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

These 5 Skills Got Me Hired As A Medical Science Liaison

Postdocs are a waste of your time.

They get cheap labor out of PhDs, and they are far beneath what we can actually accomplish.

During my PhD, I decided that I didn’t want to continue in academia, and that I would not pursue a postdoc.

I traveled to North America in order to get my PhD, but once I graduated, it felt like all of my work had been for nothing.

That’s because I was a recent PhD graduate with fewer than 6 months of academic job experience as a research assistant.

I had no clue about the workings of industry.

Despite this, I managed to secure multiple interviews – mainly by networking on LinkedIn.

But after all of that preparation: the excitement of the interview process, the nerves, the expectation…

No job offers.

That was when I joined the Cheeky Scientist Association.

It took me just 2 months with CSA before I got my first offer for a new MSL position.

How did it happen?

Cheeky taught me to build a solid resume, revamp my LinkedIn profile, prepare for interviews (the right way), and many other things (not to mention the moral support I got from the community).

Are you a PhD like me looking for an exciting role as an MSL?

I got the job – so can you.

Let’s talk about industry’s fulfilling, lucrative MSL role.

How To Know If You Are Suited To The MSL Role

Inventory your transferable skills to see if a medical science liaison career would be a good fit

MSL roles are growing fast.

These roles are actually one of the top 10 industry careers for PhDs right now.

How do you like the thought of jet-setting across the country in your tailored suit, discussing science with high-level thought leaders, and earning a great salary?

Does that sound like a nice change from working in a lab for peanuts?

It did to me, that’s for sure.

In 2019, the median salary of MSLs was more than $122,000.

But the MSL position isn’t right for everyone.

Medical science liaisons undertake cutting-edge, scientific discussions on drug therapy and disease states.

They do this 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.

There has to be a strong match between your personality and values, and the culture and values of any company for which you end up working.

You need to understand yourself and what you want as well as how other people see you.

Medical science liaising is an inherently social practice.

It demands a personable, outgoing attitude; good communication; and excellent teaching skills.

Some people are simply better suited to solitary work.

But as a PhD, for the longest time, I tried to fit myself into a box: the independent scientist, alone at the bench with a microscope, laptop, coffee, and copious notes.

Yet I loved to present my research in front of others, to mingle at conferences…

I wanted to talk science with anyone who was willing to join me.

Does this sound familiar?

You might be a perfect fit for the MSL role…

PhDs Can Use These 5 Transferable Skills To Get Hired As An MSL

So it’s clear that an MSL needs to have an outgoing side.

You don’t necessarily have to be a total extrovert, but MSL roles demand a strong ability to interact socially with other people in a professional context.

But what else does an MSL need to be successful in the role?

And as a PhD, what can you do to get hired into this role?

In fact, PhDs have already developed many of the transferable skills needed to get hired as an MSL.

You’ve worked hard to get your PhD – harder than most people even know it is possible to work.

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 an MSL role…

1. Optimism and an outgoing disposition.

When you’re in the field as an MSL, on behalf of your company, you’ll have a ton of high-level scientific discussions with physicians.

This will happen at both academic institutions and clinics, and these physicians are known as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).

MSLs interact extensively with sales representatives within their company as well as office managers, nurses, physicians’ assistants, and plenty of others.

Optimism and an outgoing personality are crucial to maintaining these extensive professional networks.

Think of these networks as a large, elaborate machine – positivity is then a kind of lubricant for these networks.

By focusing on solutions and finding ways to add professional value for others, your machine the network you cultivate will remain open and flow smoothly.

2. Communication skills: conveying scientific information with power and precision.

Strong communication and teaching skills are mandatory for a medical science liaison

A good MSL can communicate effectively under pressure.

Sometimes, you only have 3-5 minutes to deliver critical data to a series of clients at multiple levels of an organization.

Being outgoing is one thing, but it’s quite another to simply enjoy talking for its own sake.

You undoubtedly know people who like to hear themselves talk you may even BE one of these people (and that’s okay).

But in your professional capacity as an MSL, you will not have the luxury of going off on tangents during important conversations.

Instead, only deliver the critical points.

This means that you must know the science intimately, which will allow you to deliver information intelligibly and without jargon.

This talent will earn you tremendous respect from 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.

It will be your job to keep them informed and supported without interrupting their critical work.

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

3. Strong social intuition and emotional intelligence.

Successful MSLs cannot afford to be socially clueless.

The ability to assess the moods of your clients will be instrumental to your success.

During your work as an MSL, you will have to juggle the communication of data with instinctive social observations.

Does the client look bored?

Are they checking their smartphone or maintaining eye contact?

How is their posture?

Are they mimicking your own posture, or sitting up straight and nodding as you speak?

Or are they slumped in their seat, distracted by other things in the room?

Reading human behavior is firmly expected of a good MSL, and if you can’t do it, you will struggle to achieve success in this role.

Your clients are busy and carrying the weight of many professional expectations.

You must respect their time while being very flexible with your own – it’s just the nature of the job.

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

You can say things like, Is this a good time? Or, 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 times when you urgently feel the weight of your own job’s expectations.

These may be high-pressure situations that urge you to push the client toward action.

But pushing your clients, and thereby disrespecting their time, is almost always a mistake.

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

4. Potent internal motivation and a passion for your company’s goals.

Not every physician will be happy to see you.

If this idea offends you, then either adapt to it or look for a different career track.

Not every office assistant will stay on the phone with you when you cold-call them – these are just facts of life.

While MSLs are not sales representatives, they ARE proactive educators.

This means that as an MSL, you will consistently reach out to people with the intent to educate them about your company and its products.

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

This can be a challenge, no one denies that.

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

So, how do you stay motivated after a door gets shut in your face?

First, you have to believe in the company you represent, and in the company’s mission.

If you don’t, then rejection will be too powerful to manage.

You have to feel passionate about some end goal that the company is striving to achieve.

You have to be motivated.

Second, remember that most people aren’t going to understand/appreciate the value you can offer them immediately.

Give these people the benefit of the doubt and be patient with them.

Your patience will pay off.

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

The good news is that it only takes a single yes to be successful as an MSL.

A physician or physician’s office may say no many times before it finally says yes.

Tenacious MSLs will be rewarded – once the client says yes, the rest doesn’t really matter.

5. Patience, active listening, and true client care.

A successful medical science liaison knows how to ask pertinent questions

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

And how do you know what 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 of doing this, just ask the client about their needs.

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, but this role will always require optimism and an outgoing disposition. PhDs can leverage communication skills – conveying scientific information with power and precision – to enter into this profession. They will also be served well by strong social intuition and emotional intelligence. Potent internal motivation and a passion for your company’s goals are two of an MSL’s greatest weapons in the face of client rejection, so you cannot simply work for any old company, it must be one with which you align ideologically. Finally, patience, active listening, and true client care are at the core of good MSL work. PhDs who possess these transferable skills can communicate them to employers during interviews for greatly improved chances at landing the job.

Ready to get serious about your future career as a medical science liaison? Our MSL Alliance program is your best bet. Membership includes instant access to comprehensive core modular training for the MSL role, exclusive guides to clinical trial assessment, extensive video training from MSL professionals, and more. This private online network of medically focused PhDs will be your first big step toward one of the most rewarding science-based positions that industry has to offer. You have the talent and the education – we’ve got the resources. Get on the waitlist for the MSL Alliance today, and take your industry career potential to its maximum.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly


Aditya Sharma, PhD, earned his advanced degree at the University of Toronto, Canada. Now, he combines his passion for all things STEM with keen business acumen, and he works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.

Aditya Sharma, PhD

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…

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.