By: Gina M. Sanchez
Consulting seems to be on the rise as a post-PhD career path. So, should you join in on the craze? The iJOBS program hosted a career panel of four PhDs, including two Rutgers alum, to shed light on what is involved in this booming field.
Our four panelists included:
- Dr. Deboleena Kanjilal, who has been an Associate Consultant for Lumanity (formerly known as Cello) for approximately one year.
- Dr. Shuang “Steve” Wu, a Senior Associate for the Life Sciences Practice of Charles River Associates, where he has been for about four years.
- Dr. Raghav Sridhar, currently a Medical Writer for BGB group, and previously worked for Guidehouse as a Senior Life Science Consultant for about a year and a half.
- Dr. Eric Babiash, a Manager at Herspiegel Consulting, where he has been for about three years.
A common concern of soon-to-be PhDs and post-docs is how can I be prepared for a job in consulting? All panelists echoed that it is important to look at several case studies to have a basic understanding of the workflow of this career path. Case studies are essentially textbook examples of what a client may present to you when they ask for guidance. These prompts often include history assets of the company, information on competitors, and what questions need to be addressed by you, the consultant. Consulting often involves creating flow charts to aid in the problem-solving nature of this career, often requiring logic-based reasoning. This often involves asking yourself or your team what is the price of the drug (if that is the asset in question), the desire or need for the drug in the market, how the drug would help patients, when the product would launch, and forecasting the sales of the drug based on these answers. Yale University actually has a consulting group that has shared the 2013 version of their practice case studies and while this may be a bit older, the panelists still recommended this as a valuable resource for people interested in consulting. Dr. Babiash also recommended a book that really helped him when entering this field. Dr. Kanjilial and Dr. Sridhar both had been part of the Rutgers Consulting Group, where they were able to network with other students in the Rutgers system to work through these types of case studies and potentially gain real-world experience by getting involved in pro bono work with actual clients!
Typical project timeline for the Rutgers Consulting Group’s Consulting Analyst Program (CAP) that allows students to gain real-life experience in consulting. Source: https://www.rutgersconsulting.com/cap
Breaking into a career in consulting can be a bit demanding, but all the panelists agreed that it was manageable, bolstered by a strong community. All the represented companies in the panel have a system to get each cohort of new recruits up to speed. Some companies, however, have specific recruitment cycles, such as Charles River Associates or Herspiegel (depending on your experience). The pro of recruitment cycles is that you join with a cohort of individuals and can form a community to help one another and learn together. With rolling admission, you may lose the sense of community gained by a cohort, but you are provided with modules to help you with the on-boarding process and training. Regardless of the recruitment method, Dr. Wu emphasized that current team members are eager to help you, particularly if you show that you are curious and eager to learn.
The work-life balance of a consultant is often rumored to be unfavorable, but the panelists agreed that like many other client-facing jobs, there are busy seasons and there are down seasons. How these align is dependent on the clients that you work with as well as how many you take on. With some companies, you may only have one or two clients, but that’s not a standardized number. For example, Dr. Kanjilal currently has five clients, which she noted is not unmanageable. You must remember that not every client is active at the same time. Sometimes work will be paused as she waits for their response, while some may be nearing the wrap-up phase. While your clients are nearing a deadline, you may need to work later hours, but open communication with your team can help facilitate making your workload more manageable. On a similar note, Dr. Babiash felt that there was no issue balancing personal appointments and work. For example, if you have a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, you likely could just take a long lunch — so long as you remember that your work must get done in a timely manner. Dr. Kanjilal noted that with Lumanity, they get a “Power Hour”, which means that they get one hour each day where they can step away from their screen. The companies know consulting can be demanding, so many make sure to do their part in keeping their employees happy.
As PhD-holders, you have many transferrable skills, but often don’t get training that is directly applicable to consulting. You will need to prove to hiring managers that you have done your research, participated in informational interviews, and gained experience through case studies, advised Dr. Babiash. There is a high failure rate in this field, even for PhDs, and team members use a lot of energy and effort in your training, so you want to be confident this is the career path you wish to follow. Dr. Babiash noted that PhDs are hired because they are smart, but it must be demonstrated that you can think like a businessperson as well. Dr. Kanjilal noted that we have been trained to pick out the most important, crucial information when reading papers, which is extremely valuable in consulting. But you must be able to identify your transferrable skills to market yourself to potential employers and clients.
Consulting is a booming field for PhD holders, possibly because you get to use the knowledge and skills that you developed during your PhD in a setting that directly impacts patients. Consider all your options, as there will be challenges adapting to a more business-oriented field. Dr. Wu noted that with many companies, you track billable hours for each client and depending on the company, these billable hours may influence your bonus. The salary varies widely depending on the company, the location, and your experience. You could start at $60,000/year or $120,000/year, so you must do your research and again, know how to market yourself.
This field can be very rewarding, as you get to assist in the development of plans to bring drugs to the market that have a direct impact on patient lives. If you are interested in the business side of science, this is a field that you should strongly consider.
This article was edited by Junior Editor Natalie Losada and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.
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