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PhDs Are Leaders & Managers

Skip ahead to:

03:40 Show Me The Data
13:20 James Robbins
27:30 Ewa Czekanska, Ph.D.
43:15 Evguenia Alechine, Ph.D.

Want to learn how you can not only get hired into a management position, but how to truly succeed in the role?

Learn how PhDs can become better leaders and managers to find success in industry. 

In this episode, we are joined by James Robbins, Author, Speaker, & Motivation Specialist, who will discuss how you can learn to not only find your own motivation but how to motivate and inspire others. He is an expert at helping people become great leaders – exactly what you need to be to get hired into those management level positions you deserve as a PhD. We are also joined by, Ewa Czekanska, Ph.D., Life Science Sales Specialist at VWR. She will share inside tips about what it’s like to work in sales as a PhD and how you can pursue a similar career path. And finally we have Evguenia Alechine, Ph.D., Medical Writer, joining us. She will discuss how she made her transition into Medical Writing and what you need to know about successfully transitioning into a Medical Writing career.

About Our Guests

James Robbins is a rare mix of management consultant, change specialist, adventurer and motivational speaker. He speaks to audiences worldwide, helping them raise their performance to match their potential. He has been helping equip and transform leaders for over 20 years. In 2012 James wrote Nine Minutes on Monday; The Quick and Easy Way to Go From Manager to Leader. The book went on to be named the 2012 Business Book of the Year by Canada’s Globe and Mail. James’ style of teaching has set him apart as a master communicator, combining stories from his adventures with practical truths that help audiences make simple changes that stick. Audiences are both inspired and equipped during his time on the stage. While James loves planning new adventures, his greatest expedition is raising his three teenagers.

Ewa Czekanska, Ph.D.  has a master in biology in Poland and then pursued her post-doctoral studies in cell biology and regenerative medicine at the AO Research Institute in Switzerland. After successful time as a PhD student, she moved to the UK to work as a post-doctoral research scientist at the Southampton University. During this time she worked on an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project while also experiencing teaching to medical students. Through this teaching experience she realised that her personal development was to be focused on working with people and being up to date with recent developments in various subjects of science, rather than specialising in one very specific subject. Then, she moved away from the bench and started working in a commercial role as a technical sales specialist in a company providing services for biotech and pharma (Oxford Genetics). Currently, Ewa is a Life Science Specialist at VWR International (part of Avantor).

Evguenia Alechine, Ph.D. earned her PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has been working in the medical writing industry since 2015 as a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She is an active member of EMWA and co-editor of the Medical Writing journal. Evguenia is also the program leader of the Cheeky Scientist advance program Medical Writers Organization.

Key Takeaways

1. Leadership about more than being a manager, it’s about having a vision and getting people excited about what they are working on. 

2. To grow your leadership skills, focus on people not on tasks. 

3. Working in sales is not like the stereotype, there is lots of problem solving, relationship building and collaborative work that makes it a great position for PhDs.

4. The Medical Writing field is very diverse, covering everything from regulatory and technical writing to journalism and illustrations. 

PhDs Are Leaders & Managers: A Conversation With James Robbins

Isaiah: What is the difference  between a leader and a manager and how do you combine the two? How do you separate the two?

James: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of talk about those two terms. But, the reality is when people think of management, they think of the day to day execution. But, leadership’s more than that. It’s not just about getting things done and reaching goals and stuff. Leadership goes beyond that. There’s an inspirational component. There’s an investment in your people. There’s belief in people. There’s casting vision. Not just yourself, but pulling people along with you for the ride.

In other words, it’s like… Management, you’ve gotta be good at getting people to do tasks. But, the leadership component is getting people excited to do them with you. Yeah, like I said, it’s a challenge for a lot of people because it’s easy to get sucked into the day to day.

Isaiah: How do you become a good leader? Especially for the people that are watching this, we tend to kind of live in the weeds as PhDs.

James: Yeah. That’s a great question. You hit the nail on the head, in terms of the number one problem, to be honest, that it is hurting engagement. So, that’s my field, right? I go into companies and I help their managers take a shift into be more inspirational leaders and engage their staff.

Again, the problem is, it’s not that people don’t want to be great leaders, it’s just that they’re so busy. They’re overwhelmed with how much they’ve got to get done because they’re working managers. They have their job to do, but then they also have to lead these people.

We still are in the culture of somebody who does great gets promoted, and now they’ve got to lead staff. But, an incredible shift has to take place once you start leading people because it’s no longer about tasks anymore. Now, it’s about moving people. If you can’t learn how to move people, you’re not going to be successful as a leader and you just won’t make it. So, that’s the challenge for a lot of managers today.

Isaiah: What’s the best way to motivate others to hit task based goals?

James: So, it all starts with having a good foundation. You know, we hear about trust and leadership. But honestly even deeper than trust it comes from caring about your people. This is the main point I make to every audience I speak at is that it’s moving your leadership from transactional to relational.

So we understand transactional, right. We go to the grocery store, we give them money, they give us food. It’s a transaction, we’re fine. But, when it comes to dealing with human beings we’re all hardwired for this thing called reciprocity. So, that’s why I say if we go out for lunch and I decide, “Hey, I’m going to buy you lunch.” You’re going to feel like, “Okay, well only if I can get it next time.” It’s just wired into us.

So, the same thing happens in a workplace. When you can make sure that you’re caring about your staff, like when they really feel like, “Hey, my boss is invested in me. They know my spouses name. They know the name of my kids. From time to time they ask me about it.” Just even those little things right there it changes the dynamic of the relationship and it sets up reciprocity, increases trust. Then people want to work for you because they don’t want to let you down, and they don’t want to see you fail. So that’s an important part of it right there.

The second piece to this is helping people shift their thinking about their job, you know, if we really want to talk about motivation. I use the example sometimes of imagine that you’ve got two guys that have to mow their lawn, and on the same street. One guy doesn’t want to mow his lawn because he just doesn’t want to mow his lawn. But the HOA sends him this angry letter like, “Hey, we’re going to fine you if you don’t mow his lawn.” Well, in the end he mows his lawn. He’s motivated but it’s an external motivator.

Meanwhile, the guy living beside him he loves to mow his lawn. He loves the way it looks, he loves this feeling of being a good neighbor. He loves the smell of fresh cut grass. In other words, so he mows his lawn. So, you take a look at this, both guys get their lawn cut. In other words the job gets done, it gets executed. But who does a better job mowing their lawn? The second guy, right? Who blows grass all over the street and doesn’t care? Oh, it’s the first guy.

So, think about it, both were motivated. Both got the job done but not with the same amount of proficiency. What’s the difference? The difference comes down to one thing: how they think about the task. Because one guy had too, and one guy gets to. When a leader can go in and help his or her people shift how they think about what it is they’re doing, link it to something bigger. Link it to a goal, the mission, how it’s impacting people, how it’s impacting you. Something changes inside us as humans and we shift from an external motivator to an intrinsic one. Then everything changes after that.

Life Science Sales Specialist Career Track: A Conversation With Ewa Czekanska, Ph.D.

Isaiah: Why did you decide to transition out of academia way back in the beginning of your transition?

Ewa: Sure. So, it’s a very good question and I wish I knew that earlier on, what I know now about the insights that I’ve had. And that they happened much faster. But, everything takes time. As you said, I was really happy with pursuing the post-doctoral studies. Then I moved into the academia. From Independent Research Institute to academia. That was a big jump I would say, and big mentality switch. I realized I don’t really get this environment. I don’t really want to compete against my colleague who sits next to me, getting the grant. Being in a position whether it’s me or you. I didn’t understand why can’t we do something collaboratively.

There’s, unfortunately, too many peers, there’s not enough jobs. Not enough positions and there’s a lot of competition for the grants. So, that was something that was not suiting there. Also, I had a very great advantage that I worked with a technician who could do part of my job. I realized that actually I’m really happy not being in the lab rather than being with the people. So I think that was quite clear at the time that I should actually look for something else.

It was not easy, though, to realize this.

Isaiah: So what does your sales position look like currently? Can you talk a little bit about what you do, the relationships you build, the teaching, et cetera?

Ewa: Yes. So, in my current position it’s a little bit a mix between realized science, specialized sales position and account management position I have to say. This is because I work with customers in one account. Under the contract that the company wanted. So, we are in the phase of implementation and hence there is a lot of problem solving. A lot of meetings with customers, scientists and with suppliers as I’m still learning into the role.

It’s interacting with people in house, in company solving the problem. So helping me to close the opportunity. It’s also a lot of bio teaching as well because my role involves setting up seminars, exhibitions. Something that can help customers. This actually can be driven by them all they want. If they tell me what they want that’s great. If they tell me what they want help with, and that’s fantastic.

There’s also a lot of training for myself still. I actually went through some re-induction recently because I’ve been in the role for a bit more than six months now. It was a good time to go back and actually meet the people I’ve met in my first or second week of the company and go and talk to them with problems, or ask them the question. Like, from the real life of the job. 

Medical Writer Career Track: A Conversation With Evguenia Alechine, Ph.D.

Isaiah: Why were you drawn to medical writing?

Evguenia: Well my first job was as an editor. Then I started doing more writing. After academia, what I noticed was that I enjoy so much doing the editing part. I used to do it a lot with my colleagues, just reviewing their papers, their PowerPoint presentations, posters. I always had a very strong eye for detail so I was always nitpicking, okay, so there is like two spaces here. There is a comma missing here. I also, when I was writing my thesis, it was clear to me I enjoyed more the pure writing part and not so much writing about my own results. I didn’t see myself as a typical academic researcher but I did like the little bit of creativity and literature research of my PhD.

After that, it took me some time. It was not straight forward out of academia, but I realized that Medical Writing was exactly what I wanted to do.

Isaiah: Do you see a lot of diversity in the types of positions? Not just the titles but in the work structure? Small companies, large companies, freelancers, et cetera?

Evguenia: Yeah. Again, you have such a variety there. There are big companies that can hire you either to work office space or even remote but working for big companies. You have startup companies that hire a lot of scientists to do their writing. This can be more like scientific writing towards the technological side of things. Or maybe like medical writing or of course editors. Then there are so many people who are working as freelancers for themselves or starting their own companies. Even these people they may end up working for these big companies as well. You can be a freelancer or you can have your own company and working for Big Pharma if that’s your thing, or maybe doing regulatory writing. There are like so many ways that you can go around it. There’s no, it’s definitely not like the typical one size fits all. I think people who want to get into medical writing, they first need to get a clear picture what they want. Like what’s their typical or ideal day in their lives? Do they enjoy working in big teams, managing the teams or more like following orders and being told what to do. Having the flexibility of working on their own or they maybe need to work in an office. Because of this so many options, you can get into anything.

** to hear the full interviews watch the full episode in the video above.

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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.