Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job Title and Company: Agrochemical Regulatory Affairs Consultant at ERM Regulatory Services Limited
For my Undergraduate degree I studied Cellular and Molecular Biology at Newcastle University. I enjoyed it so much that doing a PhD seemed like the most logical progression. That and I couldn’t bear the prospects of job hunting or of swimming around unemployed in the uncertain murky waters of the graduate pool. At the time I had a couple of PhD offers on the table and I decided that the one from the University of Sheffield was the one for me. Four short years later I emerged with a Doctorate in Plant Physiology, and no, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds.
In my PhD experience, there were two groups of people. Group One describes those who were settled in the academic environment, who had a passion for it, and who aspired for it to be a part of the rest of their life. These people were often seen talking about their work, outside of their work, and with an enthusiasm on their face which was so ever present that it couldn’t possibly have been disingenuous. Members of Group Two exhibited different characteristics. These people, myself included, were less comfortable in academia, work was an interest rather than a passion, and they knew in their heart of hearts that they belonged elsewhere. Incidentally, there was a sort of pseudo Group Three which appeared ambivalent towards academia. In reality though I suspect these people were actually fully fledged Group Two-ers, just that circumstances dictated they took jobs in academic research. Anyway, the story’s moral is here at last: I had to leave academia. My motives for doing a PhD were not 100% pure in the first place and by the end I was certain I couldn’t stand a life of it. Potentially worthful advice pellet number one: if you think you’re Group 2, don’t fight it, admit it and find something else. There is a different world outside the labs’ four walls and you’ll most likely be better suited to it. I saw enough who had struggled on to do postdocs who were just going through the motions and it’s not worth it. None were happy.
I had a lot of luck finding something else. Actually, it found me. An old schoolmate contacted me on LinkedIn to see if I would be interested in working for ERM, a consultancy specialising in agrochemical regulations who work with the majority of the worldwide top ten agriscience companies. Potentially worthful advice pellet number two: sort your LinkedIn out because you never know who’s looking. I must have applied for ten jobs and I ended up in one that I never would have found on my own.
So now I am a Agrochemical Regulatory Affairs Consultant, which is perhaps a little more fun than it sounds. I help our clients establish and maintain authorisations for their plant protection products (e.g. herbicides, pesticides) across the European continent. If a client is trying to get a new product approved or an old one reregistered; whether they are looking to expand the authorised uses of their product into new countries or new crop types; perhaps they might want to change the trade name of a product; an ERM Regulatory Consultant is on hand to help.
More specifically, my role involves the day to day liaising with clients, relevant countries, and the regulatory authorities at the European (e.g. EFSA, ECPA, EPPO) and national levels (e.g. CRD in the UK). You will be preparing documents and dossiers which detail arguments in support of your clients applications for their products. And, you will be responsible for coordinating multidisciplinary teams in a project management capacity. An intimate knowledge of the European regulatory process is essential so you can advise clients on the most appropriate course. You need to be proactive in your planning to give a project the maximum chance of success from the outset. Significant proportions of projects are under the external control of relevant countries and authorities, so you must also be able to react decisively in order to keep your projects on track, and ensure the inflexible regulatory deadlines are met. Attention to detail is crucial for document preparation as mistakes are simply not tolerated. Potentially worthful advice pellet number three: what I actually mean to say is that regulatory writing is heaven if you’re a huge pedant. Get it out of your system at work and your friends might find you less annoying. Or so I’m told.
The job involves office hours and is primarily desk based with frequent internal and client meetings. Travel is not common until later in the career. That said, ERM is in forty countries so you can work in other offices on a temporary basis to make travelling for social commitments more convenient. Progression is primarily based on experience because there is no substitute for it in the industry, so do not assume your qualifications or talent will elevate you to the top quickly.
Just to round off, a couple of comparative assessments between my job and a post-PhD academic position. Firstly, I work eight hours a day, Monday to Friday. There is no need or demand for me to do any more than that so when I’m not at work, I’m not thinking about it either. However, where I use the transferable skills I honed during my PhD to some degree, I wouldn’t say I used any of the knowledge directly. If you want to call on your subject day to day and gain recognition for your achievement in this sense, perhaps look elsewhere.
Where can researchers look for jobs like yours? Just to note that agrochemical is only one strand of regulatory affairs, there are others that might spark your interest, such as biocide regulation. Consult the ERM website for further information on careers and current vacancies in chemical regulatory affairs. I’m happy to be an initial contact point for those who have any questions or need further guidance.