussing science to anyone willing to listen.

I was gregarious to say the least.

Over time, I realized that working at the bench wasn’t a good fit for me.

While many other PhDs might excel in a Research Scientist position in industry, I definitely would not.

So, I started looking for other types of positions—positions that would fit my strengths.

Peter F. Drucker, the famous business psychologist and author once said, “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves—their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.”

But how do you discover what your strengths are?

There is really only one way—through feedback.

What are the professional strengths you turn to during stressful events?

What professional strengths are you rewarded for time and time again in your career?

If you’re unsure, ask your friends, family, colleagues, and superiors.

Trust me, feedback is your friend.

Get as much information about your strengths as you can because these strengths are the transferable skills you can leverage to get into an MSL position.

Top 5 Tips For Transitioning Into A Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Role

MSL positions are increasingly popular among PhDs for a reason.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical professions such as MSL roles are among the fastest growing industries between 2012 and 2022.

These roles are also expected to pay very well.

Payscale estimates that MSLs will continue to earn a median salary of over $100,000 USD a year.

Here’s the best news for you…

In Dr. Samuel Dyer’s book How to Break into Your First MSL Role, the companies hiring new MSLs slightly favor hiring PhDs over PharmDs (30.9% and 30.1%, respectively).

The keys to transitioning into your first MSL role will be networking and aligning your transferable skills with this special career choice.

The following are 5 other things you must do to transition into a medical liaison job in industry…

1. Take advantage of scientific conferences in graduate school.

By choice or by necessity, you will be attending conferences while in graduate school.
While most students will spend their time hitting up the free food, you can make lasting connections that will lead you to your first job outside of academia.

Regardless of the delegation, the conferences you attend will likely be within the disease state most relevant to your thesis work.

The key to accessing MSLs at conferences will be networking at the vendor show.

While at the vendor show, make every effort you can to strike up conversations with sales representatives working behind the booths.

The key is to be genuinely interested in the representatives’ products.

Then, when the timing is right ask, “I have an off-label question and was wondering if you have a medical colleague present who could answer it?”

In most cases, the sales representative will then point you to an MSL or at least give you the MSL’s contact information.

2. Set up informational interviews with MSLs that have a background similar to yours.

Once you have an MSL’s contact information, it’s time to set up an informational interview.

If you still don’t have access to an MSL at this point, seek one out on LinkedIn.

To facilitate conversation, look out for employees with a similar background to yours.

Specifically, look for MSLs who also have a PhD, are in their first industry role after academia, or are in a similar therapeutic area as your field of study.

To increase the chances of hearing a response to your LinkedIn messages, be sure your profile is up-to-date and tailored specifically for the MSL role you want.

Once you’re in touch with an MSL, offer to take them out for a coffee or a meal to learn more about what they do and what their career path was.

If they are uneasy or unwilling to meet you in person at first, offer to have a conversation on the phone or on Skype instead.

Either way, be respectful of their time by keeping the meetings brief and keeping your tone conversational, not formal.

By showing that you have an approachable and amicable personality, you’re already proving that you have the transferable skills needed for an MSL role.

Finally, make sure you always pay for the meal (ALWAYS) and always allow the MSL to talk about themselves.

This means you must have a few good questions lined up beforehand.

Use informational interviews to not only build connections, but to learn which company is the right fit for you.

3. Find MSLs within your geographical vicinity and within your therapeutic area.

If you find yourself struggling to create meaningful connections with MSLs on LinkedIn, don’t stress.

Instead, start reaching out to employees who work within your geographical vicinity. Start networking at your University and at the teaching hospital next to you.

Tap into the graduate schools alumni network, the hospital’s directory, and the network of private medical practices in your city.

The key is to focus on finding people who work in your therapeutic area, as in those who are currently employed in positions relevant to the field you’re currently studying.

For example, if you have a background in immunology, seek out physicians who prescribe similar biologic medicines, such as rheumatologists, oncologists, and gastroenterologists.

Ask the physician’s office manager or a nurse working in the physician’s practice who their MSL or sales rep is for a particular drug (a drug related to your field of study).

4. Strengthen relationships by following up and tightening the networking loop.

Connecting with MSLs and professionals in relevant therapeutic areas is not enough.

If you want to secure a position, you must follow up with these connections over and over again.

Specifically, you’ll want to follow up with your connections once or twice a month.

You can do this by sending them interesting journal articles, tidbits from the Internet pertaining to their career, or questions that would get them to share their expertise.

This is called tightening your networking loop.

The key is to constantly add value without expecting anything in return—this is what networking is all about.

During your informational meetings, phone screens, and ultimately in-person interviews, you must have excitement for the MSL position you want, the science behind the position, and the overall company.

You must also be able to answer hard-hitting questions about the position. For example…

“Why do you want to be an MSL?”

You MUST know the answer to this question. You must also answer it confidently and without hesitation.

Everyone will have a different answer, but the smartest responses will focus on the fact that you want to make an immediate, positive impact on patients’ lives by leveraging your unique scientific and personal skill set.

Also, make sure you highlight how your values are aligned with the company’s values.

If your values do not align with those of the company, avoid that company.

No matter how terrible things are or were in your academic lab, show your excitement when talking about your past scientific projects too.

Be able to explain these projects in 3-5 minutes at both a third grade-level and at a very high MSL doctorate-level.

Most importantly, connect to the person you’re talking to on a personal level.

Remember, the MSL role is all about building relationships, listening, and addressing client inquiries.

5. Approach every interaction and obstacle as an opportunity to learn and move forward.

If you want to transition into an MSL career, you need to align your research with the career.

This includes being an expert in a given company’s therapeutic area.

For example, you should intimately know the current treatment options as well as latest research in your therapeutic area of interest.

You should also know if your current research is linked to human health as a whole.

As academic PhDs, we tend to look at our research with a very narrow focus—specific biochemical pathways, model organisms, cell lines, and so on.

If you want to become an MSL, you have to learn to think and speak more broadly about the implications of your work.

You must start learning about current clinical trials. You must also be knowledgeable about how these trials are designed and implemented.

5 Transferable Skills PhDs Need To Transition Into A Medical Science Liaison Position

Now that you know which steps to follow in order to transition into an MSL role, you need to know which transferable skills to develop.

The good news is that if you have a PhD, you’ve already the developed many of the transferable skills you need in order to get into an MSL role.

All that you have to do now is to lean into and leverage these skills.

Here are 5 transferable skills you must have to successfully transition into a medical science liaison role…

1. An outgoing and optimistic personality.

When you’re in the field as an MSL, you’ll have many high-level scientific discussions with physicians at both academic institutions and clinics on behalf of your company.

These physicians are often referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).

You’ll also interact extensively with sales representatives within your company, as well as office managers, nurses, physicians’ assistants, and numerous other internal colleagues.

Having an outgoing and optimistic personality is crucial to maintaining these extensive communication networks.

Think of positivity as a kind of lubricant for these networks.

By focusing on solutions and finding more and more ways to add value for others, you’ll keep these networks open and flowing smoothly.

2. The ability to convey scientific information briefly, clearly, and precisely.

Sometimes you only have 3-5 minutes to deliver critical data to clients at all levels of an organization.

This means you don’t have the luxury of going off on tangents when you talk.

Instead, you must know the science intimately and only deliver the critical points.

Showing that you can deliver information intelligibly and without jargon will gain you tremendous respect with your clients.

Effective and timely communication is also key to maintaining positive relationships.

No matter which MSL role you transition into, your clients will have demanding jobs and it will be your job to keep them informed and supported without interrupting their work.

The only way to do this in the medical field is to communicate with your clients consistently and precisely.

3. High levels of emotional intelligence, or EQ.

The ability to assess the moods of your client is instrumental to your success as an MSL.

If a KOL looks bored, is constantly checking out the clock, or keeps looking at their phone, it’s time to wrap up your talk.

You must respect your clients’ time while being very flexible with your time.

If you’re unsure about the situation, just ask.

Is this a good time? How are we doing on time?

The ability to adapt your schedule to fit the needs of your clients is essential to maintaining good working relationships.

There will be many high-pressure situations where you’ll want to push the client to take action but this is always a mistake.

Instead, you must remain calm and strategically plan your next move.

4. High levels of internal motivation.

Not every physician will be happy to see you.

Not every office assistant will stay on the phone with you when you cold call them.

While MSLs are NOT sales representatives, they are proactive educators.

This means as an MSL you will consistently be reaching out to people to educate them on your company and your company’s products.

To be successful at this, you must maintain diplomacy, self-discipline and integrity at all times.

Walking into a doctor’s office for the first time, introducing yourself, and getting turned away is not uncommon.

How do you stay motivated after a door gets shut in your face?

First, believe in the company you represent and in the company’s products.

Second, remember that most people will NOT understand the value you can offer them right away. So, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Be patient with people and your patience will pay off.

This is something your PhD has prepared you for extensively —patiently and consistently trying again and again after a seemingly endless string of failures.

The good news is, it only takes one “yes” to be successful as an MSL.

A physician or physician’s office may say “no” many times before saying “yes”.

But once they say “yes,” the rest doesn’t matter.

5. Patience and the ability to listen very carefully to others.

Your responsibility as an MSL is not to bombard physicians with data, but to tailor information to appeal to their needs.

But how do you know what these physicians want?

You ask questions, let them talk, and LISTEN.

What are your clinical interests?

What do you think about this data?

What has your experience been with this drug?

Asking questions like these will make your job easier and less stressful.

Never pre-assess a situation and assume you know what the needs of the client are.

Instead, ask. Use your scientific skills to dig in and develop questions that physicians will want to respond to.

The most successful MSLs are not those who talk the most, but those who ask the best questions.

PhDs can align their strengths to successfully obtain a medical science liaison position.

MSL roles allow you to engage in scientific and cutting-edge discussions on drug therapy and disease states with leading healthcare providers in both academic and community-based settings. Transitioning into an MSL position requires strategic thinking and the ability to ensure individual needs are met while staying aligned with the overall objectives of the company.

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly


Yuri is currently a Clinical Education Liaison and Medical Science Liaison at Bristol-Myers Squibb. His previous work includes 7 publications out of the University of Kentucky where he worked as a Senior Investigator in the fields of cardiology, oncology, stem cell biology, and lipid biochemistry. Yuri secured an NIH T32 fellowship in Clinical Scholars in Cardiovascular Science before transitioning into his Medical Science Liaison role in industry.


Similar Articles

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

3 Entry-Level PhD Jobs Pay Six Figures A Year

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was determined to stay in academia… until I wasn’t.  It took almost six years for me to reach the conclusion that academia just wasn’t for me.  My PhD defense was just a few months away, and I can’t lie: I was literally willing myself to stick it out. But what about after that? Professorship had been the goal for me before I ever even enrolled in college. It had been my dream. I had absolutely no idea what to do if it wasn’t going to teach. I knew what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be tethered to…

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

5 Positions In Biopharma Perfect For Any PhD

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

It was by chance that I even considered a career in biopharma.  As far as I was concerned, academia was all there was. The world of industry was a big question mark to me, and that was fine. I found myself working on a postdoc, waiting for a tenure-track position to open up.  At first, it was exciting: a real, paying job as a PhD-level scientist. I showed up early, stayed late, and was happy to do it.  But a change happened, gradually. There was so much repetition in my day, and so much emphasis on performing tasks that required…

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Top 5 Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

From the time I started graduate school, there was only one point in the future that I could focus on: the finish line. I was swept up in my own expectations and also caught up in what I thought was expected of me. But something I hadn’t given much thought to was what I actually wanted to do. I was about six months away from defending my thesis. That’s when I started to give some serious thought to what would happen after I added the “Dr.” to my name. It’s when I began to admit to myself that academia was…

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

Spin The Hard Knocks Of Academia To Your Advantage To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Something that comes up a lot when I talk to new PhDs is that they think they don’t have enough on-the-job experience to apply for the high earning jobs they’re perfect for. I see this imposter syndrome prevent PhDs from even trying to apply for jobs – and puts a stop to their journey to getting hired in industry. So they settle.  For academia, where they don’t have job security.  For jobs that pay less and don’t value their abilities.  For a job they’re not interested in and don’t want, but they think it gets them “started” in industry when…

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

6 Rewarding Careers In Research Policy, Funding & Government

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

An indomitable spirit is a rare quality, but not among PhDs. Perseverance is a prerequisite that comes standard with every doctorate.  It seems like there’s no shortage of things that can stand in the way when you’re pursuing a terminal degree. Yet I’ve only met a handful of PhDs who weren’t cut out for the hardships of academia. They made it past the gauntlet of frustrating academic advisors, endless hours in the lab, and year upon year of compounding stress. But there are some things that arise that you simply can’t prepare yourself to push through. Sometimes life happens. PhDs…

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

Here's What Others Are Saying

"I am happy to share that I'm starting a new position as a European Portfolio Manager at Scientific Instruments!"

 Shikha Acharya

Shikha Acharya

European Portfolio Manager

at Scientific Instruments

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as R&D Scientist II at Chemring Sensors and Electronic Systems, Inc.!"

Karim Dawkins

Karim Dawkins

R&D Scientist II

at Chemring Sensors and Electronic Systems, Inc

"New offer - went ahead and signed contract today - - excited and thank you for the confidence booster - grateful for investing in Cheeky Scientist."

Wael Bahnan

Wael Bahnan

Senior Scientist

at Minervx ApS

"I started working with you all back in October 2022 and it took me about four months to secure my new role. I actually had two six figure salary offers in the learning and development arena! One was from a prestigious HBCU and the other one was with a scientific research organization. I signed my six figure offer letter for a Head of Talent Development role with the scientific research organization on March 1st. I negotiated and received a $7,500 increase in salary and I also received an increase in my relocation package. I cannot thank you all enough!"

Dr. Rhonda Anderson

Dr. Rhonda Anderson

Head of Talent Development

at Southern Research

"Thank you for your support. I greatly benefited from your DD talks on the importance of networking on LinkedIn and resume-building tips. Your team member Meera was very helpful in building my LinkedIn Profile and resume. Thank you!"

 Taranum Sultana

Taranum Sultana

Research Administration

"Thrilled to announce that I have joined a new role as a Research Associate at HJF to work at the WRAIR. Very excited to join a dedicated and brilliant team working to eradicate HIV. Thanks to my family, friends, and fellow Cheeky associates for their support in my job hunt journey.""

 Lakshmi Rani Iyer

Lakshmi Rani Iyer

Research Associate

at HJF

"I am THRILLED to share that I am starting a new position... my sincerest thanks and gratitude to all the inspirational people who've I met along the way in my journey as an aspiring MSL, who helped make this happen."

Leandra Mangieri

Leandra Mangieri

Medical Science Liaison

at Allergan Aesthetics

"I am happy to share I started a new job as a senior research scientist in medicinal chemistry at x-chem Montreal."

Nicolas Wlodarczyk

Nicolas Wlodarczyk

Nicolas Wlodarczyk Senior Research Scientist

at X-Chem

"I just accepted an offer for a position at one of the top pharma companies...I can't tell you how relieved I feel, I'm very excited for what's to come!"

Nahed Jalloul

Nahed Jalloul

Computational Biologist

"Thank you for your advice, Isaiah! I’m super excited and grateful! I would never negotiate the salary and the other details of the offer if it weren’t for Cheeky Scientist. Thank you again"

Marta Silva

Marta Silva

Policy Analyst

at Health Canada

"I picked the Planet job! It ended up being the better fit for me... Thanks for all of your help!"

Emily Martin

Emily Martin

Hardware Systems Engineer

at Planet

"I'm excited to share that I'm starting a new position as Senior Filed Application Scientist at NanoString Technologies, Inc.!"

Alex Woychek

Alex Woychek

Senior Field Application Scientist

at NanoString Technologies, Inc.

"Good news...I've secured a job! Thank you for your support during the job search process and for giving me the courage to transition from academia to industry."

Marlyn Brookins

Marlyn Brookins

Regulatory Submissions Coordinator

"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as Scientist in Pharma Division at NeoGenomics Laboratories! After all the trainings and advice I could get a 25% increase in my salary! So I’m very happy for that."

Maribel Donoso

Maribel Donoso

Scientist in Pharma Division

at NeoGenomics Laboratories

"I am happy to share I am starting a new position!"

Mary Hidde

Mary Hidde

Clinical trial manager

at Medspace

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.