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117: Bridging The Gap as a Medical Science Liaison

For most graduate students, the list of potential careers runs something like this:

  1. Research Faculty
  2. Teaching Faculty
  3. Industry Researcher
  4. Science Writer
  5. …. ummmm…

But the truth is that there are other, less talked-about careers that can be a perfect fit for scientists who may love learning but not working at the bench.

Raison d’Liaison

Listener Cara asked:

I am a second year graduate student and I am interested in working with clinical trials in the future, maybe as a clinical trial manager or medical science liaison. I was wondering if you guys know anyone who went into this type of career who could talk on the show about how they got there and what their job is like?  Thanks!

We tracked down Dr. Aoife O’Dwyer, an experienced Medical Science Liaison (MSL) and founder of When she’s not working in pharma, she’s coaching other scientists on ways to succeed in the MSL career!

Dr. Aoife O’Dwyer

Aoife hadn’t always planned on going to graduate school, but during an economic downturn, she was struggling to find work in the pharmaceutical industry.

When her research advisor suggested pursuing a PhD, she saw it as a great way to build her skills and perhaps open up other career options.

It didn’t take long for her to realize she did not want to stay in the lab long-term. In fact, she tried to quit in her first year! But her advisor convinced her to stay, and they developed a plan to help her graduate quickly.

With her PhD in hand, Dr. O’Dwyer turned back pharma. She found a career that would leverage her love of science, her deeply honed research skills, and her desire to make an impact on medical care.

This week, we talk with her about her role as a Medical Science Liaison – what it is, and what it takes to get there.


First question – what even IS a medical science liaison?! Aiofe describes it this way:

A medical science liaison is a field-based, non-promotional expert on a product or therapeutic area. The job of the MSL is to develop collaborative relationships with people we call key opinion leaders who are experts in a certain therapeutic area, and use those relationships to improve or inform the strategy of a pharmaceutical company.

In other words, the MSL acts as an ambassador, bridging the gap between research labs, clinicians, and the pharmaceutical company.

Importantly, there’s a bright line between what an MSL does and what the sales team is doing. The MSL role is non-promotional – the goal is not to sell more products to the physician. Instead, it’s about listening to doctors and patients to understand where there are challenges in care or gaps in data that the company can then work to improve.

One common misconception about the MSL role is that you’ll need to find a company working in the same field where you did your PhD research. That’s just not true, Aiofa explains. Instead, you’ll be expected to ‘up-skill,’ quickly learning new areas of research as the industry develops.

If this career has piqued your interest, you’ll want to hear the tips Aiofe shares for transitioning from lab to pharma. She advises students to hone their communication skills through experience, and gives unexpected advice on the application process.

For those who want to learn more, you can reach Aoife directly via her website, where she explains what MSL’s do all day, and advises student and early career MSLs in this exciting, but perhaps unfamiliar, career!

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Located just 30 minutes west of San Diego, this brewery claims to be the ‘Home of Pure Hoppiness.’ We’re inclined to agree!

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