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TCP Informational Interview Series: Dr. Dennis C. Marshall

December 30, 2015
Interview conducted by Naeem Patil and Ross Corriden

Dennis Marshall
Dr. Dennis Marshall is Executive Director of Medical Affairs and Clinical Sciences at Ferring Pharmaceuticals Inc., the Secretary/Treasurer of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and a Member of the Finance Committee for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. 

Dr. Marshall talks about his career and provides valuable guidance to trainees looking to make the jump into industry.

1. Could you tell us about your job history? 

1. Ph.D., Pharmacology, Medical College of Georgia
2. M.S., Human Physiology, Fairleigh Dickinson College of Dental Medicine
3. M.S., Psychology, William Patterson College
4. B.S., Chemistry and Biology Fairleigh Dickinson University
5. R.N., Registered Professional Nurse, State University of New York Licensed.
6. A.A.S. County College of Morris

Job History 
I began my career working as an Emergency Room Technician at Chilton Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, followed by nursing positions at State and Federal Psychiatric Hospitals. After approximately 12 years, I left nursing to earn my doctorate and was accepted for a Pharmacology Research Associate Fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, Congress failed to pass the budget on time, which moved me in the direction of industry, where I was offered an exciting Research Scientist position at Berlex Laboratories, a subsidiary of Schering, AG. After Berlex, I moved to Pfizer and over many years held positions of increasing responsibility in Medical and Scientific Affairs where I was immersed in the research, development and commercialization of numerous billion dollar, life altering pharmaceuticals (e.g., amlodipine, atorvastatin, azithromycin, fluconazole, sildenafil and others). Sixteen years ago, I joined Ferring Pharmaceuticals Inc as Executive Director of Medical Affairs, where I have worked since. For 20 years during my time at Berlex, Pfizer and Ferring, I also held adjunct faculty positions in the Departments of Pharmacology, Physiology and Allied Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Fairleigh Dickinson University.

2. Why did you choose this career?
I grew up in an era of incredibly important and exciting scientific discoveries like those of the polio vaccine, Watson and Crick, the first moonwalk, the first molecularly designed antipsychotic agents, open heart surgery, etc; this helped drive my interests in science and led me to pursue a career in biology. I took one step at a time towards specific evolving goals, starting clinically as an emergency room technician and progressing towards my current position. Although I did not have a well defined, rock-solid career path, I always knew what I liked to do and wanted to contribute to important advances in science. My aim was to attain the highest education needed for what I enjoyed doing, learn the required skill sets, and teach and publish whenever possible. During a critical transition after earning my Ph.D., the government failed to fund the NIH. Thus, “plan B” was opportunistic—I ventured into my first position in industry, which aligned very well with my research skill set. I’ve had a very fulfilling career in the Pharmaceutical Industry since then. In sum, I moved from a clinical setting to a research scientist environment, then to industry where I worked in Research departments to Development departments and through to the peri/post approval areas of Scientific and Medical Affairs. I was fortunate to be able to transition into these different areas based on a blend of my interests, luck, curiosity, opportunities, supportive management, networking, life experiences and great Ph.D. training at Medical College of Georgia.

3. Describe a typical day in your job?
A typical day for me is diversified, ranging from molecular evaluation of potential product acquisitions in Business Development, to writing clinical research and hypothesis papers, which we then publish in various therapeutic areas (e.g., PMID 23570437). I have input to revisions in product labeling, mentor new employees, teach them the mechanisms of action of our products, discuss biological pathways with healthcare professionals and managed care organizations, and contribute perspective to departmental budgets. We have 14 specialty products, mostly with endocrine effects, across six therapeutic areas (women’s health, infertility, GI, urology/cancer, endocrine and orthopedics), so I need to stay current in numerous therapeutic disciplines. Most of our molecules are high molecular weight peptides/proteins, so drug delivery presents an additional challenge. The diversity of the job, and the privilege of working with an outstanding Team of clinical scientists, along with world-renowned experts, to discover and identify the MOA of our therapeutic agents is an incredibly motivating experience.

4. What things do you like the most about your job?
I love the diversity and that the position enables me to function at the interface of biomedical science, education, and translational clinical application. It is particularly satisfying to carry projects through to drug development and approval stages while ensuring safety and efficacy are balanced in risk benefit models.

5. What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is providing an inclusive environment so that everyone with relevant expertise has the opportunity to be heard, while still maintaining a sense of urgency to move projects to resolution; personal ownership and responsibility are key to fueling this process. It is often quite challenging to create an environment that allows for an open exchange of ideas from folks with different depths and breadths of knowledge. If team member dynamics are not optimized, people become guarded, nervous, disenfranchised, anxious, and you can’t get the same synergies and quality of thought we would otherwise. Although it is important to move quickly, we truly need everyone’s expertise.

6. What parts of your job are essential but least enjoyable?
Administrative responsibilities… boring, annoying, dull, repetitious, confining, but necessary.

7. Thinking retrospectively about your career, would you have done anything differently?
Goals change with time, education, accomplishments, family situations, friends, finances and life experiences. I tend to be an experiential learner; thus, it was necessary for me to travel the career path taken to arrive at where I am today. Although numerous things could have been done differently, your experiences make you what you are and who you are. Even the less-than-positive events played an important role in guiding subsequent choices and behaviors; so, I really wouldn’t have done anything differently.

8. What advice do you have for new graduates looking for jobs?
Around the time of qualifying exams, it’s important for graduate students to think about what they like and don’t like to do. Also, be flexible because “Plan B” may turn out to be one of your better choices! Recognize what you like to do and plan accordingly. There are many jobs, both inside and outside the traditional academic and industry career paths, for which a Ph.D. in Pharmacology is the preferred degree. Instead of planning to fit into a job description, which will likely be out of date by the time you are on the market, allow your interests to guide you. Strive to attain the highest level of education, skills and training possible, and network; join ASPET and consider it the epicenter of your profession. Even if some members can’t directly help you to achieve a particular goal, it’s likely someone has connections who can help you. Particularly in industry, you’re more likely to be successful as a team player than as a “lone wolf”. Use your ASPET network to become engaged, become known, and optimize your opportunities for the future. People vastly prefer to hire “known entities” with references from colleagues they trust. One of the most important ways to get known and establish trust is by being pro-active and networking. Also, learn to write!! Our profession requires and rewards concise, articulate, unambiguous communications; it is also essential that you learn to deliver clear, effective, professional verbal presentations and you can use the language to clearly convey your thoughts and findings.

9. What are some entry-level jobs in your field?
In my immediate area, some of the entry level position titles include: Medical Information Specialist; Medical Science Liaison; Manager of Scientific Affairs or Clinical Sciences; Managers of Business Development and New Product Assessment; Medical and Scientific Writers; Managers of Biostatistics; Medical Education Trainers (educators who train marketing and sales representatives in companies); Health Economists; Medical Device Managers; Pharmacovigilance/Drug Safety Specialists. All of these positions are a good fit for biomedical/Pharmacology Ph.D.-level scientists.

10. Currently, pharmaceutical industry jobs are difficult to obtain. What advice do you have for young graduates aspiring to work in the industry?
Look for positions you would like to do in companies where you want to work. People who don’t know what they want to do need to take inventory of themselves early on, and think specifically about what they like to do. Somebody who wants to enter the pharmaceutical industry needs to leverage ASPET connections. Obtaining your first position in industry is difficult, and your first job may not be exactly what you hoped or anticipated it would be, however, if it’s in the area you want to be working, and the company’s management reputable, take it, prove your worth, learn that area, advance in the company, and acquire additional knowledge and skills for your next position. Keep in mind, this is a dynamic, rapidly evolving profession so what you see today will be markedly different in a few years. Once you have some industry credentials/experience you can also move vertically or into different departments in a pharma company to Regulatory Affairs, Patent Assessment, Business Development, Pharmacovigilance, R&D and elsewhere to gain experience. Critically important, don’t take a job you hate or work with an unscrupulous company—it’s a train wreck waiting to happen… be sure a job has more redeeming features than not!

11. What can young professionals do during their graduate/postdoc studies to make themselves more competitive?
Beyond a doubt, develop presentation skills, be articulate, and develop your scientific biomedical writing skills. In industry, teamwork is particularly important—how well you work with other people to accomplish mutual goals is pivotal. It’s important to let your interviewers know you indeed have major personal accomplishments, yet you must speak clear, present your knowledge well, and converse in a manner that shows you can lead, as well as, work well with others; this will distinguish you from others. In writing, minimize the use of “I”s (e.g., “I accomplished this”, “I studied that”). Simply by selecting a manner of writing which minimizing the use of “I”s, you show that you have thought about how to articulate what you have to say without defaulting to the first person.

If you have co-authored a few publications you know in-depth, possess a dozen substantial analytical techniques, and have a solid understanding of pharmacology, you’re already a problem solver and qualified for many entry–level positions. Recognize you have studied for and earned the Ph.D., the highest academic degree, and have tremendous skills and value to bring to the biomedical community and the world; you have risen to be a professional. Become familiar with seeing yourself in the leadership role you seek and present and conduct yourself accordingly. Contributing to, facilitating, guiding and representing biomedical teams will serve you well in the pharmaceutical industry.

We thank Dr. Marshall for his time and insights.

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