How low can your postdoc go?

Recently I was talking to one of our candidates - who is currently working as an MSL - about the time we first spoke on the phone. The first time we spoke, was about her interest in our “from SCIENCE to PHARMA” MSL training course, as she desperately wanted to become an MSL (and leave academia).

In our phone calls with our candidates we always tell them that it is a competitive landscape. It requires a lot of work from the candidate’s side and we tell the candidate that it can therefore take up to 12 months to find an MSL job. The reason for the 12 months is based on our experience with candidates from the past. It takes time to do our training, to fully understand the MSL job and pharma, to do your own upskilling, then work on your LinkedIn profile and CV, find the jobs and apply to them and then go through several rounds of interviews and potentially do this a few times if you are unsuccessful in the first few rounds. I remember this conversation with her very clearly, as she was quite desperate and adamant to get out of academia.

What I don’t remember, and could not have remembered, is that after she hung up she started crying. She started crying because – as she told me recently - she could not bear the thought of being in her postdoc position for another 12 months.

She pledged to herself and later to me in our next phone catch up, that she was going to find that job within 6 months, no 4 months, she told me. She was going to prove that she could get this done in less time. And she did!

She prepared and prepared and prepared even more and every time we spoke on the phone, I was amazed about how much she had researched and learned. How much she knew about the topics, the MSL job, pharma, clinical trials, regulatory approvals, competitors, pricing, the disease landscape, guidelines, etc. She was always overprepared every time we spoke to prepare her for her next interview round. She was nervous, she wanted this so badly. She was the one who made it happen, she was the one in control, she was the one who put in those many hours. She was the one that got the job!

I told her it reminded me of my time as a postdoc, where I dreaded every morning going to work. Walking – maybe more dragging myself – up the hill to the institute, stressed, angry, defeated, stuck in a postdoc position I thought I could not get out off.

I loved the science, and what better way to do science than as a scientist, I thought. But it made me feel miserable, made my wife feel miserable, because I was miserable and complaining all the time about work.

My thing to get me going every morning, despite all those feelings, was swimming and going to the gym every morning. It was my kick-starter of the day, endorphins racing through my body, just to get me going (up that physical and emotional hill) to get to work. I told her that I had days that even that massive boost of endorphins racing through my body could not get me to work and I called in sick twice. The first time I went shopping (I still use those runners for my sports now) and the second time I went to the movie (can’t remember the movie). Sick of work, sick of the environment, sick of myself that I could not get out of this postdoc job.

I think I hit rock bottom, when I contemplated becoming a taxi driver.

No offence to taxi drivers, many of them are good guys (and galls). But when you are looking into a career as a taxi driver when you have spent over a decade in uni, having three degrees, you KNOW you have hit rock bottom. I hedged my bets and also ordered a DVD on how to become a fitness instructor – at least that was an activity that I enjoyed doing most of my mornings before going to my postdoc job.

Talking to a good friend of mine, he shared a similar story when he was a postdoc. He said he needed to get out of academia, but also did not know what he could do, what he was capable of. The only thing he (and we all) know was science. He was thinking of becoming a waiter or working in a bar just to support his family. He was in the same situation, many years in uni, many degrees and feeling stuck, so stuck and not knowing what else he could do when his funding would end soon. I coached him on what it takes to become an MSL and he too became an MSL pretty quickly.

Or the candidate that was yelled and screamed at by her supervisors. I could physically feel the pain in her voice when I spoke to her the first time.

She said she stopped working in weekends (besides 12 hour weekday shifts) as the yelling did not got less with her working more. She tried to do some nice things during her time off in the weekend.

I recently spoke to her again, as an MSL. She works less, she tripled her salary, loves what she is doing, and most importantly, she feels appreciated by her manager and colleagues

She EVEN has a career development plan in place. Wow, haven’t come across that a lot in academia?

Luckily, we all found a great escape after our postdoc in becoming an MSL. It felt like a huge weight had come of our shoulders. Finally, we were appreciated for who we were and what we were capable of. Still working on the science, talking to top clinicians on how to improve patients’ lives and having the feeling that your work DOES matter now. I always call it “talking science for a living”. A very well paid “living”.

What more would you want as a scientist. Being close to the science and talking about the latest scientific and clinical developments and at the same time helping thousands of patients get better OR would you rather continue to bang your head against the wall or against that rock bottom of your postdoc job? You tell me!


In our Board Certified MSL aspiring training platform we explain clearly what skills  you can highlight and elaborate on your cv/resume to ensure you tick all the boxes from the MSL job description to write the perfect MSL CV that will land your first MSL job interview.

Join our FREE MSL webinar to learn "How to become an MSL without having any pharma experience" and test yourself if you are suitable for the MSL career.


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