Dr. Mandy Lo,
Project Manager, Risk Management Plan at Janssen, Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson
Dr. Mandy Lo has always played a key role at LSCDS, both as Co-Chair and beyond, and continues to be impressed by the achievements of the organization. “I can see the LSCDS…become the premier gateway to alternative career information for life science students…across Canada.”
After finishing her Ph.D. in the Department of Molecular Genetics, focusing on transcriptional pulsing in embryonic stem cells, Mandy obtained her Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs Certificate from Seneca and gained industry experience at Health Canada and Janssen. She was attracted to the opportunities in risk management and uses many skills she developed in graduate school, such as the ability to write clearly and present logical rationale. According to Mandy, “there are a variety of interesting career opportunities…that call for intelligent individuals who can plan projects, interpret a large amount of information, synthesize arguments, develop creative solutions…and communicate complex ideas.”
Q: What is a memorable experience that you had in graduate school?
A: My project itself provided years of memorable experiences. I focused on transcriptional pulsing in embryonic stem cells. Using live-cell imaging to observe these discrete bursts of transcriptional activity was incredibly exciting, and provided many lasting images.
Q: What life advice would you give to your younger self just beginning graduate school?
A: Don’t be afraid of asking questions, both fundamental ones and challenging ones. I eventually learned that in graduate school from the brilliant scientists I have worked with, and nowadays I realize that even in the corporate world it is important to ask those fundamental questions in order to get to the bottom of many problems.
Q: What career advice would you give to your younger self?
A: Never be shy of making connections and reaching out to people whose career paths interest you. You will be surprised at how many alumni are willing to share their experiences and lessons learned with you. You should also make use of the ample resources available to you as a graduate student at U of T, like access to the career centre and student discounts for industry conferences.
Q: How do you go about explaining your career to your parents/family?
A: Explaining my career is a little easier than explaining my PhD project. Nowadays I tell them I work in a pharmaceutical company and my work involves preparing and submitting documents to Health Canada regarding the benefits and risks of our products.
Q: If you were not in risk management, what other profession would you pursue?
A: I would probably pursue regulatory affairs, which is where I was before I arrived working in Risk Management. Other than that, I would have liked to work in grant management.
Q: Please describe your career path.
A: Approaching graduation, I was interested in a career in Industry and did not want to do a post-doc immediately after graduate school. While preparing for my defense I spoke to individuals that had taken the Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs program at Seneca. I applied and got accepted to the program, which provided me with a co-op opportunity at Health Canada in Ottawa. After this opportunity, I found an internship opening at Janssen in regulatory affairs, so I moved back to Toronto. This is where I was able to gain invaluable Industry experience learning about the many regulatory activities that must take place even after a product has been approved by Health Canada. This is also when I realized that preparing a response to health authorities is a lot like preparing a response to your peer reviewers for your manuscripts! As I was finishing up my college program, an opportunity opened up in risk management. I was attracted to the role as it was an area closely related to regulatory affairs – risk management plans (RMPs) are required for a new drug submission in Canada – yet it also touches on other interesting functions in the company such as pharmacovigilance. Finally, risk management is also a relatively new function in pharmaceutical companies and for health authorities, so there are many opportunities to shape and develop best practice in the area.
Q: What experience/skills are needed for pharmaceutical risk management?
A: In my current job I am involved in preparation of the Canadian version of the risk management plan, which is a document submitted to health authorities outlining the known risks of our product and the company is doing to monitor and mitigate these risks. As a result, the ability to write clearly and present logical rationale, in addition to project management skills are very important. Ever since I have started in this role, I have also gained knowledge in pharmacovigilance and epidemiology, both of which feed into the risk management strategy of a pharmaceutical product.
Q: What drew you to join the LSCDS and eventually chair the organization? What are your thoughts on the current state of the LSCDS and where would you like to see it go in the future?
A: I can still vividly remember one of the first LSCDS general meetings that I had attended. One of the exec, Mahadeo, gave a presentation going over the survey results of the previous Career Day. I was blown away by the professionalism and passion of the execs, especially since they were all students! I knew at that point that I wanted to be a part of this organization and take on a leadership role.
I am very impressed by what the LSCDS has accomplished and every time I come to an event it’s bigger and better attended than before. One of the ideas that was always tossed around when I was an executive but never came to fruition was the idea of running the career day with a career fair, and the recent executives have finally made that into reality. The current executives should be very proud of how the organization has grown!
I can see the LSCDS going beyond just providing career information to grad students at U of T and helping to drive some of the conversations around career training for those with advanced degrees in life science. Also, it can become the premier gateway to alternative careers information for life science students not just at U of T, but for other universities across Canada.
Q: How necessary was the Seneca Regulatory Affairs course for your career? How should current graduate students go about looking for industry experience while still in school?
A: The certificate was not a requirement for a job in pharmaceutical risk management or regulatory affairs. It is possible to gain employment in regulatory affairs without this certificate, but the program undoubtedly laid a good foundation for me to pursue this type of work. For me, the Seneca experience helped me bridge my background in the basic sciences and apply it to industry.
There are ample opportunities for those on the bench to learn about industry, such as courses from M. Biotech and Rotman that are available for grad students. There are also industry events from organizations like Life Science Ontario that you can connect with current industry professionals. Also, think of the findings in your current research and how they can be commercialized or put to a good use in industry and reach out to those who may be interested in your findings. Finally, don’t forget to develop your soft skills through involvement with extracurriculars, like organizing a journal club, or joining the LSCDS!
Q: What are your thoughts on the current career opportunities available for life science graduate students.
A: The training and the skills we have developed in our research career are versatile and applicable to many jobs. There are a variety of interesting career opportunities out there that call for intelligent individuals who can plan projects, interpret a large amount of information, synthesize arguments, develop creative solutions to problems and communicate complex ideas to different audiences. The job market is still very competitive but with some persistence, hard work and luck, life science graduate students will be able to find fulfilling careers that may or may not involve being at the bench.
Q: What is your proudest achievement (personal or professional)
A: Completing my thesis. I also recently painted a wall for the first time in my life and I am quite proud of that!