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Rho Chi Talks: Tips to Acquire a Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Featuring: Kamran Khan, PharmD Candidate c/o 2023
By: Justin Budz, PharmD Candidate c/o 2023

Kamran Khan is a sixth-year pharmacy student at St. John’s University. Growing up, Kamran had a lot of family members in healthcare, instilling an interest in medicine from an early age. While at St. John’s, Kamran got to experience many different career paths in pharmacy, including community experience at CVS, hospital experience at Northwell Health, and even industry experience at a Medical Communications agency. Kamran’s industry experience came while he was on his APPE rotations, sparking his interests to pursue post-doctoral fellowship opportunities. After interviewing with different programs, Kamran was fortunate to accept a post-doctoral fellowship in Medical/Regulatory Affairs at Ipsen Pharmaceuticals in conjunction with Northeastern University. 

What is a fellowship?

A fellowship is a one- to two-year program where you have the opportunity to learn about the pharmaceutical industry and a specific functional area within it. For me, I’m going to start a fellowship at Ipsen Pharmaceuticals in Medical and Regulatory Affairs, but there’s plenty of functional areas that you can look into like Clinical Research & Development, Health Economics & Outcomes Research, Pharmacovigilance & Safety, and Pharmaceutical Marketing. Fellowships are similar to residencies but are more structured towards the pharmaceutical industry, whereas residencies prepare you for practicing in a hospital setting. 

What made you want to pursue a fellowship?  

I have a family friend who’s in the pharmaceutical industry so I’ve always known about the pharmaceutical industry, but I didn’t know if I would be interested in it. However, after working at the Medical Communications agency, I fell in love with Medical Affairs. I also had a rotation at the Accreditation Council of Medical Affairs which not only grew my interest in Medical Affairs but also in Regulatory Affairs. What really drove me to apply to the pharmaceutical industry was the idea that I could work on big scale projects that had an influence on a large community of patients.   

How do you begin researching fellowships? 

For me, the first step was looking towards the Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO) website. It’s a great resource for any pharmacy student wanting to learn about the pharmaceutical industry. This is where I learned about the different functional areas. Another thing that really helped me was reaching out to people on LinkedIn. I would network with current first- and second-year fellows to learn more about their roles. After having a better understanding of the different functional areas, I tried to figure out what universities offered these fellowships. Through IPhO, I was able to learn about different fellowship programs, like the ones at Northeastern University, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), Rutgers, and others in the Southern and Western parts of the country.   

Did you have the opportunity to meet with fellowship programs prior to applications? 

Yes, there are plenty of opportunities to meet with different programs. St. John’s itself has a lot of different webinars where you can meet fellows and learn about their experiences. A lot of the companies that you’re going to be applying to will also have their own networking webinars. They’re all available and advertised through the IPhO website. These events are great to help you decide if you can see yourself working at a particular company. 

Around what time do you apply for fellowships and how do you submit applications?

Applications start to open around late September and early October. For almost every fellowship that I applied to, they would require a CV and a letter of intent. Some programs also required your school transcripts. Alongside these requirements, you also had to send over three letters of recommendation. A lot of people will say that your letter of recommendation should be from an industry-related experience, but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s more important to get a letter of recommendation from someone who has worked with you for some time, like a faculty member or work supervisor, who knows you very well and is able to speak positively about you and your work ethic.  

What experiences should students focus on while they’re still in school to help them stand out on their CV or applications? 

For younger students in their first three professional years, I recommend applying for industry internships. Internships are a great way to gain experiences in specific functional areas. However, if you couldn’t get those experiences and you’re towards your final year of pharmacy school, it’s okay! I know a lot of students who didn’t have any industry-related experiences and were still able to get fellowships. I think the best experiences to help you stand out should relate to your work ethic and projects that you’ve worked on. For example, I had a publication done with a faculty member at St. John’s. During interviews, I was able to speak a lot about the soft skills that I used while working on that publication. Being able to talk about the work you put into your experiences, even if they’re not related to industry, goes a long way and helps you shine bright in interviews.  

What can students expect during fellowship interviews? 

Every company has their own way of conducting interviews. For some companies, I had up to three interviews whereas for other companies, I would have one or two interviews before being called in for a final round interview. The biggest thing that helped me was being able to talk about myself and my experiences. You should go into interviews with a couple of stories or experiences in mind that you can speak on really well. One interview technique to help you structure your responses is called the STAR method, which lays out the Situation, Task, Action, and Result of a story or experience. You should also be prepared to tell fellowship programs about yourself. This is the first thing every company is going to ask you. If you have a very strong response to this question, it helps conduct how the remainder of your interview will go. You definitely want to be very honest during these interviews and let your personality shine through. 

What is Midyear and how is it related to the fellowship process? 

Midyear is a convention held every year through the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP). Any pharmacy student can attend Midyear. For fellowship applicants, a lot of final round interviews could occur in-person at Midyear, however, not all companies will require attendance at this conference. For me, I went to Midyear because I did have a few final rounds here, but also because I was going to present research. At Midyear, if you do make it past the final round, they will often invite you to a reception that same night. Receptions will usually include the top three candidates that a company has in mind for each of their fellowships. The reception isn’t an interview per se, but in a way programs are still trying to learn more about who you are as a person. They may look at how you interact with other candidates and other members of their team.  

When can students expect to find out about fellowship acceptances? 

In previous years, every company would tell you right away if you were offered a fellowship. However, for my class this year, many programs joined the Academic Industry Fellowship Alliance and agreed to send out fellowship offers no sooner than December 7, 2022. 

What  is your biggest tip for students going into the fellowship process? 

I think networking is going to be the most important thing for a lot of students because many people may not be able to gain experience through internships or rotations. Being able to speak to fellows helps you learn about their roles and can help you decide if a specific company or functional area is the right fit for you. You should also keep in mind that if you don’t get a fellowship, that doesn’t mean it’s the end. There are many ways to get into the pharmaceutical industry, whether that’s through entry level positions or by working for an agency and then transferring over to a pharmaceutical company. You should go into the fellowship process with an open mind. It was one of the biggest learning experiences for me and I’ve grown so much out of the process. 

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