Working outside the lab within the Life Sciences industry

Interested in using your degree outside the lab? Carol Macdonald, Link Careers Consultant for the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, provides a fantastic #EdLifeSciences insight from four alumni who showcase the career options available outside the lab.

When thinking about career options in life science and pharma, thoughts often turn to laboratory-based roles… and whether a postgraduate degree may be advantageous. The life sciences sector is in fact much more diverse than you may first imagine, offering lots of career options outside of the lab, with a postgraduate degree not being an essential entry requirement.

In January 2021, we were joined by four recent graduates of the Deanery of Biomedical Sciences and School of Biological Sciences, at an “Alumni Insights: Career Showcase” event. Their careers had developed in different ways: none of them had gone down the postgraduate route, nor had they entered their current roles though formal graduate training programmes. They were all enthusiastic about their current roles and keen to pass on insights.

Spotlight on alumni and their current roles…

Annabel Reid, Senior Clinical Project Associate, Bionical Emas 

Annabel, an immunology graduate, works with a small Contract Research Organisation (CRO) called Bionical Emas, which undertakes Phase 1 to Phase 4 clinical trials on behalf of client companies. This has been an ideal route into the industry for Annabel. Prior to completing an internship with Bionical Emas after her third year, she was not aware of CROs and that this type of role was possible.

Annabel works within the Clinical Operations Division which ensures planning and management of all aspects of the clinical trial from start-up to close-out.

On first joining, as a Clinical Trials Associate, one of her main tasks was filing – an essential task to produce the trial master file which is submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration FDA, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) to get drugs licensed and approved. This role also involved lots of meetings, writing minutes and helping project managers track data. Over the last 2.5 years, as Clinical Project Associate (and now, Senior Clinical Project Associate), her role has been to support the Project Lead in all activities involved in the trials; this includes:

  • Protocol development and design of patient consent forms, diaries and cards
  • Submitting studies to the ethics and regulatory committees
    • Ethics committees will determine if your study is ethical and will review aspects, such as how many scans you are requiring the patients to take, or how much blood is required for sample review.  The regulatory committees review the scientific element of your study and determine if it is scientifically valid.
  • Site selection and feasibility
    • This involves identifying a range of UK or global sites, and determining if they want to participate in trial and have the required facilities and resources.
  • Site initiation
  • Monitoring of the site and patient recruitment
  • Close out sites – at the end of each trial
  • Database lock – when all the data from a trial is locked, to produce the study report

Jack Sayers, Associate, Integrated Real World Evidence and Solutions (IRES) Team, IQVIA 

Jack, a genetics graduate, works in life science consulting with IQVIA; a large CRO and service company to the healthcare industry. On graduating, Jack did not have clear career plans and so decided to take time out to travel. He considered consultancy due to the variety of work and was fortunate to gain a temporary role before travelling. He became interested in life science consulting as this allowed him to use aspects of his degree.

His consulting role is in the ‘real world evidence’ and data side of the business. As Jack explained, real world data is a bit of an industry buzzword but means healthcare data collected in routine practice. So, for example, when your GP records notes of your consultation, that is real world data. By using that raw data and analysing it, you generate evidence… and, from consulting on that evidence, you generate insights.

Jack’s team helps client companies to understand where they can best use real world data, where they can source different types of data from and develop a strategy for using it.

It’s an innovative side of the business where teams think about new ways in which data can be used. They might, for example, run a data landscaping project across a certain geography, looking at all different types of data assets.

This type of data can be used within clinical trials, for example, as a comparator cohort. For instance, in situations where it was unethical for a clinical trial to use a placebo, you may be able to generate a historical control using data. This is called using external comparators.

Day to day work is varied. Jack will typically work as a staff member on 2 to 3 projects. There’s lots of meetings and time spent developing deliverables for clients. At client meetings he will be involved in presenting both research and strategy that they have been developing for that company.

Angela McCauley, Regulatory and Quality Adviser, Neurovalens 

Neurovalens is a young start up medical device company, set up in 2018 to create non-invasive neural stimulation products for conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, anxiety and insomnia. They have created a headset which stimulates the vestibular nerve, behind your ear and that feeds into your brainstem. The company is currently going for FDA approval for medical devices and as part of that are involved in clinical trials. Trials are running in the US, the UK and Ireland.

Working for a start-up has meant that Angela has been pulled into all sorts of areas of work. She joined Neurovalens as a Quality and Regulatory Adviser, just as lockdown was starting in March 2020. A new clinical team had just been established in-house; prior to this consultants were being used.

Initially, she was involved in the clinical trials, but in her new role as Quality Manager, she is involved in developing the quality management system. Angela explained that in medical device companies everything has to comply with regulatory standards, and be set out in your quality management system.

As a neuroscience graduate, who had previous business start-up experience and a real desire to help people, Angela has particularly enjoyed working in this entrepreneurial environment.

Jack Kellard, Project Manager (Healthcare and Corporate), Guidepoint 

Guidepoint, is an expert network firm which provides access to 800,000 plus consultants with experience across all fields from consumer goods to healthcare to chemicals.  They provide data insights and data gathering techniques to clients which include institutional investment firms, private equity firms, CROs and strategic consultants.

Jack’s role has required the vocabulary and technical knowledge from his Physiology degree to help him to interpret and adapt to different clients’ needs, particularly within the healthcare sector; for example, when they are looking for information on clinical trials or conditions. It has also relied on the ‘soft skills’ of dealing with people first hand, which he developed while working in a very busy bar after graduating. Working in committee roles in student societies while at University also helped him to stand out.

Jack’s career progression has been fast. He was promoted after 11 months to Research Manager and after another 9 months to Project Manager. His new role offers more client facing work and he now manages key accounts for a healthcare team. The role is about negotiating a way to deliver primary data and sources of information to clients. This involves managing the client relationship, consulting relationship and Guidepoint research associates. They provide bespoke project research, project initiations, set up and management.

For Jack, this is a wonderful graduate role which involves interacting with people from all around the world, with wildly different approaches towards business and how to negotiate as well as using his health care knowledge.

Some top tips from our alumni…

  • Think about what you will enjoy, and where you will enjoy doing it
  • Seize opportunities – go for it and try things
  • Internships are a great way to get insights
  • The ‘soft skills’ you gain through extra-curricular roles and ‘casual’ jobs really help
  • Network – it helps to connect with people. And, people are happy to give advice
  • Don’t worry if you don’t get something straight away – just keep trying
  • Enjoy the journey!

Find out a bit more

  • You can gain an overview of this industry sector in Scotland by visiting the Life Sciences in Scotland website
  • Use the Scottish Industry Directory: Life and Chemical Sciences to search for companies and organisations by category, for example, Pharmaceutical Services, to contact speculatively.
  • Our webpage on creating your own opportunity gives more advice on this speculative approach.
  • The website, ABPI Careers in the Pharmaceutical industry, provides helpful resources and guides for students with an extensive set of career case studies illustrating the wide range of career options in this sector.
  • “From graduation to success in Quality Assurance: here’s how”- this insightful blog post features three recent University of Edinburgh alumnae who highlight their positive experience of transitioning from graduate to employee at Charles River.

*Save the Date, Wednesday, 2nd June 2021*

Representatives from the Life Sciences sector, including AMICULUM, Charles River, Novo Nordisk, and Roslin CT, will be in attendance at our Graduate Jobs Fair Online.


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