Zürich Life Science Day is a one-day event organised by the Life Science Zurich Young Scientist Network, mostly students from ETH and Univeristy of Zürich, that aims at introducing career opportunities to students and young professionals in life science. Beyond booths and stands by academic institutes and companies, career opportunities in both academics and industry are presented by speakers with years of first-hand experience in respective functions and positions.

My presentation on behalf of Roche

It was my pleasure to be invited and speak on behalf of Roche about my career path, and particularly about how it is to be a research scientist at Roche Pharma Research and Early Development (pRED).

The presentation can be downloaded here in the PDF format.

I was thrilled that many students were interested in working for industry and therefore were attracted to Roche’s talk. Probably there are more such students than I met, because at the same time a Novartis colleague held her talk about career opportunities in clinical trails at Novartis. I interpret the sheer number of interested students as a positive sign that industry, in particular Roche, remains an attractive employer for young life-science professionals.

My impressions

After the talk many students seized the chance to ask me questions, which I appreciated because these questions revealed some patterns of students’ thinking about research jobs in pharma. In particular, I realised that there are mainly three types of questions.

Questions on conspiracy

If I may summarize them in this way. For instance, do pharma companies hide brilliant research results and potential new therapies for the sake of profit? Do pharma companies stop production of an old, efficacious drug in order to push a newer, less efficacious, but maybe more profitable drug to the market?

My answer to these questions is: no. These conspiracies cannot possibly be true given the law of economics and given the guidelines of clinical trials by drug-approving agencies. Nevertheless, such questions reveal the huge gap between what pharma companies do and what students think about what they do.

Education may help there. Possibilities for two-way exchange such as the event itself may be more useful. I am afraid though that such questions will probably remain as long as drugs are produced by for-profit organisations.

Questions on ‘how can I start’

Students often do not know how to start a career in a company such as Roche. Visiting the Roche Careers website is a good way to start. Making personal connections is apparently quite important, too.

In my opinion, an internship and/or a short visit between 6-12 months can be highly beneficial for both sides, because it provides both students and the team hosting them a chance to know each other, and to see whether the achievements make both parties happy.

And, I think e-mail spamming with uninvited applications is hardly an effective way to get you a job, at least in the field of research and development.

Questions on ‘what can I do’

Very often, master students and especially Ph.D. students are specialized in one particular area, say, cellular biology with focus on imaging. How to know that whether that skill set is required by pharma?

Well, the fact is that we do not know. It highly depends on the need of the research organisation at a particular time point. Do we invest in a new imaging-based assay to address a target for a given disease indication? If yes, do we have expertise in house? If no, do we have the resource to recruit someone from the external world? And there you go with the job description, and be sure that there will be more than one applicants with all different background and experience. Expertise becomes very important, personality and social competence too. I do not have to repeat all the tips and tricks that you have probably heard before.

While each one of us gives his or her best during application and wishes that the dream job becomes true, it is critical to realise that luck plays a huge role: you have be the right one at the right time and in the right place.

Don’t get frustrated if you did not make one position: collect yourself, keep calm and carry on. It is easier said than done, however just like death that catches us often in surprise, what can we do against luck or fate? Stoic philosophers would suggest accepting it, pondering upon it, and striking just another try.

My reflections

I was overwhelmed by the interest showed by motivated and latented young scientists to join our effort to understand human disease and to identify new, efficacious, and safe drugs. As stated in the presentation, I believe that talented and motivated life scientists should join Roche. And I hope by showing students how do we work and how have we become what we are today, we can get some of the best peers among them join our journey.

Last but not least, I would like to thank the event organisor and many voluntary students for the great event, in particular Georges Hankov, who is currently performing his Ph.D. research at Roche. I would like to thank Dr. Volker Herdtweck for the invitation to speak on behalf of Roche, and thank Dr. Ignacio Fernandez Garcia (Nacho) for introducing Roche in a talk before mine.