University to the workplace: acquiring the skills required for a successful and fulfilling career

The transition between university and the workplace is difficult. The ever increasing competitiveness between recent graduates for jobs and internships causes a great deal of stress; the endless hours spent filling out application forms and sending CVs, only to receive rejection after rejection is demoralising . With so many degrees, particularly in Life Sciences, I knew it was essential that my CV stood out in order to fulfil my goal of having a career in the pharmaceutical industry. I applied for the Stratified Medicine and Pharmacological Innovation (SMPI) MSc course at the University of Glasgow after graduating from the same university with a BSc in Pharmacology. The main reason for applying and eventually accepting my offer to study the SMPI course? The attraction of a 12-week industry placement during summer. Whilst I had a good degree and an abundance of extracurricular activities to my name, I knew that experience in industry would be hugely beneficial to securing a position after graduation.

I was delighted to receive my first choice placement, which was working with Kvatchii: Intelligent Health; a spin out company from the University of Glasgow. My advisor was Professor Sandosh Padmanabhan, a world-renowned Clinician and University Lecturer, who has published over 200 research articles, with a particular interest in genomics. To have such a great opportunity to learn from someone so well established in his field, was amazing.

Kvatchii is a relatively new company looking to explore the potential of digital innovation and healthcare. My research project was to explore the field of virtual clinical trials, an emerging branch of clinical trials that collects efficacy and safety data from patients from the comfort of their own home. The ever evolving and increasing use of health technology such as Apple watches, FitBits, motion sensors, and mobile phone applications means that a stream of rich longitudinal data is begging to be tapped into and analysed. The co-design of my study revolved around a literature review to assess the current landscape of virtual clinical trials before gathering people’s opinions and attitudes on the topic via the facilitation of a focus group held at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

On paper, conducting a focus group sounds easy but I quickly learned that was far from true. To organise a stimulating focus group for a range of stakeholders, from students through to
experienced clinicians, whilst ensuring I extracted all relevant data needed for my write up, was challenging. My communication skills and confidence were tested as I presented to stakeholders on the research I had done thus far before answering questions from experienced clinical trial coordinators. I learned that not all life science projects need to happen in a laboratory.

I believe a symbiotic relationship between myself and Kvatchii was present. Whilst I benefited from the expertise and experience of Prof. Pandmanabhan and his associates, the company also received novel opinions on the further implementation of virtual clinical trials and an understanding of their current adoption. The 5,000 word dissertation taught me how critical it is to be concise in a science write-up, when we were previously rewarded at University to use more creative language. Throughout my time researching clinical trials and the future of digital technology within them, I
became fascinated with the industry.

Six months later and I am currently a Graduate Project Manager at a clinical trial CRO with a well-known and respected company after receiving an A2 on my final dissertation article. I have no doubt that the skills learnt during my 12-week industry placement such as time management, self-motivation and determination to succeed will stand me in good stead to continue my career within this ever-evolving industry. Whilst it was only 12-weeks, the placement is a principle feature on my CV and I have gained a well-known and respected referee.

Emma Stephen