The pathway to the realm of Pharma

Delve into Hani´s career path and get an in-depth insight into her journey from PhD student to Medical manager for Sanofi in Northern Europe. This narrative showcases her successful strategy to embark into the world of Pharma.

Suddenly a smiley face appears on my screen. It’s Hani A. Ali., the current Medical Manager of Sanofi. Her contagious excitement sets the tone at our Zoom interview.

Hani begins by sharing her achievements during her PhD studies at the Karolinska Institute in 2012-2018, where she studied the role of epigenetic changes in myeloid malignancies. Her research has shed light on how current drugs are being employed in the clinic and how treatment options for this patient group can be improved.

Following her PhD studies, Hani found herself undecided on what step to take next in her professional career. She had decided to leave the academic environment she knew so well and began preparing for her move into the pharmaceutical industry. However, she found herself overwhelmed by the myriad of industrial positions to choose from.

Hani A. Ali. Photo: private

Guidance by a wizard 

Her first step was to contact Trygghetstiftelsen (the Job Security Foundation) that offered guidance to understand which positions in the pharmaceutical industry could be suitable for her interests and skills.

“They have coaches, mentors, they help to navigate in this field and guide which terminology to use in order to find a suitable job that you are looking for outside of academia because we are used to a certain terminology in academia, but then how do you translate this into a more general language so outsiders to academia understand the skills that you have”, she explains.

After her very elusive coaching sessions with Niclas Lindqvist, the “wizard” from Trygghetsiftelsen, Hani knew what she wanted to do.

“After my PhD dissertation I took my first job as a consultant in a company called Pharma Relations to see if the position was for me, do I find it interesting and I just tried it out so that was good for me”, she remembers.

Her first assignment as a consultant at Pharma Relations was as a Medical advisor in Bristol Meyers Squibb (BMS). According to Hani the alignment between her knowledge and skills gained from her PhD studies and the BMS field of studies granted her this position.

“As a PhD you are a good fit for that position because it is more or less what you have been taught to do as a researcher – to find data, find information, to interpret data and to make it understandable for everybody”, she mentions. 

Aim high!

However, Hani´s career development did not end here. After the assignment at BMS, the next endeavor has been as Medical advisor at Sanofi, one of the biggest pharma companies. Since 2021, she has been ascending her position in the company and is currently a Medical Manager in Northern Europe.

Moreover, she defends that even if a job advertisement has a requirement of having 10 years in the field, “the right background and the right network” are incredibly valuable and shouldn’t deter anyone from applying for the job.

“Aim high!”, she finally emphasizes.

Hani describes her transition from academia to industry as challenging. Even though she felt like a fish in the sea, she had to navigate between the terminology and tasks that differ greatly between workplaces. However, after two to three months one adapts to the different systems easily, she acknowledges.

A role with many tasks

Her current role as a Medical Manager has nothing boring about it: she describes how her days vary from day to day and she embraces the different tasks that the day awaits, such as to prepare presentations for the Swedish authorities, documenting reports, reimbursements, writing, attending international and national conferences, and to efficiently communicate with researchers and clinicians. Being proactive is a fundamental part of her job – she admits.

“That is what I like about this job. You get to be out there, meet people, and talk if you have that kind of personality, but also have some time for yourself, for self-education”.

According to Hani, working at Sanofi provides her resources to grow not only in her position, but also in self-improvement.

She highlights one of her more precious transferable skills that she gained during her PhD studies is the ability to communicate science to different audiences, something that she often trained during her time at Karolinska Institutet.

“That part is very important and if you can leverage on that it will be very valuable in this role also as medical advisor because you will talk a lot with physicians to hear more about their experience”, she admits.

Right before the end of our interview Hani accentuates the bonus of knowing Swedish when finding a position in the Swedish industry.

“A colleague of mine was very skilled but had a really tough time finding a job. But now she has a good job after two years of struggling. Now she also learned Swedish.”

In the end of the interview Hani shares that she became a mother of two children during her PhD studies and that her supervisor by that time as well as Karolinska Institutet supported parents throughout their studies. Coming back to the lab following her second parental leave, she managed to wrap up her projects and successfully defended her thesis.

I am in awe of her achievements and thank her for her time. It was certainly an inspiring career story that gave food for thought.


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