Consulting and Science Communication: “GRO Your Career 2020 Industry Conference” Day 1 Session 2

  • November 6, 2020
iJOBS Blog

By Natalie Losada

Day 1 Session 2:

The second session, The Nuts & Bolts of Consulting, included three panelists who discussed consulting responsibilities (before and during the pandemic), transitioning from a Ph.D. to consulting, and some quick questions at the end. Panelist Andrea Campi works as a consultant at Prescient Healthcare Group. This company was interested in a preclinical stage product she had developed during her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering that was later approved right before she defended.  The second panelist, Bill McCormick, joined the life science consulting team at Qral Group as a short term plan, but loved their company environment and biotech focus so much he is still working there four years later.  Final panelist Kevin Hartman originally focused his efforts on the research side of science until consulting caught his eye and made him realize he enjoyed the business side of science a lot more.  He is now a consultant for ClearView Healthcare Partners.

Panelists for Day 1 Session 2.  Photo taken from a screenshot of the GRO-Biotech Conference moderator’s slides.

Consulting Responsibilities (Before and During the Pandemic)

“Sometimes 90-110% of your day is spent with the clients”, said Mr. McCormick.  Generally, a consultant’s days are variable. Consultants will often have a mix of bigger and smaller clients with short-term or long-term relationships. With each new client, a consultant must learn about the company, their needs, and the problem they need solved.  Similar to graduate school, this requires gathering data, building the story around the problem, and presenting the plans and solutions to higher-ups.  A science background helps understand the clients' problems faster and more robustly. However, a Ph.D. is not always required.  Consulting is about asking questions to/for the client to create structure around an unstructured problem.

Consulting is about creating structure around an unstructured problem.

Mr. McCormick

Depending on the company, consultants sometimes travel to meet current or potential clients, which has been difficult during a pandemic for some, like Dr. Campi.  Her company struggled to transition to social-distanced events because much of their intelligence gathering for clients happened at conferences.  Some like Dr. Hartman and Mr. McCormick had surprisingly easy transitions since their companies were accustomed to online meetings even before the pandemic.  All the panelists expressed gratitude towards their companies’ dedication to their employees during these challenging times.  Dr. Campi said her company reminds employees to be mindful when planning meetings. Cooperation is key now that everyone has been introduced to each other’s personal lives more than ever expected.  Dr. Hartman’s company also tries to avoid employee burn-out by requiring them to choose two nights per week where they are “out of work” by 5 pm – phones off, you’re done.  When looking for a job, I recommend finding similar companies that treat each team member as a valuable part of the machine and respects work-life balance practices.

Transitioning from a Ph.D. to Consulting

Dr. Hartman suggested demonstrating something “non-academic” on your resume that is more business-related, e.g., participating in an internship outside of a lab setting. 

Life science and biotech consultants can be hired from diverse research backgrounds.  The critical qualities employers look for don’t include expertise is a specific topic; they look for an ability to work with a team, dig into a problem to tackle a challenge, and ask the right questions.  As Mr. McCormick said, they are “looking for a mindset” more than anything.  Your resume can and should speak to your mindset by showing the employer how you’ve developed the mindset and where you’ve practiced using it.  Dr. Hartman suggested demonstrating something “non-academic” on your resume that is more business-related, e.g., participating in an internship outside of a lab setting.  If you’ve come straight from academia, the employers don’t expect you to understand all the nuances of the consulting job.  They provide thorough training after hiring and want you to learn fast and think on your feet.  However, training is usually ongoing in your career as you learn about new client companies and products.

In fact, during the interview process, you’re usually given a case study to evaluate on the spot...

Luckily, there are ways to “study” for the position and hone your skills to become a more competitive candidate.  There are online resources to provide case studies that you can practice working through to determine solutions.  In fact, during the interview process, you’re usually given a case study to evaluate on the spot because they want to see your thought process and problem-solving methods.  Another way to prepare to be a consultant would be using LinkedIn to talk to consultants from different companies to learn the nuances and see which company might be a better fit.  This is important for any job in any field – use LinkedIn as a research tool, not a “job-begging” tool.  Your networking will be more fulfilling and more comfortable that way. 

Attendee Questions

  1. Can international students become consultants?
    • Depends on the company.  Be ready to discuss this with the company.
  2. If you only have a B.S., will certificates from  Coursera help?
    • Certificates in fields that will specifically complement your career interests is a great idea.  It would be helpful to earn a Coursera course certificate before you graduate, but it’s not required.
  3. Most memorable project?
    • Mr. McCormick: Joined a project at a later stage and witnessed all the exciting approvals, distributions, and ultimate success as he played his part along the way.
    • Dr. Hartman: Had a very open-ended problem to develop a corporate strategy with a major client.  It felt nerve-racking to be precise and correct, but it felt so impactful.
    • Dr. Campi: She realized a laid-back client of hers had a crucial finding that she had to bring to their attention to develop further and become a vital thought partner.

Life science and Biotech consulting can be very rewarding or a fun challenge.  And much like the other topics during this conference, it’s the type of career that grad students don’t immediately consider pursuing.  A company may appear to consist of a CEO and a scientist who makes the products, but there are so many critical roles within and outside of a company that help get products developed, funded, sold, marketed, supported, redesigned, and expanded upon.  More importantly, with an advanced degree and a STEM background, you are prepared for any career at every step of the product or company development.

This article was edited by Junior Editor Janaina Cruz Pereira and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.