Developing Knowledge and Confidence in a Life Sciences Role

The path for school leavers is not always an easy one, especially if you aren’t clear on your direction of study. That was my experience after finishing my A levels. I decided not to go to university and began looking for a job. After applying for several store-based jobs, I saw an advert for an apprenticeship with a small healthcare consultancy, applied and was accepted. Three years later, I’m still with Gatehouse ICS and learning more all the time.

Before joining Gatehouse, I knew very little about the life sciences industry. I’m not even entirely sure I knew where drugs came from. There is likely an element of the “break in the chain” that Gatehouse’s director Christie Harper points to in a recent feasibility study that aims to raise awareness about life sciences and health innovation opportunities for school leavers in South Wales. It is also likely due to the fact that I wasn’t very interested in science and wasn’t aware of the many other roles in the industry on the business and creative sides.

I’ve learned a lot about the industry over the past three years. Now, I can quickly identify a pharmaceutical company versus a consultancy and the role of payers and clinicians in helping to support access to medicines. I’ve worked on the business development side, on market research and more recently I’ve spent a lot of time on marketing, which is an area I really enjoy.

What makes marketing in the healthcare and life sciences industry so interesting is that it requires a balance of caution with creativity. What’s the right and ethical approach? What do the numbers mean? What encourages people to click through to a campaign? How do we appeal to our audience, which for us are pharmaceutical clients?

On the research side, I’ve learned that you can find out a lot through a quick Google search and then use that to help you delve deeper on a topic. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t simply trust a piece of information, but that I need to make sure it’s factually accurate.

Attracting talent

As the feasibility study shows, life sciences companies cannot employ enough people to fill the roles, and rural South West/West Wales companies find it hard to attract outside talent. To address that break in the chain, companies and careers advisers need to do more to raise awareness about the roles available to people, including roles for people who don’t study science. Even the more science-driven people I know have pursued jobs as doctors and nurses and may well not know about the types of careers open to them in the life sciences industry or even computer science positions in life-science focussed artificial intelligence companies.

It might help if companies considered visiting schools in Wales, particularly rural Wales, and held some presentations or even offered work experience weeks. I think back to when I did work experience and because I had very little idea of where to go, I ended up volunteering at a dog sanctuary.

I certainly never imagined a career in the life sciences industry, but over the past three years I’ve learned so much and it has all started to make sense. And because I now know what I’m doing – even though I’m by no means an expert – I find myself keeping up with industry developments and being interested in what is happening, and also feeling more confident.

This experience has all been helped by the fact that I work in a company with a progressive, thoughtful, and person-centric culture. My parents like to remind me that, for a first job, I’ve really landed on my feet, working for people who are supportive and who are focussed on solutions and not problems, and never on blame. It’s a culture of support and helping everyone progress, not one of internal competition.

Now that I know more about the industry and have had such a positive experience, I can imagine continuing in the life sciences if the right opportunities arise. I’ve no doubt many more school leavers and students would be drawn to the industry if they knew more about it.