Dr. Melissa Crampsie, director of the Oncology Business Unit at SAI MedPartners, came to speak to graduate students on Thursday, February 1st. SAI MedPartners is a global pharmaceutical consulting firm that assists its clients in identifying potential markets, developing commercialization strategies, and protecting themselves from competitors.

Melissa graduated summa cum laude from West Chester University with dual degrees in pharmaceutical product development and cell and molecular biology. She knew early on in her undergraduate career that she wanted to work in the pharmaceutical industry, and therefore, transferred to West Chester University when she heard about their pharmaceutical product development program from a friend. As a part of her degree requirements, Melissa completed two internships at Johnson & Johnson, the first in the laboratory, and the second on the business side; both of which cemented her desire to work in industry following graduation.

Melissa quickly realized that in order to move up in the pharmaceutical industry, she would need to go back for her doctoral degree, so she applied and was accepted into the pharmacology Ph.D./M.B.A. dual-degree program at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. The dual Ph.D./M.B.A. program sounds challenging: Melissa completed her doctoral research and accompanying classes during the day, and M.B.A. classes at night and over the summers, yet she still managed to graduate in five years!

Many graduate students feel pressured to stay in academia post-graduation, with a sense that academia is the ‘golden’ path down which only the most successful students venture. Choosing a non-academic career path such as the pharmaceutical industry, many feel as though they are choosing the ‘lesser’ path. When asked about this phenomenon, Melissa responded that she never felt pressure to remain in academia. In fact, she felt impervious to the academic ‘shaming’ of industry careers because she came into graduate school with clear career goals: pharmaceutical product development, marketing, and business strategy.

Dr. Crampsie’s career trajectory is evidence of the importance of networking. In searching for careers post-graduation, she applied to SAI MedPartners and suggested that her friend also apply for the open position. Prior to hearing back from SAI, Melissa was offered, and accepted, an industrial post-doctoral fellowship at a startup called BioSample Solutions; upon which she withdrew her application from SAI and her friend landed the job. A few years later, when BioSample Solutions dissolved, Melissa’s friend returned the favor by recommending her for an open position at SAI MedPartners.

At SAI MedPartners, new associates are brought on as analysts. They handle the majority of the literature research and preparation of presentation materials for clients. Their work is reviewed and interpreted by senior consultants whose assessments and work hours are coordinated by project managers. The jump from consultant to project manager is the most difficult transition for most people because the position involves a very different set of skills. Project managers need to create budget proposals for clients, keep their teams organized, within budget, and prompt. They also work with office managers to ensure that no team members are over- or under-utilized in any given workweek. This is coordinated through a resource-allocation meeting that occurs each Monday morning, in which staff work-time is divvied up between project managers (for example, if one project has deliverables due that week, they may request more days of work from the analysts assigned to their project that week, and the other project managers adjust their other assignments to that analyst accordingly).

Consulting is known for brutal travel schedules and long work hours. SAI MedPartners is committed to creating a better work environment for its employees: associate preferences are taken into consideration for travel and the target for all associates is a 40-50 hour workweek. SAI is also very flexible in allowing its employees to work from home; the majority of their consultants do so regularly or on a part-time basis (i.e. three days a week in office, two at home). For students considering making the transition to the pharmaceutical consulting world, Melissa stressed that scientists learning business-strategy have an easier time than the reverse, which is why SAI tries to hire analysts from science or healthcare backgrounds and trains them on the consulting process.

Pharmaceutical consultants perform lots of primary research by following earnings and investor calls of clients’ competitors, reading and assessing clinical trials data for upcoming drugs, and attending medical conferences to learn about research breakthroughs and establish relationships with scientists and physicians in the field. SAI MedPartners relays this information to their clients via reports and presentations and also uses it to provide clients with strategic advice, marketing and communications suggestions, and assessment of the overall competitor landscape.

If you are interested in Pharmaceutical consulting, feel free to reach out to Dr. Crampsie for advice or to answer questions about the general career.

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