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Top Takeaways from Our SEMbio Hangout: Break Through to the Other Side

Earlier this month, we hosted another “SEMbio Hangout.” If you haven’t gotten to attend one yet, SEMbio Hangouts are a series of virtual meetings we host via Zoom where we meet with MSLs, aspiring MSLs, and MSL managers to discuss trends or popular topics.

Our topic last week was “Break on Through to the Other Side,” a topic where we discussed the task of transitioning from an MSL career into other non-MSL career paths. We had 3 panelists – Niren Shah, Woodie Zachry, and Kartik Aysola – join us to talk about their journey. 

My summary here is no substitute for hearing their advice first-hand, but here goes.

Being in small pharma can be advantageous, but isn’t a necessity

Working as an MSL at a smaller company certainly has inherent advantages. All of the panelists were able to speak to ways that you can use small pharma experience to your advantage. For example, one of the panelists worked at a company that was so small that they didn’t have certain departments at all. So when he floated questions by his colleagues for help on particular objectives, the answer he received was “I don’t know, I guess you’ll have to figure it out.” So by necessity, he became very familiar with non-field medical work!

Another panelist said that when he’s hiring, he sees small pharma experience as a plus because he knows they know how to adapt fast.

Larger companies typically boast robust training programs, though, so there is plenty to learn on either end of the spectrum. If you’re an MSL at a bigger company and you feel like you haven’t had room to expand your responsibilities yet, go out and ask! An idea that was shared on the panel was to go out and ask your colleagues in other departments if they need help with anything at the end of the day or week. You’d be lending a hand while also picking up new experiences.

Find Mentors

The plural “mentors” wasn’t a mistake. Finding mentors was a topic discussed at length in this panel – all three panelists expressed how important mentors were to their career growth. One of the takeaways was to find as many mentors as it takes to get advice in all the areas you want help in. For example, you could find one mentor who helps show you the ropes of a new career area you’re interested in moving into while you could find a second mentor who would help be a general motivator of yours, or perhaps someone who helps you stay organized in all of your endeavors. One of the panelists – even with all the success he has experienced in his career – has three mentors of his own. You can always identify your areas of improvement and seek out a good person who can help you.

We were also reminded to not worry about finding the “perfect” mentor right away. You may ultimately realize that any given mentor isn’t right for you, but prioritize progress at first. In order to find a good mentor, start by looking for these three things: someone you have something in common with, someone who is involved in something you’re curious about, and someone who will keep you honest.

Speak Up

Perhaps the squeaky wheel does get the grease. We also learned during the hangout that your managers like to give special projects to people who speak up about their interest in participating. In fact, one panelist let us know he does well at keeping notes of the things his team members have expressed interest in so he can be sure to include them when an opportunity arises.

In order to get updates on future hangouts, join the SEMbio Hangout LinkedIn page:

Questions or comments? Email me at

Author: Lawrence Beck, CPC

Lawrence joined SEMbio in 2011 and is a team leader in recruiting and business development. He attended Texas Tech University on a path that led him to obtain his Master’s degree in Sports Management. That experience provides Lawrence a unique perspective as a recruiter.