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August 2017

Medical Science Liaison 101 with Dr. Martijn Bijker

in Face à Face by

From SCIENCE to PHARMA, led by Dr. Martijn Bijker (MB) and his team of Medical Science Liaison (MSL) and Medical Affairs experts is an online training platform for PhD’s and postdocs interested in becoming an MSL. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Bijker to learn more about the MSL role and how to make such a career transition. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with him about his life and career.

RR : What is your research background?

MB: I completed my Bachelor’s in Chemistry from the VU University, Amsterdam where I gained a deeper interest in DNA and molecular biology. This was followed by a Master’s degree from the same University majoring in biochemistry/molecular biology and I added two extra majors, one in immunology and one in immuno-oncology. The Master’s program gave me the opportunity to fulfill one of my long-term dreams – to carry out research in the United States. I had a nine months research internship in San Diego at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (LIAI). This internship set the direction for my PhD and my long-term interest in T-cells and immuno-oncology. I started my PhD at the Leiden University in 2003 and focused on immuno-oncology and cancer vaccines, two hot topics at the time.

RR: Did you then decide to do a Postdoc?

MB: Yes, it was an obvious choice since I loved (and still love) science and discussing science. I went to do my postdoc in Sydney, Australia; however, I slowly realized that I enjoyed planning and designing experiments more than executing them. I liked predicting the data and making graphs that showed my scientific predictions (my PhD mentor always teased me by asking “Are these real experiments or just your hypothetical thinking?”). Although I was in the midst of a postdoc, I was ignoring my inner voice telling me that I had reached my limit of bench-work.

RR: What led to the career change?

MB: Eventually, I reached my tipping point. When I started my postdoc in Australia, I realized the project I had embarked on seemed far less promising than it was in the beginning. Also, my supervisor and I did not work well together. But I loved science and I thought academia was the only possibility to do science. I felt stuck and had to find a way out, as this was a very depressing time and environment for me. It took me 3 years (and a lot of complaining) to plan my exit strategy.

RR: Why did you choose to become an MSL?

MB: Actually, my wife gave me an MSL job advertisement and said “maybe this is something for you in 1-2 years time”. The job description was very appealing to me -discussing science (with the top scientific and clinical leaders in the field). Then, on a postdoc mentoring day at our institute, our presenter gave us a very wise life lesson. He said: “You should have a really good plan B, because then you can take all the risk with your plan A and reach great heights and have no fear of failing, as you have a really good plan B to fall back on.” On that day, I set my plan A to stay in academia, and my plan B was to become an MSL. However, 2-3 weeks later, I switched my plan B to be the plan A and went ahead with full steam to become an MSL. Exactly 12 months on the day my wife had sent me the MSL job advertisement, I started my first MSL job at Abbott (6 years ago).

RR: What does the MSL job typically entail?

MB: As the name indicates, you are liaising with the top clinicians in your specific disease area and discussing medical and scientific topics. You are seen as the (internal) expert on anything related to your (and your competitors’) drug, the mode of action, the disease, the clinical trials, the side effects of your drugs, patient management etc.

The MSL role has two major focuses: pipeline and inline drugs. Pipeline drugs are drugs that are still in clinical development, and clinical trials are in progress. Inline drugs have been approved by the regulators to be used in humans for only that specific disease indication. They are sold by the pharmaceutical company and prescribed by the doctors.

While a sales representative tries to change the prescribing behavior of a doctor, the job of an MSL is to better understand the current and future treatment algorithm in your disease area and how your (pipeline) drug best fits in it. In the pipeline phase, you need to understand how doctors will position your drug in the future treatment algorithm. You must understand their rationale for making your drug their first, second or third choice, or for prescribing it to either all patients or only a subgroup of patients with the disease. The MSL must also educate the medical doctors and nurses of certain side effects that inhibit the uptake of the drug and how they can be mitigated. Another aspect of your work involves knowing whether your drug requires any specific diagnostic test before it can be prescribed and if so, how can you expedite the process between diagnosis and drug prescription. In the pipeline phase, you explore all these aspects and share your key clinical insights with the internal colleagues at the company to create a successful plan to launch this drug most efficiently and safely to the doctors and the patients.

When the drug is already on the market (inline), your role is to continue to understand where your drug fits in the current treatment algorithm in light of the current and upcoming clinical data from the competitors. As an MSL you might also support the sales team (i.e. with training) and be involved in medical education for doctors.

Overall, as an MSL you are seen as the drug and clinical disease expert and the first point of contact for your internal colleagues and the external clinical experts. In short, it is a very stimulating environment.

RR: What does the career trajectory look like once you start working as an MSL for a company?

MB: After working as an MSL, one can become a senior MSL and perhaps even an MSL manager. To move up the ladder you often have to live in the vicinity of the local head-office. If you don’t, the MSL can be a cul-de-sac position, or more positively put, it is a career for life.

However, if you live close to or can move to the head-office, one can move up the ladder within Medical Affairs and could become a medical manager/medical advisor/(associate) medical director within the Medical Affairs department. In these roles, you will be mostly working within the office with your internal colleagues to develop strategy for the product using the in-field insights obtained by the MSL.

You can also switch to other departments such as commercial/marketing/market access and pricing. It is definitely very flexible and you can move around relatively easily between companies and/or departments.

RR: What were some of the challenges that you faced in your journey to become an MSL?

MB: The biggest challenge, at that time for me, was to find information on the internet about what an MSL is and what they do on a daily basis. The next challenge was, how to become an MSL without having any MSL experience. After figuring these things out, another big challenge was the MSL interview. The interview for an MSL role is not like the 45 minutes postdoctoral interview with your professor and colleagues in an informal setting. You need to do some serious homework for an MSL interview and it will take you days to prepare for it. Having experienced the lack of online information and the urgent need for it by PhDs/postdocs to support their transition into the MSL role, I started my online MSL training company – from SCIENCE to PHARMA – about 3 years ago.

RR: What were your biggest challenges on the job as an MSL?

MB: While on the job, I quickly realized the pharma world was a lot different than academia, and a lot better in my experience. The top things I had to get used to were:

  1. You can’t just walk into someones’ office to discuss something; you book a meeting in their calendar
  2. You work a lot more in cross-functional settings and not so much on your own, and have to therefore keep more people informed along the process
  3. Your focus changes from scientific journals to medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, to just name one. And your discussion partners are not your lab mates, but clinicians and clinical professors – a different kettle of fish
  4. People openly appreciate what you do; that was new and quite a positive experience for me
  5. And of course, the dress code. You can no longer come in your shorts, t-shirt or jeans to work. You are dressed up more formally, like in a typical corporate setting, especially when you go to see the clinicians

People talk about “going to the dark side” when someone moves to the pharmaceutical industry. I will tell you that it is a very bright side, with many kind and very smart people who have (far less hidden agendas and) one common goal in mind – to improve patients’ lives.

RR: What are the key points a postdoc/graduate student should be aware of while planning a transition into MSL?

MB: The big catch-22 is how to apply for this job if you don’t know what it entails. In my experience, candidates fail to tailor their CV for the MSL role because they do not fully comprehend the MSL job. Their CV therefore just looks like they are applying for a postdoc/scientist position and thus they keep getting rejected. Some tips for you CV and your interview:

  1. You are an expert after finishing your PhD, so call yourself an expert in that (disease) area on your CV.
  2. There is no need to indicate your lab work and lab techniques (western blotting, PCR, flow cytometry) as you will never use these techniques in your MSL life ever again. You must instead focus on diseases, patients and your clinical network.
  3. Know exactly what an MSL is and does on a day-to-day basis. This will enable you to prepare a more robust CV with a higher likelihood of making it to the interviews. The market is tougher now with far more applicants. Hence you need a CV that shows tremendous potential, and of course, you need to be well prepared at the interview. For this, you can take advantage of our online MSL training platform – from SCIENCE to PHARMA, webinars, podcasts, handbooks on MSL jobs, and talking to other MSL’s.
  4. This brings me to the next important thing PhDs struggle with. If you have undergone training, taken a course, or you have gained considerable experience in something, you can mention it on your CV. You don’t always need a certificate, diploma or degree to highlight your skills!
  5. Finally, be ready to answer the following three basic questions: What do you know about the MSL role? Why do you want to become an MSL? Why would you be a good MSL? If you can’t answer these, you are not yet ready to apply for jobs, or to talk to a recruiter about an MSL position. Rather, talk to me first.

RR: What do you think is the role of a good mentor/coach in professional growth and career transitions?

MB: First of all, I believe a good mentor will challenge your thinking and you should be open to it and not feel offended. Secondly, I believe having a mentor who is currently outside academia will benefit you in changing your status quo thinking. Thirdly, the mentor (and yourself) should focus on your skills, strengths and the things you love doing and building/finding a job around that, rather than the other way around.

My wife, who was working in the pharma industry made me question my belief that I could talk and discuss science for a living only by staying in academia. In hindsight, I was only pipetting for a living. As an MSL, on the other hand, I read, talk, discuss and present more science than I ever did in academia.

 

About Dr. Martijn Bijker :

 Dr Martijn Bijker, PhD MSc is the founder of “from SCIENCE to PHARMA” – the only global fully online Medical Science Liaison (MSL) training platform; helping Bachelors, Masters, PhDs, MDs, and PharmDs to maximize their chances of becoming an MSL. www.fromSCIENCEtoPHARMA.com

 

About the author : 

Radhika Raheja completed her PhD from Cornell University and is currently a Postdoctoral fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her research interests have centered around oncology and neuroimmunology. Among other things, she is striving to effectively communicate scientific discoveries to the community. You can contact her on LinkedIn or Twitter (@radsr11).

 

Editors :

Arunima Singh obtained her PhD in Computational chemistry from the University of Georgia, USA, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at New York University. She enjoys traveling, reading, and the process of mastering a new cuisine. Her motivation to move to New York was to be a part of this rich scientific, cultural, and social hub.

Paurvi Shinde, did her PhD, in Biomedical Sciences (Immuno-logy) from University of Connecticut Health and currently doing a Post Doc, at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle. Apart from science, she’s a trained classical dancer and loves outdoor and hikes.

Cover image: Pixabay

 

The Patent Chronicle

in Sci-IP by

August 29, 2017: The Patent Chronicle is your go to destination for a capsule dose on the hottest happenings in the patent world. It is led by Syam Anand, who has been at the core of CSG’s development and an entrepreneur himself. In this section,  Syam has clinically dissected out every news on the decision, the reason and the impact to help you comprehend the full story in a nutshell. He is also in the process of building his scicomm team for this section. If you would like to come aboard, mail him at syam.anand@sciwri.club

Let’s crank-up the patent engine for the latest happenings…

via GIPHY

 

 

FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION SCORES WIN TO STOP AN INVENTION-PROMOTION SCAM

Decision: The US district court of Florida granted an injunction sought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that extended a freeze on the assents of World Patent Marketing Inc. (WPM).

Reason: FTC had stepped in to stop WPM from a scam that cheated inventors of around 26 million USD. WPM had misrepresented facts to mislead customers with false success stories and promises to patent and market inventions. Further, they threatened consumers with criminal prosecution if they complained about their dissatisfaction with WPM’s services.

Impact: In March 2017, FTC had scored a win to freeze WPM’s assets. With the current win, the freeze has been extended. It takes FTC one step closer to return the money from WPM to its dissatisfied customers. WPM is one of the several companies that operate by promising patenting and marketing of inventions by requesting inventors to submit regular payments. News such as this, will not only put an end to this exploitation by WPM, but also open the eyes of inventors and innovators, when they seek such services.

Read more

To know the details of the scam click here

 

PFIZER’S PNEUMONIA VACCINE INDIA PATENT SHOWS TWO SIDES OF A BAD COIN

Decision: Indian Patent Office granted a patent to Pfizer’s pneumonia vaccine Prevenar 13 that is valid till 2026.

Background: Prevenar 13, as the name indicates is effective against 13 pneumococcal strains. Pneumococcus, the responsible bug, has demonstrated the ability to evolve and cause infections in spite of widespread use of vaccines against the bug. This had pushed vaccine developers to keep adding more and more antigens to the vaccines in their efforts to obtain effective herd immunity. However, it appears that vaccination against Pneumococcal pneumonia is a loosing battle due to the strain variability of the bug. WHO had advised antibiotic treatment of Pneumococcal pneumonia as a more economically viable option since the bugs are largely sensitive to antibiotics.

Impact: The debate in India about the impact of the vaccine patent is on multiple fronts. First, there is the accessibility issue, as India is not eligible for GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) because its per capita GDP exceeds the 1500$ cut off. This makes the vaccine expensive for India. Second, there is the issue of wrong priority if the Indian administration goes ahead with its intention to pursue procurement and distribution of the vaccine through its government medical centers instead of following WHO’s recommendation. Third, there is a local manufacturing issue, as India has a vibrant Pharmaceutical manufacturing industry that thrives on producing cheaper drugs and vaccines that puts them in direct competition with many multinational pharmaceutical giants. Fourth, there is fear among aid groups that the patent will act as a block for cheaper solutions although one wonders why they are not focusing more on the cheaper alternatives to vaccines that already exist for Pneumococcal pneumonia.

Read more

To know about antibiotics vs pneumonia vaccine click here

 

REGENERON PATENT INVALIDATED FOR INEQUITABLE CONDUCT

Decision: A Federal Circuit court decided that references withheld by Regeneron when filing the patent was “but-for” material, not cumulative and with the specific intent to deceive the PTO.

Background: Regeneron had sued Merus for infringement on a patent U.S. Patent No. 8,502,018. Merus appealed that the patent is unenforceable because of inequitable conduct that happened during the prosecution of the patent before USPTO. Merus alleged that Regeneron’s attorney withheld four references that they had an obligation to disclose to the PTO when they submitted the application for examination. USPTO rules state that representatives (in this case attorneys) have a duty to disclose all material known to them that are material to patentability of the invention covered in an application. Failure to do so is considered inequitable conduct.

Impact: The decision makes the Regeneron patent unenforceable. In inequitable conduct, a specific intent to deceive is a difficult thing to prove in the absence of direct evidence showing such intent. However, it appears that in this case the Court decided that there was specific intent based on a “pattern of misconduct” during litigation. Normally, such intent is sought among actions that occurred during prosecution of the application- the time during which attorneys submit documents to the PTO. It is likely that failure to provide documents and follow the directives of the court during litigation may soon be construed as proof for specific intent to deceive in other cases as well.

Read more

 

Infographically speaking….

 

Proprietary Humor

By Mimi and Eunice

 

About the author:

Syam

Authored by Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA). Syam has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

Feature image source: Pixabay

Blog design: Abhinav Dey

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

Meet the STEM Peers- Part 3

in ClubSciWri by

 

Ragoo Raghunathan: Panelist on Careers in Business of Science

Ragoo is passionate about science and the arts. Hailing from Mysore, he got his Ph.D in Animal Sciences (neuroscience focus) from University of Hyderabad. His studies focused on studying ssDNA-binding proteins in rat brain followed by a brief neuroscience postdoc at Wesleyan Univ in CT. Here he identified and characterized isoforms of a CNS-enriched striatum enriched protein tyrosine phosphatase in rodents – which later was shown by other investigators to have important roles in various neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, Schizophrenia, ischemia, Huntington’s Chorea, alcohol abuse and stress disorders.

Following this Ragoo continued an extended postdoc tenure at the Dept of Genetics at Yale University where his focus was to study immune-system related genes/proteins. His first break was into a start-up biotech company (Molecular Staging Inc) as a scientist growing into a group leader role while developing sensitive assays to detect rare intracellular and cell-surface based marker. During his tenure here, he was a co-inventor of Whole Genome Amplification technology (WGA) using isothermal DNA amplification. He was part of the team that developed, validated and commercialized the technology as a kit – eventually commercialized by Qiagen in 2004 as Repli-G.

This is when Ragoo transitioned into the field as a Technology specialist where he was responsible for presenting technical seminars, training their sales and customer support team with WGA technology and eventually transitioned into a Sales Development Manager role for Advanced Technologies (WGA and RNAi). Since then Ragoo has served roles as Research Biotech Consultant, Field Application Specialist, Business Development Executive and Head of Business Development at companies such as Sigma Aldrich (currently Sigma Millipore), Horizon Discovery Ltd and Metabolon Inc.

Currently Ragoo serves as Business Development Executive (northeast US) for Metabolon and is responsible for multi-million dollar revenue for the company annually. He has a diploma in acting from University of Hyderabad, is an entrepreneur at heart and in his free time can be found advising the commercialization of 2 start-up biotech companies in the Greater Boston area, runs his own franchise of Little Medical School, Boston and plays a ‘bad-guy’ in a Boston-based web serial called Captive. He is also on the Executive Board of the local Indian Society of Worcester, enjoys coaching and mentoring young scientists and entrepreneurs. He loves traveling, drawing & painting and lazing while watching TV when possible.

 

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So you want to be a Medical Writer: Interview with Dr. Michael Fiedler

in Face à Face/Uncategorized by

Dr. Michael Fiedler (MF) shares his experience in the field of Medical communications with Imit Kaur (IK). He describes the job and also provides valuable advice on how to best transition from academia to industry.

IK: Please tell about yourself and your background.

MF: I am from Southern California. As a kid I loved animals and decided to study biology at UC San Diego. During my time at UCSD, I worked in an academic lab and learned techniques in Molecular Biology and Immunology. Unfortunately, after sophomore year, my PI lost his funding and had to let me go. That was a pivotal, enlightening moment in my life in that I realized I didn’t want to spend my life in the academic world where I would have to struggle for research money on a regular basis. I still loved science, however, and wanted to reach the pinnacle of academic achievement (i.e., earn a PhD). After completing my BS in Cell Biology, I attended graduate school at Yale University. While at Yale, I really wanted to challenge my mind and take advantage of any opportunity I could because I knew I wasn’t going to be in academia. I am naturally a talkative extrovert and writing was a way to harness that energy. During grad school I had multiple blogs and part time writing/editing jobs and was also on the board of the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Towards the end of my PhD I strongly considered law school as a way to leverage my passion and skillsets, but ultimately decided against it because of fears related to work-life balance and student debt. At that point, I was 4 weeks away from my defense and had no idea what I was going to do. So I sat on the computer and wrote 2 words into Career Builder, “Science” and “Writing” as these were the two things I was most proficient in. That is how I came to discover Medical Communications (MC). Shortly thereafter I got my first job at Infusion Medical Communications, where I still am today.

IK: Explain Medical Writing (MW) and Medical communications (MC) in general. The field of scientific communications is expanding and are there distinct roles played by MW or MC in different organizations?

MF: Well there’s a difference in the type of content in MW. I like to explain MW using the analogy of DNA replication. There’s a leading edge, which is when new/private information becomes public (e.g., publication of clinical trial results) and there is lagging edge where published information is metabolized and leveraged for various purposes (e.g., slide decks).

There is also a difference in the type of communications. Proactive communications are the ones you see on TV, billboards, and Journal advertisements and they provide information that is strictly in the prescribing information or “on-label.” This type of communication is highly regulated and mostly done by sales and commercial people. Reactive communication on the other hand is in response to questions from healthcare providers (HCPs) and can be explained using a car dealership analogy. When you buy a car at a dealership you usually talk to the sales people and finance. However, if you have questions or car troubles after you buy the car, you don’t visit the salesmen who sold you the car, you go to the mechanic. In the pharmaceutical world, the mechanics are medical science liaisons (MSLs) that can talk about things outside the prescribing information to address specific questions. For example, if an HCP wants to understand how a drug works or if it is safe to use in an older or younger patient. In response to these types of questions, an MSL can discuss scientific information in a neutral, informative way with the HCP to help them feel more confident in their decisions. In this type of reactive communication, a medical writer will prepare materials that an MSL can use to facilitate the conversation (e.g., data summary slides, mechanism of action illustrations, etc.).

Another example of MC is with advisory boards, which are like committee meetings for pharmaceutical companies. Say a pharmaceutical company is interested in running a clinical trial for an approved drug, but for a new population (e.g., children). They will call upon experts in the therapeutic area who also have experience with pediatric populations. They will bring them to a central location for a meeting (e.g., Dallas, TX) to discuss the implications of using the drug in children (e.g., safety and efficacy) and what kind of patients would need to be included or excluded in a clinical trial. An MC agency will facilitate everything for the meeting to happen and capture the feedback. They will plan the event in terms of location, attendees and contracts, and create the content itself (e.g., agenda, discussion guide, slide development and onsite reporting). Afterwards they generate a report of who said what.

From a structure standpoint an MC agency has 4 parts:

  1. Business development: people going out and getting the business from Pharmaceutical companies.
  2. Account Services: people responsible for managing awarded projects, client interactions, leading calls, and ensuring completion of projects in a timely manner.
  3. Medical and Scientific Services: people like me who generate the actual content.
  4. Editorial and Graphics: they clean everything up and infuse graphics into the content.

IK: Considering MW for a fresh PhD graduate, is it a huge transition from regular academia? What advice can you give?

MF: Short answer yes, it is a huge transition. I liken it to your very first day in the lab.

Long answer, I would say every PhD or science professional has a general concept of science. As a PhD you are familiar with data, present in journal club, you are used to reading and writing, but as a professional MW, you are preparing material for a client. It can be somewhat of a culture shock in MC to leave your technical skills behind and focus exclusively on these “soft skills” like searching pubmed, creating powerpoint slides, and/or summarizing general research trends. As an MC professional, a pharmaceutical company will hand over their data and it’s your responsibility to present it in the most professional and coherent manner possible. Clients will ask you to research the available literature on their competitors and summarize it in a concise and cogent way.

For advice, the hardest and most critical thing when applying is demonstrating a genuine interest in the field. A company is looking for candidates who have a passion for writing. Can you and are you willing to do it on a daily basis? Another piece of advice is to keep working on your writing skills. I spent several years writing a non-science blog. Just writing will sharpen your skills and help you develop your own style. This is critical to your development as a MW. While applying for jobs, PhDs and post docs like to point out the techniques they know or publications they have, but can neglect the skills that are actually transferable. For example, publications often have multiple authors and the person who ties all of the data together in an eloquent manner has more to offer an MC company than the scientists who conducted the actual experiments.

IK: How did you gain your first writing experience? You mentioned blog writing but are there other avenues one should explore to gain experience? Is freelancing a good idea or is it frowned upon?

MF: It all depends on where you are at in the education process. If you are a 3rd or a 4th year grad student, a blog may be a good way to establish your own voice and portfolio (it doesn’t even have to be about science). If you are closer to finishing, you might want to be more focused. One recommendation I give is to write summaries of biomedical research articles. For example, I would pick a random article from the New England Journal of Medicine or The Lancet and write a 250-500 word summary explaining the findings and why they are important. You can also post these on platforms like LinkedIn. In MC you are often asked to write on areas outside your expertise. So by metabolizing an article and posting it, you are demonstrating your skill and showing that you are actually interested in the field.

Freelancing is also a good way to sharpen your skills if you can find the right opportunity. I found freelance writing and editing jobs in grad school and while I had no idea I was going to pursue MC back then, the skills I learned were completely transferable.

IK: How do you get noticed with your resume? There are a number of organizations like the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), are these worthy? Also do certifications help obtain a job?

MF: Resumes should be 1-page and maximize use of white space (e.g., use columns); cover letters should be short, sweet and as specific to the job/company as possible.

AMWA is a good resource and I went to a workshop where I mingled with like-minded people. Also, they have good freelance resources, so if you have worked in an MC agency for couple of years and want to breakout on your own, you can make use of their freelance directory. If you don’t have a PhD and/or not a lot of writing experience, certifications from these organizations can be helpful to establish credibility. Publication writers also often pursue a CMPP credential that ensures good publication practice.

IK: Is it okay for a fresh graduate to jump right in or should they gain more experience (e.g., do a post doc)? Also, you started your career a couple of years ago, have expectations changed overtime?

MF: You definitely don’t need to do post doc. If you want a career in MC it is in your best interest to start as early as possible. For example I started at 28 and have seen a lot of growth in my position and salary. Had I done a post doc, I would have delayed my career development and not gained substantive transferable experience in the process.

As for the MC field, it has changed significantly in recent years with more and more professionals entering the space. But that doesn’t mean the market is saturated. The market is actually growing because pharmaceutical companies are being asked to be more transparent and they want to do so in new and clever ways. Compared to when I first entered the work force, new graduates are much more informed about MC and are booted up to make contributions right away.

IK: Following up on this, how about competition in the field?

MF: There is competition and it will help to have a portfolio. You have to show some kind of commitment to writing. I would encourage people to write as much as possible. It just shows your passion and enthusiasm for your future occupation. As a field, a lot of MC agencies have historically relied on experienced writers to work on publications. However, in this era of digital communication, agencies now need to up their game to be competitive and are taking advantage of the army of new PhDs looking for fulfilling careers. These will be the innovators of the MC space and I feel fortunate to be part of the wave.

IK: What are the challenges in the field?

MF: One of the most difficult things is that you are developing content for someone else and thus have no ownership of it. From a publication perspective you have no authorship, you are just a mediator between HCPs and pharmaceutical companies. MC is also a service industry and working with clients is critical, but tricky. Executing someone else’s vision with quality and on time is not easy. Depending on the “deliverables” you work on there can also be some travel involved (e.g., advisory boards) and this tends to increase over time (i.e., you might travel 10% of the time to start, but that can grow to 30% as you take on more projects). Also, you have to learn to be cognitively nimble because you may have to jump from therapeutic area to therapeutic area within the same day.

IK: You are a career counselor; how can someone reach out to you? Why do you this?

MF: LinkedIn is a good resource. You can connect with me on LinkedIn but you need to follow the proper edict. People send connection requests all the time, but I won’t respond unless you include a message articulating why you are sending me a request. If you just send a connection request, I don’t know who you are and I can’t even respond to find out.

I like helping people for 2 reasons: 1) there is a huge population of PhD professionals trying to grab an opportunity, just like I was, and it is rewarding to help anyway I can; 2) self-interest, plain and simple. By exporting good will, if/when I ever need help in the future I can approach my contacts and hope someone returns the favor. People are usually willing to scratch your back if you have already scratched theirs.

IK: what is the growth potential in the field?

MF: It depends on the agency and work you do. I started 6 years ago and I have been promoted 4 times. There’s also a huge difference between publication work and non-publication work. Publications are commoditized (i.e., a primary manuscript is charged a flat fee) whereas non-publication work (e.g., advisory boards, slide development) is charged hourly. Because projects always take unanticipated twists and turns, non-publications tend to be more profitable and that is where I have spent my entire career.

IK: Before or during the interview process, should you try to get in touch with a recruiter?

MF: Yes if possible because you have nothing to lose. Finder’s fees are paid by the agency, so a recruiter can only help you. To do this, try and apply to as many positions as you can, which are often gated by recruiters. This will help you get on their radar and then you can pursue a relationship, should one manifest. Once you get into the field, recruiters will try and get you to change jobs because they get a commission. That is trickier to navigate and up to you based on your circumstances.

IK: Once you have the job, what do you need to do to stay in the field and keep loving your job?

MF: Maintain professionalism, focus on quality, and care about your team. If you help them do their job, they will help you do yours.

IK: Thank you so much for your time. I am sure our readers and prospective medical writers will benefit from this interview.

MF: I am happy to speak with you and I hope this is of some value.

About Dr. Michael Fiedler

Michael is the Scientific Director of Ashfield Healthcare for over 5 years and
is a dynamic and well respected presence within the company.

About Imit Kaur:

Imit Kaur, Ph.D. is a freelance scientific advisor, medical writer, editor, and an active science blogger. She pursued her PhD in Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Utah. She is experienced in the field of oncology, hematology, pharmacology, nanotechnology and drug development. Follow Imit on LinkedIn (Imit Kaur) or Twitter (@imit_kaur)

Featured image by Vinita Bharat

Editors:
 
The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

 

Meet the STEM Peers-Part 2

in ClubSciWri by

 

 Why do I want to attend STEM Peers 2017?

 

Onkar Bharadwaj (Software Engineer, Cambridge, MA) says “Because this is the first annual symposium of PhDCSG. What makes PhDCSG unique? My simple reason is as follows: if someone googles “PhD student organization” or “Postdoc organization” or “PhD student social network” or “Postdoc social network”, then on the first pages of the respective search results, there are zero organizations which are grass-root, nation-wide and dynamic in nature. In my opinion, this is much more serious than it appears. PhDCSG helps fill this very void to enable peer-to-peer conversations and career advancement through sharing first-hand experiences. PhDCSG is driven by the contributions of many passionate people and apart from being a go-to forum for useful professional advice, it has been a source of optimism and social support for many of its members. I am looking forward to attend STEM Peers 2017 to gain further perspectives from the fellow peers and professionals all gathered under a single roof. I am excited to see what further possibilities of career growth it can open up for its members so that one day it appears on the very first page of the above search results.”

 

About Onkar: Onkar has a Ph.D. in EE/CS (RPI) and a M.Eng. in Telecommunication (IISc Bangalore). He currently works as Sr. Software Engineer in Akamai Technologies, Cambridge, USA. In the past, he has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at IBM T.J. Watson Research Center (USA) and as a Member of Technical Staff in Computational Research Laboratories (India). His technical interests are algorithms, computer networks, machine learning and social choice.

Don’t wait anymore, click Here to Register Or Scan this QR Code

  1. Please complete required information in STEM Peers 2017 registration form.
  2. Email: your email address
  3. Name: Please provide your full name
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PhD Career Support Group (PhD CSG) for STEM PhDs is a US Non-Profit 501(c)3  organization and all donations to PhDCSG are tax deductible

We thank our event sponsors

 

Meet the STEM Peers-Part 1

in ClubSciWri by

 

 Why I registered for STEM Peers?

Sayantan Chakraborty (Postdoc, NIH) says, “One of the essentials for advancing in our careers during current times is networking. Whether it’s academics, industry, entrepreneurship, science policy, IP or any associated fields wherein STEM professionals can make a mark, networking events are indispensable. STEM Peers 2017 provides me that networking platform. As an open-minded career professional, I’ll have the opportunity to not only interact with the speakers, but with the audience too. This in turn will benefit me as I’ll get to learn about various career paths, what to and what not to in order to succeed, and of course, get to know the people who are in such profession(s). STEM Peers 2017 is a venue to build a career oriented support network. Plus, looking at this event as a symbiosis, I will also be able to present myself to a diverse audience – for them to know me better.”

About Sayantan: Sayantan is an IRTA postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute on Aging, NIH, Baltimore. A geneticist by training, he is now exploring the realms of transcription factor dynamics in T cells using quantitative microscopy and systems biology tools. His interests extend to being the Editor-in- Chief for the online blogging journal Club SciWri and Editor for NPR Office Hours and Friends of Joe’s Big Idea. As he grows, he’s looking forward to interacting and networking with fellow science communicators and outreach managers across the globe. Additionally, he’s also volunteering as a Crisis Counsellor with the 24/7 Crisis Text Line (CTL).

Now let’s get to know our Speakers!

Melina Fan: Keynote Speaker at STEM Peers

 

Melina Fan is passionate about open science and entrepreneurship. She received her PhD from Harvard University in the lab of Dr. Bruce Spiegelman.  Following graduation, she co-founded Addgene, a nonprofit plasmid repository that facilitates research through scientific sharing. Addgene distributes over 100,000 plasmids per year and curates sequences, protocols, and other educational resources for the community. Melina is the Chief Scientific Officer and is responsible for new initiatives, including Addgene’s latest initiative to produce and distribute ready-to-use viral vectors. She loves that her job brings her in contact with scientists from around the world working on everything from cancer to biofuels.

Ambrish Roy: Panelist on Careers in Industrial Research

Ambrish Roy did his PhD with Dr. Yang Zhang at University of Michigan, where he focused on developing methods for modeling 3D structure of proteins and using them to understand their function. His work is currently implemented as part of I-TASSER server and downloadable package. There after, he joined as a post-doc in computational chemistry at Georgia Tech with Jeffrey Skolnick. Currently, he is a research scientist at Vertex, as part of Modeling and Informatics team with interest in chemical biology and application of machine learning in drug discovery.

Ana Batista: Panelist on Careers in Science Communication

Ana Batista did a PhD at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and IU Cancer Center studying pediatric leukemia, and a Post-Doc at MGH working on brain tumors.  Ana’s role at Trends in Cancer is to develop the journal strategy, commission expert reviews and commentary pieces in cancer, and oversee the editorial process. As part of growing the journal outreach, Ana is also involved in the planning of conferences, marketing and sales events, and also manages graphic content.

Rajnish Kaushik: Panelist on Careers in the Business of Science

Rajnish Kaushik joined the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC, formerly CVIP) at University of Massachusetts Lowell in August 2010. Prior to joining UMass Lowell, Rajnish worked at the Office of Technology Management at UMass Medical School and in interned at the Partners Innovation office in Boston working with evaluation and marketing of new technologies and assisting with patent prosecution. Currently, he is also a member of thew Executive Advisory Board of M2D2 (Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center), an incubator for the early-stage medical device and life sciences startups. A virologist by training, Rajnish’s 15 years of research has been in the area pathogenicity of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) as well as many animal viruses. His research resulted in many scientific publications, conference presentations and one US patent. He was a recipient of amfAR research grant for HIV research. Rajnish recently received a degree in Masters of Business Administration from the Manning School of Business at UMass Lowell with focus on the entrepreneurship. Prior to that, Rajnish received his M.S. in Biotechnology from University of Pune, India and Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the Indian Institute of Science at Bangalore, India.

A few words from the organizer, Ananda Ghosh (Founder, PhD CSG)

Why you might consider registering for STEM Peers 2017?

For most academic scientists, especially those who have not been exposed to life outside the lab, the realization that one has to network or attend networking events can be daunting.

I remember my first networking event in NYC, surrounded by people who were talking business, people whom I was not used to interact with, topics which were at that time tasteless.. I remember I came out of the meet dejected. I was standing at the corner of the big hall, shaken, standing aloof….. had no idea how to introduce, how to strike a conversation..this was a world which was unknown to me.

When STEM Peers was conceived, it was especially designed to help us familiarize with this world but in a much more comfortable setting. In STEM Peers you will meet participants who are like you or were like you. They can converse in your language as well as the language they have now adapted to if they have transitioned. It will be a known setting, with a known culture.

Networking can’t go better than this. It will be an event where you can meet your mentors who might be your mentors for life. You can meet friends who might become your friends for next 20-30 years. You might meet people who are willing to listen to your troubles and advice you or get you connected to their network which can help you.

The entire event is designed to help those who need it but dont know how to proceed in an unknown territory. If you need further help or discussion on whether you are the right person to attend the conference, mail us at stempeers@gmail.com

 

Don’t wait anymore, click Here to Register Or Scan this QR Code

  1. Please complete required information in STEM Peers 2017 registration form.
  2. Email: your email address
  3. Name: Please provide your full name
  4. Organization: Please provide your current associated Organization/ University.
  5. Designation: Please provide your current designation.
  6. Participation: Please select appropriate participation group (Postdoc/PhD etc).
  7. Contact: Please provide your contact number.
  8. Food: Please provide information if you have any dietary restriction.
  9. Arrival time: Please provide details of your arrival time at event.
  10. Please select I am not a robot.
  11. Once you complete adding information, please click submit.
  12. Once you submit your registration, a new window will  pop-up confirming the receipt of your registration along with a highlighted link. (This is the link for registration fee payment)      
  13. Please click on link to pay and finalize registration.
  14. Payment can be made via using a PayPal account only.
  15. You can also use the “Buy Now” option (shown below) to pay your registration fee of 25$

 

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Click “Donate” to help PhDCSG (Please include your name, email address and phone number as an additional note while making the donation)




PhD Career Support Group (PhD CSG) for STEM PhDs is a US Non-Profit 501(c)3  organization and all donations to PhDCSG are tax deductible

We thank our event sponsors

 

Be it man or machine — a powerful memory impairs decisions

in ClubSciWri/That Makes Sense by

Are you the kind that remembers the core of a past event, but forgets the details? Well, research indicates that you might just be better at decision-making and adapting to the ever-changing, noisy environment. Most of us now acknowledge that it is as important to forget as it is to remember. And by forgetting, I do not mean wiping out unpleasant events (negative experiences propel better decision-making, we know that). It is storing the exquisite details or obsolete information that is a bother.  Why? Picture this. Erin and Matsya are being taught to identify cubes. Each of them has a Rubik’s cube in hand and makes a mental note of the object. The Rubik’s cube is replaced with 3 objects — a dice, a sugar cube, and a multicolored ball, each of a different size. While Erin had kept in mind the Rubik’s cube color, pattern, shape, and size, Matsya only managed to recollect its shape. Simply by storing and applying the gist of the learning, Matsya could quickly predict the dice and sugar block as cubes (i.e generalize), whereas storing too many details impeded Erin’s ability to swiftly choose the cubes. In a different scenario, Matsya’s favorite ice cream shop in her neighborhood shifts to an adjacent locality. Ability of her brain to delete the old location and update the new one can avoid conflict between the old and new and ease her in finding the place. These two scenarios reflect the importance of having a right mix of memory retention and loss for optimal decision-making. Thus, the potential of memory doesn’t lie in accurate, long-term retention of information but rather in guiding sensible decisions and promoting a flexible/adaptable behavior.

The importance of memory transience has also been highlighted in machine learning (ML), an artificial intelligence approach, wherein machines are trained to learn from provided data and expected to self-improve their performance using the “learning”. Regularization, an ML process that is brain’s equivalent to ‘storing and applying the gist of the learning’, shows that the lesser the parameters used for modeling, higher is the model’s ability to correctly predict the outcomes of new data. On the other hand, overly accurate model systems that have too many fed-in parameters are lower in applicability as they cannot generalize over different data sets.  Apart from regularization, computational models can also employ deletion of outdated data for more robust functioning. So, it looks like be it man or machine, remembering and forgetting are important.

But, what about the brain? What exactly is happening inside it when we are holding on to or letting go of memories? Can we influence what we retain or lose? Let’s take a quick look. The human brain is home to around 80-90 billion neurons — the smallest structural and functional electrically excitable units — that talk to each other using electrical and/or chemical signals. This “talking to each other” results in the formation of connections called “synapses”. Longer the talk between two neurons, stronger is their synapse (so much like human bonding, nay?). The birth, change, or death of these synapses is the basis for a lot of functions, one among them being storage and deletion of memories. Studies show that a memory persists principally because of excessive bonding between specific neurons that joined hands together to create the memory in the first place. Breaking or weakening of these bonds would aid in forgetting and/or learning. In reality, our brains are subject to regular remodeling from continuous neural activity and integration of new neurons. Moreover, environmental factors heavily influence our mnemonic abilities. For example, psychological stress affects an individual’s ability to store or retrieve memories, while activities like exercise are known to improve memory.

So, with memory’s neurobiological and computational perspectives in place, here’s the take home message: in a noisy, constantly changing world of today, optimal memory impermanence could be an investment in the choicest memory-guided planning for the future.

Reference:

Richards, B. A., & Frankland, P. W. (2017). The Persistence and Transience of Memory. Neuron, 94(6), 1071–1084.


About Saikata:

Saikata Sengupta is currently pursuing her Ph.D. from Department of Neurology at Friedrich Schiller University, Germany. You can follow her on Linkedin or Twitter.

 

 

 

Illustrator: Vinita Bharat, PhD of Fuzzy Synapse

Editors: Manoja Eswara, PhD and Paurvi Shinde, PhD

Manoja Eswara obtained her PhD from the University of Guelph, Canada and is currently pursuing her postdoctoral fellowship in Cancer Epigenetics at Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute, Toronto, Canada.

Paurvi Shinde did her PhD in Biomedical Sciences (Immunology) from the University of Connecticut Health and is currently a postDoc at Bloodworks Northwest in Seattle. Apart from science, she’s a trained classical dancer and loves outdoor and hikes.

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

 This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Story of Science: Dr. Ramray Bhat

in Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by

Ian Leslie said, “Curiosity is unruly. It doesn’t like rules, or, at least, it assumes that all rules are provisional, subject to the laceration of a smart question nobody has yet thought to ask. It disdains the approved pathways, preferring diversions, unplanned excursions, impulsive left turns. In short, curiosity is deviant.” And Ramray’s journey exemplifies the curiosity led transitions in his subjects of research interests at all phases of his career. He claims that he gets bored easily and cannot continue on the same thing for a long time.

As a nerd growing up in Calcutta, his inquisitiveness drove him to look up encyclopedias and science books. Being the text book ‘good’ student with good grades made him choose the option, biology and medicine.

I was inquisitive about things around us.’

Being questioning, he was more interested in interactions of physical world with the biological world. He remembers being intrigued by the shape of fishes towards the end of high school. He found it interesting that shape of most fishes is like a spindle in all cross sections. He wondered if hydrodynamic environment affects shaping of fishes. He bugged several physics students and found it annoying that the answers were not revealed in the many textbooks and encyclopedias he owned. He realized that there are a lot of biology-related questions that are still unanswered and that was the bait for him to lean towards basic research. He wanted to seek answers, a pursuit that continues to this day.

The fish is spindle shaped along all axes.

‘Does water movement shape the fish body?’ Ramray wondered.

However, he studied in a medical college, and he realized that most curriculum in India tend to dumb down curiosity.  He was driven into self education – reading biology, physics and mathematics books outside the strict curriculum. He believes that this reading developed an unorthodox and unconventional curriculum for himself that allowed him to ask different questions. He viewed his training in medicine as an alternate route to ultimately being a researcher. He claims that his training in physiological and pathological aspects on human biology were useful in gaining perspective on some of his research later.

I would read (science books) whatever I could get my hands on.’

He visited labs in Calcutta and Bangalore during his vacations and worked there. His interactions with scientists like Vidyanand Nanjundiah and Amitabh Joshi deepened his inclination towards basic sciences research.

After finishing his training in medicine, he started his doctoral studies at SA Newman’s lab in upstate New York. He worked on pattern formation in limb development. He elucidated novel information on the effect of physical forces on pattern formation and on how molecules come together to form a network leading to the same. These answers are reminiscent of his interest in shapes of fish. His love for pattern exists in physical and biological worlds. He also has a keen interest in architecture and pattern occurrence in man made structures as well.

He sought newer science for his postdoctoral studies. He worked with Dr. Mina J. Bissell on breast morphogenesis. There he dissected the importance of glycol saccharides in mammary tree branching. This time his research on morphogenesis had a relation with human pathogenesis. After four and half years, he sought a change and got recruited at the MRDG, IISc. There, he is now working on understanding the differences between metastatic routes of two different cancers, breast and ovarian.

Transitions allowed me to keep my love for science fresh, as well as, vigorous as it always was.’

While this is his first step as an independent principal investigator, it may not be the full stop for his transitions. We are on the lookout for all the things he will do with his love for curiosity and science.


About the author and illustrator:

Ipsa Jain is Ph.D. student at IISc. Wants to gather and spread interestingness. Prefers drawing and painting over writing. Posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

 

 

 

Editor: Sayantan Chakraborty, PhD

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Why do we follow norms?

in That Makes Sense by

Editor’s Note: “Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.” ― Stanley Milgram

We are currently living in a world which is dynamic and runs like a multi-tiered puppetry. Our every action is governed by a set of rules and regulations. We being a part of this society, view ourselves as just instruments full filling another person’s command. But aren’t we people with awareness and perception? Why don’t we question authority? What is enslaving million of people around the globe? Are the free thinking scientist and creatives falling victims of such norms?

P Surat Saravanan’s article will help you to take a moment to think about rules, how they originated, what is so compelling about these norms? She believes studying and analyzing several models can contribute to predicting human behavior and decision-making process. – Rituparna Chakrabarti

 

It is 2nd of July 2014. Yoshuki Sasai, a Japanese stem-cell researcher at RIKEN Centre for Developmental Biology has just published a letter expressing his remorse. He had published two breakthrough articles in Nature, a top scientific journal, showing a simple method of converting any somatic cell into a stem cell. However, several allegations soon emerged; RIKEN initiated an investigation and found Sasai guilty of scientific misconduct and fabrication.

Moving on…. 17th January 2016, the day Rohith Vemula, a Dalit committed suicide. His letter states, “My birth is a fatal accident…The value of man was reduced to his immediate identity…”. The country is raging with physical and intellectual caste battles on the roads and in coffee shops.

Now it’s 22nd May 2017, Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old suicide bomber has just detonated a shrapnel-loaded homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena, Manchester. As the smoke, debris, and shrapnel spread, traumatised parents and kids watch in shock, each rushing to reach the exit.

We are still in 2017. Maybe, even yesterday or today for that matter. “Argh! He burped again! Why do you have to do that? Could you please accept that it’s rude to do that?” Rose exclaimed, tired of her brother’s annoying habit she had been trying to curb for years now.

What’s the common thread between these cases? Connecting them might appear like solving a graphic jigsaw puzzle session in dark, but there is a common link – the baggage of norms. Our social behavior emerges because of several intertwined factors: what are the efforts required for a task (cost) and what are the involved material benefits, instincts, socio-cultural and religious norms set per the society. Norms are agreed upon rules and set of expectations that we are supposed to follow and presume others to reciprocate within a situation.

We might behave in a restricted manner, cherry picking those we interact with and letting them transcend our inner circles; often biased by their caste, race and gender identity. Sometimes these norms push towards extremism, where one is even ready to give up their lives for the religion/ideals. Other times, towards not-so-extreme like controlling our burps in public. Some of the ideas of how people respond to social conformity were tested in the famous experiments by Stanley Milgram and Solomon Asch. The experiments showed how an individual opinion or behavior could be completely molded by the opinion of people around. Milgram’s studies can now be enjoyed in the movie Experimenter. Scientists are also confronted with norms referred to as the ‘Mertonian Norms’. One of the four Mertonian norms is ‘disinterestedness’, which specifies that scientists should act only for the progress of science and not personal gain. This norm is often violated when a scientist misinforms or fabricates evidence to publish their work, like in our first example.

 

 

Norms – society’s ‘invisible hand’

“Ravi regretted his decision as soon as he put the spoon in his mouth. It tasted like heaven, but the guilt weighed heavy on his heart and mind. He had always watched his friends from the sidelines eating seekh kebabs every Wednesday at the corner shop. He berated himself for his fickle mind and went back to his aloo-gobi. His family had been vegetarians since time immemorial. His parents, his grandparents, his great-grandparents…we could go on for a while. That night before sleep, he forced the thoughts of a roasted golden chicken out of his mind and instead tried to think about potatoes!”

One of the features of internalising a norm is that it becomes an end in itself rather than a tool to achieve your goals. Violating them can be psychologically painful. Although Ravi has no particular empathy towards plants or animals, he still avoids eating non-vegetarian food as it is emotionally painful for him to indulge in it after years of abstinence.

Following norms is associated with two main protagonists: (i) the norm abiders, those who may go to any lengths to abide by the norm, even at a personal expense (an extreme example is suicide bombers). They resort to punishing (ii) the norm violators (as seen during caste based honor killings). So, with its exacting personal cost, how did norms evolve in a society that primarily believes in ‘rational egoism’ (an action is rational only if it maximises self-interest)?

Two researchers from the University of Tennessee and University of California, Davis set out to answer this question1.

 

The experiment

Sergey Gavrilets and Peter J. Richerson simulated groups with a constant population size. The individuals in the group could participate in collective activities that require efforts and thus, a cost. However, the benefits of cooperative activities were also shared equally among the members. Both cost and punishment were incorporated as numeric variables which could equal 0 or 1. They looked at two kinds of collective activities: ‘us vs. nature’, where groups had to defend, hunt and breed cooperatively. Second, ‘us vs. them’, which includes inter-group conflicts over territory, mating partners and trade routes. The individuals in the simulation can also punish the free-riders – members who reap the benefits without contributing to efforts. However, punishing the free-riders also involves a cost for the other members as it requires constant monitoring. At the end of each simulation, the survival of the groups is proportional to their success in collective actions. Also, the survival and reproduction of the individuals in the groups are proportional to the accumulated material payoffs.

They extended this model to understand norm internalisation. They assumed that individuals live in a pro-social environment where they learn from their parents, friends and peers to contribute to collective actions and punish the free-riders. However, these decisions can be modified by how much they have internalised the norm and what are the material benefits. They treated norm internalisation (Ƞ) as a continuous trait ranging from 0 to 1 (Ƞ=1 represented under-socialized individuals who did not care about the norm, while Ƞ=1 represented over-socialized individuals who do not care about the material payoffs but the norms). The authors found that promoting costly punishment led to more efficient norm internalisation, than the allure of benefits of participation. Thus, they speculate that society and groups which impose disapproval or punishment on the norm violators rather than promote the benefits of cooperative participation will have stronger norm internalisation. They also found that stronger norm internalisation led to increased cooperation and monitoring or punishing the free-riders in both ‘us vs. nature’ and ‘us vs. them’ activities.

Although increasing norm internalisation promoted collective activities, the material benefits and biological fitness may vary. In case of the ‘us vs them’ paradigm, increased norm internalisation may decrease biological fitness. This may be due to ‘rent dissipation’ (resources pooled by individuals are much more than the benefits of cooperation). For example, ‘rent dissipation’ can become very large in cases of inter-group conflicts, such as wars or feuds which have a high death rate.

 

Evolutionary origins

Next, we try to understand how did such a behavior evolve.

When human beings evolved to perform several kinds of intra- and inter-group activities, including hunting, mating, territory acquisition and/or trade route conflicts, an individual in a group could either make a decision after processing the costs and benefits associated with each behavior, or it could “copy the most successful” in the group2,3. Choosing the second option reduced the mental calculation for cost-benefit evaluation for each task, costs to acquire information and processing errors. Thus, in a variable environment following previously set rules might help in making a faster decision. Kids, who have error-prone information processing and lack the information to make the cost-benefit analysis, start following norms as early as 2–3 years. For them, this may provide a way to adapt to their niche and provide protection from the social hazards. Kids initially follow norms as a form of imitating their parent’s reactions to different situations. Studies have found that 3-year-olds not only imitate their parents in following the norms but also start enforcing it on others4.

Following norms may yet have another advantage. Till around 7000 AD, human beings lived in isolated colonies and then they started agriculture. This led to bigger societies of non-kin (individuals not related to each other) living together. These populations had to ensure that people live, cooperate and share in a society unrelated to each other. This was probably when following norms stepped in. Norms helped in synchronizing the behavior of a larger society living together, allowing mutually beneficial cooperative behavior. Indeed, mimicry has been shown to increase cooperative behavior. However, synchronising the behavior of small vs. a large population can be a different game altogether. The authors also found that smaller groups have higher norm internalisation, whereas the larger groups, biological fitness is higher if they do not evolve internalisation. This could be due to the fact that larger groups require more cost for the individuals to monitor and punish the free-riders, which is an integral part of norm internalisation.

 

Where do we stand?

Every day, we make decisions on how to respond to different social situations and norms are one such factor which influences our decision. These models can help predict human behavior and decision making. Additionally, also provide ways to optimise them. For e.g., going back to our initial example of a violation of the Mertonian norm. Could enforcing stronger backlash for scientific misconduct prove to more effective in enforcing this norm, rather than promoting the idea of altruism and benefit of scientific enterprise?

Studies like these will navigate us one step closer towards answering such questions.

References:

  1. Gavrilets, S. & Richerson, P. J. Collective action and the evolution of social norm internalization. 1–6 (2017). doi:10.1073/pnas.1703857114
  2. Chudek, M. & Henrich, J. psychology and the emergence of human prosociality. Trends Cogn. Sci. 15, 218–226 (2011).
  3. Henrich-and-Ensminger-Ch.2-2014.pdf.
  4. Hardecker, S. & Tomasello, M. From imitation to implementation : How two- and three-year-old children learn to enforce social norms. 1–12 (2016). doi:10.1111/bjdp.12159

 

About the Author

P Surat Saravanan completed her Ph.D. from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. She spent her graduate school years looking down through microscopes in dark rooms, staring at confocal images for hours, and praying to Drosophila Gods to make them lay more eggs – in the hope of trying to understand what makes a cell behave the way it does. Currently, she is a freelance science editor and writer. Apart from science writing, she is also passionate about cubist art.

 

 

Editor: Rituparna Chakrabarti, PhD and Sayantan Chakraborty, PhD

Cover Image: Pixabay

Featured Video: YouTube

The contents of Club SciWri are the copyright of PhD Career Support Group for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501(c)3, PhDCSG is an initiative of the alumni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The primary aim of this group is to build a NETWORK among scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs).

This work by Club SciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

The Patent Chronicle

in Sci-IP by

August 1, 2017: Your weekly dose from the world of patents. The Patent Chronicle is led by Syam Anand, who has been at the core of CSG’s development and an entrepreneur himself. This section is your go to destination every week for a capsule dose on the hottest happenings in the patent world. Syam has clinically dissected out every news on the decision, the background and the impact. He is also in the process of building his scicomm team for this section. If you would like to come aboard, mail him at syam.anand@sciwri.club

Let’s roll the dice for the latest happenings…

via GIPHY

Patent-free life saving drugs from Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative (DNDI)

The 1990 Nobel Prize for Doctors without Borders provided the seed money for DNDI. But that was not sufficient for DNDI to realize its goal of manufacturing and distributing drugs for diseases of the poor. Bernard Pécoul, a physician associated with Doctors without Borders embarked on a journey to realize this dream. Delinking the usual norms and practices of drugs and profitability, Pécoul lead DNDI to a pharma company for the poor. DNDI now delivers patent-free drugs to neglected diseases that would not have been possible with complete reliance on traditional pharmaceutical industry.

Read more

 

 

A life-saving patent that Volvo never licensed

US Patent 3043625 to Nils Bohlin reduced the fatalities from car collisions by almost 50%. Volvo, with whom Bohlin was employed was also a leader in many safety features that we use in cars even today. But little known is the fact that Volvo allowed all car manufacturers to use their patented three-point harness system without requiring a license. Thank Bohlin and Volvo for the “click it”.

Read more

 

Exon-skipping patent settlement by Sarepta

Decision: Biomarin Pharmaceutical Inc. and Sarepta Therapeutics signed a license providing Sarepta with exclusive rights to Biomarin’s exon-skipping products.

Reason: Worldwide patent battles had pitched the two companies against one another on the use of exon-skipping products for DMD.

Impact: Both Biomarin and Sarepta come out as winners with agreements on royalties, licensing fees and profit sharing. They are also a sign of mutual cooperation that will benefit the end-users. As a result of these agreements, both companies get credit for their innovation, which will allow them to focus on R&D rather than litigation. It also consolidates their position as a global leader in exon-skipping products for diseases like DMD.

Read more

 

Stryker strikes triple damages

Decision: US district judge ruled that Zimmer Biomet infringed Stryker’s patent for a pulsed lavage system used in surgeries. Further, the court tripled the damages for infringement for egregious behavior.

Reason: The infringement suit was filed in 2010 in Kalamazoo and related to three patents covering Stryker’s Pulsavac. The litigation also took place in the federal circuit with mixed results for Stryker. The judge in Michigan however felt that Zimmer did nothing to stop the infringing activity or mitigate damages at any point during the litigation. Further, the judge also felt that the Zimmer refused to turn over the evidence in a “willful and egregious” manner.

Impact: As a result of the judgment Zimmer owes Stryker 248.7 million dollars. It is a good time to be associated with Stryker.

Read more

 

Amphastar gets breather in blood thinner war

Decision: The US District court jury in Boston ruled that a Momenta patent used to test an ingredient in generic Lovenox is invalid. The jury also sided with Amphastar on whether Momenta had waived its rights to enforce the patent.

Reason:  Momenta and Novartis had sued Amphastar close to a billion dollars in lost sales for using their patented test without permission in the manufacture of their generic version.

Impact: Lovenox has a long history of litigation. The legal war will continue on multiple fronts with Amphastar filing an antitrust motion against Momenta and Momenta planning for appeals.

Read more

Infographically speaking….

Seat Belts Save Lives

From Visually.

Proprietary Humor

Source: Mimi and Eunice

About the author:

Syam

Authored by Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA). Syam has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

Feature image source: Pixabay

Blog design: Abhinav Dey

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

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