An adventure beyond the lab bench

Three months.

It never sounded like a long period, at least not in the lab. If you were being unfortunate as a junior scientist, three months could be gone in a blink of an eye, leaving you still deeply entrenched in notorious challenges, be it developing a novel technique or characterizing a gene target that in the end does not contribute to any phenotypes.

When I first learned about the Postdoc Internship Program organized by the Careers Service, I was not sure how much one could benefit from a three-month internship, especially in a totally new environment. But as I stepped into the final year of my postdoc contract, I decided to explore the world beyond academia, and more importantly, to examine the sharpness of my transferable skills as well as my limits outside the ivory tower of researchers. What can I lose in three months?

Why do an internship?

Towards the end of last year, I was very fortunate to be recruited by Schain Research, a medical consulting company, through the internship program.

Initially, I was interested in the position because of two pragmatic reasons. First, the skills I have acquired during my PhD and postdoc partially matched those that are required for the position. I therefore feel that as an intern I could definitely deliver results using the matched skills, while seizing the chance to expand my skill set. Second, the diseases of interest (oncology and rare diseases) are completely new to me. This was very appealing, since I have been stuck with the same disease field for almost my entire academic career (obesity & diabetes), and it could not be more beneficial for me to gain insights in such a different area.

What really attracted me later were the two interviews (one informational) with the company. Contrary to what you can find out about a company by just browsing their homepage, a call or a face-to-face discussion (be prepared!) gives you a much better perspective not only of the company’s niche, but also trends and major obstacles in the whole ecosystem. After that, I became even more interested in what can be achieved in a consulting company such as this one, rather than merely focusing on my personal developments.

Working in a medical consultancy company

Despite my work at Karolinska Institutet being relatively patient-oriented compared to most other basic research, I never really understood the healthcare system in the real world. What factors may influence drug approvals? Should a novel drug be introduced into the market given the health economic burden on the society? What is the clinical landscape of a very rare disease in a particular geographical region and how does that affect the market access of a medical device? These are very important questions that steer the progression of healthcare systems worldwide, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to gain basic understandings in these aspects within the three-month period.

I am also very grateful that I was given full support and guidance on my work, which included medical writing, data analytics and visualization and drafting project proposals for clients. One week my task would be to generate an epidemiology report for a rare disease by analyzing data from Swedish registries, and in the next I would be involved in gathering information for a feasibility report on a proposed health economics study. Never was I bored, as no two days were the same. I was able to cope with the challenges, thanks to all the years of experience in literature search and data analysis, and yet learn things I have never done before.

In the company, I could work at my own pace, while maintaining a close communication with my supervisor, who would be very patient and encouraging during the engaging discussions we had. And, of course, the daily walks with colleagues after lunch and the regular kanelbulle fika were the most unforgettable pleasures.

Overall, it was an extremely valuable experience for me. I was exposed to much more than I anticipated, and would definitely recommend those who want to transition into industries to join the program. You may discover a new path you wish to pursue, and even if it is not your ultimate dream job, the skills and networks you cultivate will most likely be your lifelong assets.

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