Bridging the gap between academic and commercial environments: can pharma do more?

In our talent management themed month, Peter Llewellyn questions whether pharma could be doing more to recruit academic talent.

I believe in the value of our industry, of developing medicines and of helping to improve patient outcomes. We’ve had a battering recently from the likes of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma book and this year’s Alltrials campaign and whilst I, like many others, have strong criticisms of some of the detail, I’m unashamedly a vocal supporter of both initiatives, at least in terms of their broader arguments. I believe our industry, and all of us working in and around it will be stronger if we embrace the criticism, not dismiss it.

Much has been written about building bridges between academia and the pharma industry. I’d like to reflect on a specific aspect that doesn’t seem to get close attention. There are lots of people in academia who want to get away from pipetting and the laboratory bench. Pharma and its service industries need top talent. Why don’t we do more to specifically help academics to understand our business and explore career opportunities, and to join us? And maybe with greater understanding, comes wider acceptance?

At a recent careers-day event for post-docs and PhD students medical communications (MedComms) was presented as an attractive career option to an audience of about 100 delegates. 30 MedComms specialists explained the specialist business and the context of the broader pharma industry environment, and described the benefits of working with their own agency. At least some of those who attended will now get jobs in MedComms. Others will join related businesses. I can more or less guarantee it.


“I believe in the value of our industry, of developing medicines and of helping to improve patient outcomes.”


I’ve run a number of these events in Oxford, Manchester and London over the past 6 years. For me it’s particularly pleasing to have people now speaking at such events who can say how they were in the audience in previous years and describe their subsequent journey. The circle is complete and self-perpetuating.

Freely provided resources 1,2 can help steer many talented people into their first job outside of academia.

As far as I can tell, in Oxford and elsewhere, there are lawyers, accountants, engineers, IT specialists and others beating a path to the door of these Academic Institutions and yet pharma is generally noticeable by its low to non-existent profile.

Of course many individuals return to their previous laboratories to enthuse about their own move and that’s hugely valuable. However, as we’ve proven in MedComms, it’s not enough. We need bigger initiatives to help academics get a truer, broader picture of life in our world and the available options.



“Pharma and its service industries need top talent.”


Kay Chapman of Darwin Healthcare Communications says in our MedComms career guide1: “Transition from the academic to commercial environment has been a challenge, but one that has reinvigorated the love of science that started my journey all those years ago”

I’d bet there are many more academics that could be so reinvigorated.

I can also tell you we had one comment back after a careers event that stated “I now know I would rather have a long, thin, pointy thing stuck in my eye, rather than work in MedComms!”

Well, you can’t win them all. At least that attendee now knew where they didn’t want to go!

I’m genuinely curious to know whether others think we’re doing enough across the industry. Or whether we could do more.


     1. MedComms Networking Starting Out Page

     2. From academic to medical writer: A guide to getting started in medical communications


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About the author:

Peter Llewellyn is Managing Director of NetworkPharma Ltd and Founder of MedComms Networking at and assorted other initiatives aimed at encouraging information sharing amongst the global MedComms community.

“Put interesting people in a room together and interesting things happen” and our events constantly prove it to be true. And these days, of course, the room can be a virtual one. You’ll easily find us on the web, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter and more.

Is enough being done in the pharma industry to recruit talent?