In this article a current pharmacy industry fellow discusses his pursuit of a position and gives insights for others seeking a pharmaceutical industry fellowship training opportunity.
Authored By: Ralph Reyes, Pharm.D.
[Last updated: 8 August 2018]
Behind every student’s decision to pursue post-graduate training is a set of reasons as to what made the individual believe it was the best career move immediately after pharmacy school. For some, it was a path decided well before graduation. For others, it was a path that may have just fallen into their lap and happened on what may have felt like a whim. Either way, it is important to leverage APPE rotations, professional development opportunities, and one’s professional network to maximize exposure to the many possibilities that Doctor of Pharmacy students have post-grad.
Personally, the decision to pursue post-graduate training was simple. I knew that immediately after graduation was a key time to learn and grow. I hoped to continue exploring opportunities that would lay a foundation for a long (and what I was sure would be winding) career path ahead.
Leading up to my advanced pharmacy practice experiences (aka, rotations), I had considered both residencies and fellowships, but it was a relatively easy decision to pursue working in the pharmaceutical industry. I felt that in the industry, my strengths and aspirations aligned. When the decision to pursue a pharmaceutical industry fellowship was made, what followed next would be a long 5-month journey of researching, interviewing, and soul-searching. In the end I was lucky and it worked out in my favor. I think there are several factors that played into making this so.
When researching fellowships it is important to know what you are looking for, as there are many options out there. Most fellowships will release program brochures, which includes high-level information about the program and the positions the program offers. This is the single-most important document for a fellowship program, which should help spark interest in programs, giving you background for future conversations during recruitment events, information sessions, webinars, and the Midyear annual meeting.
In this article, I will account five aspects of pharmaceutical industry fellowships to consider, which should help guide candidates in navigating the hundreds of fellowships that are being offered every year. These are the five key characteristics that I had asked about when I spoke to fellows and program directors and ultimately that helped me decide which programs to pursue.
1. Company and Program Culture
Many professionals working in the industry would say that culture fit sits at the top of the list next to an individual’s qualifications in finding talent.
When researching fellowships, information about each company’s culture should help dictate the types of personalities that thrive at the company. Don’t be afraid to ask fellows and program leadership about company culture and more specifically, what the culture of the fellowship program is specifically. Some fellowships may be more hands-on with its fellows, while others may require fellows to function more independently.
Different work cultures function at difference paces, which could be independent of whether or not the company is a large pharmaceutical company, or a small biotech company. These are just some examples to think about when figuring out what type of environment you may thrive in, depending on what you may be looking for.
Key Questions to Ask In Regard to Company and Program culture:
- How does the company’s culture affect how you do your job?
- What personality traits have you found in individuals who have thrived in your fellowship program?
2. Rotation Opportunities
Whether or not you are applying to fellowships in multiple functional areas or just one, rotational aspects of the fellowship is an important consideration in order to get broad exposure in the industry.
One difference between doing a fellowship and pursuing an entry-level job in the industry post-grad, is the opportunities for broad exposure and learning in other functional areas that a fellowship could provide. While a fellowship’s usually features one primary focus (i.e. Medical Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, Clinical Development, etc.), many fellowships offer the ability to rotate through different expertise areas, allowing the fellow to see what other opportunities and roles doctors of pharmacy are in.
The ability to move horizontally within the industry is one of the reasons why I chose to pursue a fellowship, so I believe it is important that a fellowship should give the fellow an opportunity to explore more than just one area of interest.
Do not think only of if the fellowship has a rotational aspect, but exactly what the rotations entail. Ideally, programs allow for immersive rotational experiences, where fellows are longitudinally involved in projects in other functional areas.
Key Questions to Ask in Regard to Fellowship Rotations
- Does your program offer rotational aspects? If so, when in the fellowship and for what duration?
- What kind of activities are fellows engaged in during fellowship rotations?
3. University Affiliation and Teaching Opportunities
Most programs offer affiliations with Universities or Schools/Colleges of Pharmacy, in order to give fellows an academic component. This component generally involves teaching aspects as well as research opportunities, which are important to some individuals who may be looking to explore academia. Regardless of the design, teaching experience helps cultivate foundational mentoring and articulation skills, that may help in most aspects of one’s career.
Think about your desire to be affiliated with a University, what those implications are in terms of the fellowship experiences and obligations, and decide whether or not University/College affiliation is a “must-have” on your fellowship list.
Key Questions to Ask in Regard to University and Teaching Opportunities
- [If fellowship is not University affiliated] What opportunities does the fellowship offer for teaching, research, and mentorship?
- [If the fellowship is University affiliated] How does the University component of the fellowship supplement the learning fellows are involved in at their sponsor site (the company)?
4. Preceptor Involvement and Oversight
Receiving mentorship from preceptors and other individuals involved in a fellowship is essential to making sure a fellow experiences professional growth and is honing in on areas of interest.
Depending on who you are as a person and the level of guidance you typically need to learn, this is an important consideration while looking at fellowships. It may not be an easy aspect to gauge about a program, which makes face to face interactions with fellows and preceptors an important opportunity for gaining insight.
Key Questions to Ask in Regard to Preceptor Involvement and Oversight
- [Ask a preceptor] How involved are you in the operations of the fellow? Who at the company serves as a mentor to the fellow throughout the fellowship?
- [Ask the preceptor and fellow separately] How often is the fellow evaluated and given feedback based on performance and learning objectives?
5. Fellow Network
The necessity and desire for a fellow network is absolutely a personal preference and depends on what is most important to an individual.
Some students really enjoy peer learning and may weigh heavily the social aspects of fellowship programs. This is something to at least think about, especially since a lot of people will relocate for a fellowship, and having a fellow network at the program built-in can alleviate some fears about moving to a new city or starting this new chapter of one’s life.
Key Questions to Ask in Regard to Fellow Network
- How do fellows collaborate and learn from each other?
- [If there is no/small fellow network] How often do fellows engage with other similar junior professionals at the company?
These are merely suggestions as to what I found were some key elements to investigate and probe about in your fellowship research. I was lucky enough to secure a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts after a long, but rewarding search. My path to return to Alnylam (my previous employer), and to my alma mater (Northeastern University is their affiliated University), felt serendipitous in the sense that I ended up finding that the Alnylam Fellowship Program was a great match for what I was looking for. It ended up having all of my “must-have” features, while providing hidden benefits that I did not even think about. Not all fellowships are created equal, but also one fellowship may be a perfect fit for one candidate, but not so great for another. The fit has to be right on the side of the fellowship program and on the side of the fellowship candidate.
I implore anybody who is thinking about applying to fellowships to look inside of yourself, look at your personality traits and the environments in which you know you thrive. These should be key indicators as to what type of fellowship experience will be worthwhile for you, and which companies are worth putting in effort and resources into applying to.
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