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These 5 Skills Got Me Hired As A Medical Science Liaison

Contributing Author: Aditya Sharma, PhD

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.

Aditya Sharma, PhD


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