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From Academia to... anywhere you want #1

Interview with Martina Perin, Medical Affairs Operations Coordinator at Celgene

Welcome to our first ever interview in the series “From Academia to… anywhere you want!” This series of interviews aims to inspire anyone who wants to transition from academia and explore the exciting career opportunities around them! Be brave, be bold, be curious =)

On a hot June afternoon at Brasserie de Montbenon in Lausanne, I was catching up with Martina Perin, PhD, currently Medical Affairs Operations Coordinator at Celgene.

KT: - So Marti, tell our readers a bit about yourself.

MP: - My name is Martina, I am 33 years old and am originally from Italy. Since my childhood, I have always been fascinated by nature and biology, driving me to choose a scientific career. Hesitating between biology and medicine, I finally did my Bachelor’s in medical biotechnology at the University of Milano and my Master’s in neuroscience at the University of Trieste. I am also passionate about foreign languages and arts. And yes, my love for cooking and… good food and wine is in my Italian genes!

KT: - Why did you decide to do a PhD?

MP: - Working abroad seemed like a very interesting experience to me and of course I was very excited about continuing doing research. When looking for a PhD position, I applied to Universities all over Europe. Initially, Switzerland was not my target. In the end, I got an offer from Anita. Her excitement was contagious and her energy was truly incredible. While I had not considered Switzerland for my PhD before, I was excited to work here. Moreover, I was close to home and could see my family often.

Funny fact, I did my Master’s in electrophysiology. And it is an extremely challenging technique. So, once I was done, I told myself – never again! However, when I had to go back to my old lab to ask for a reference letter, I realized how much I missed it! And I ended up applying for PhD positions in electrophysiology.

KT: - What was the best moment during your PhD thesis work?

MP: - Definitely the first conference that I attended. It was just so exciting: to put all the data together, to get feedback from my supervisor, to present my research in front of the scientific community. My colleagues saw how excited I was, so they gave me a present – an apron with a picture of my first poster. I still wear it when I cook =)

KT: - Why did you not continue a career in Academia?

MP: - I have learned how tough it is and how much energy it requires to pursue an academic career. You need to deeply love what you do and I did not feel that kind of connection with my research. Additionally, the academic world is extremely competitive and it takes a lot of time and sacrifices to climb the career ladder.

KT: - Tell me about your current job. What are your tasks and responsibilities?

MP: - Currently, I work for the Medical Affairs department, in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) company headquarter. Here, amongst my tasks, I mainly coordinate two programs that support independent clinical or lab research (Investigators Initiated Trials and research grants) in the field of blood cancer and solid tumors of different principal investigators from all over EMEA. We support this independent research both financially or by supplying free marketed drugs, leading to publications - therefore, gaining further knowledge on our drugs and the diseases we are treating. On a day to day basis, I receive the proposals from investigators and coordinate their review process. I also take care of the documentation necessary for the implementation, in case the proposals are accepted and we decide to engage in a collaboration. For every proposal, I also need to enter the information in the corporate databases. Additionally, I support our affiliates for all questions/requests on these programs, as needed, train new departmental employees on working procedures, use of databases etc, and create training material. I control part of the budget for this research support, coordinate some contract negotiations with the institutions, and contribute in the organization of the departmental annual training meeting. My job is purely operational and not really scientific. And though I like my job a lot because of the variety of my daily tasks, I must admit that I miss the scientific part a bit.

KT: - What is the most challenging part of your job?

MP: - The most challenging part and, at the same time one of the things I like the most, is dealing with people. Additionally, every day there are new issues to solve and every day I am learning something new. This is something I truly enjoy. Another challenge is time management. You need to be able to prioritize and plan in advance, in particular when you need to complete a task you have never done before.

KT: - What are the key skills necessary to succeed in the job you have? Did you need to build additional skills after your PhD before applying to this position?

MP: - My job requires logic, precision, attention to details, and responsiveness.

I already had this skill set after finishing my PhD. What was missing was the knowledge regarding clinical research. Really, the basic knowledge. To build up this experience, I did an internship as a Clinical Study Manager Associate at CHUV. It was an operational job in which I was mainly supporting my supervisor. For example, I had to recruit volunteers for clinical trials. I really enjoyed this task! I felt that I was doing something that will directly impact people’s lives. You do not get this feeling when working in fundamental research. Having a good knowledge of clinical research is very helpful for pursuing a career in different fields of the pharmaceutical industry. Not only in my job but, for example, in other positions within Medical Affairs, like clinical research scientists or clinical study managers, as well as in Clinical Research and Development departments. I got this internship thanks to BNF aand I strongly recommend it to everyone who would like to build their experience in clinical trials.

KT: - What would your advice be to people who would like to transition from their academic career?

MP: - The world outside academia is huge. Put your nose outside, have a look, and see what this world can offer you. Clinical research is one of the easiest choices for someone who has done a PhD in life sciences, and it gives you multiple career opportunities. But there are so many options - look at Ksenia! You can be a consultant, you can create your own startup, you can work in drug discovery. Just have a look, try different things, talk to different people and… do an internship. I strongly recommend an internship as an entry point to change careers. It is a great opportunity. In addition, I recommend participating in networking events and "what's outside academia"-like seminars/events. They have been and are so inspirational for me!

Text edited by Sophia L. Samodelov

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