Showcasing careers beyond academia

Margot Khouri

PhD in Cancer Cell Therapy, Queen Mary University of London (2015)
Senior Business Development Specialist

Year entered into a non-academic position: 2016

Job highlight: Ability to build a huge network and work alongside inspiring, positive people

My research training set me up to ….. think methodically, analytically and critically

Left academia after:  PhD


What’s your background?

I did an MSc in Immunology at the University of Paris VI and the Pasteur Institute and then did a PhD in Cell and Gene Therapy of Cancer at Queen Mary University of London.

Why did you move away from academia?

While doing my PhD, I realised I was happier talking to people rather than doing benchwork. I decided to leave research and academia where prospects of career (and personal) development seemed limited.

Is there anything you miss about academia?

Not really.

How did you get this job?

After the PhD, I started working in sales for a small biotech, provider of pre-clinical immunology services. I wanted to learn more about clinical research so I applied to IQVIA and got in.

Did you face any challenges when considering a move away from academia or applying for the role? 

No. While some were surprised or disappointed, I was mostly supported and encouraged to make the move.

What motivated you to/why did you choose the sector you transitioned into?

I attended every career event organised by my university so that I  could be well informed, reassured and properly plan my  next steps.

Did you think you had the skills required for your current position before you started? Were you right?

Yes! Sales and business development were a good fit for what I thought would make me happy. I really enjoy consultative sales: a blend of relationship building and technical, expert advice.

How did your PhD prepare you for your current job? For example, what were the transferable skills that you developed during your PhD that are most relevant to your current job?

Organisational skills, presentation skills, Excel spreadsheets, critical and methodical thinking.

Did you have any preconceptions about your sector that proved to be wrong?

I was afraid I would be working with “sharks” who wanted to sell things no matter what. It is a much smoother environment with kind, helpful people despite the high pressure and tight deadlines.

Can you describe a typical week in your job?

I will spend a good 60% of my time emailing and attending customer enquiries, 20% would be in strategy and team meetings and the final20% would be studying the accounts I handle, so that I can approach them in a targeted, personalised manner.

What is the workplace culture like? Please include comments on work-life balance, flexibility, remote working?

Work hard, play hard! Good work/life balance with flexibility with time. Increasingly, many are also working remotely.

Do people with a PhD frequently get hired in the company/sector?

Yes, especially in consultancy .

What are your favourite parts of your job?

Talking to customers and feeling I have helped them one way or another.

What are your reflections on your career path?

There are so many opportunities out there. Planning every step carefully is crucial, taking the next step in a timely manner is essential.

Do you have any advice for current graduate students and postdocs considering a career outside of academia?

While academia has an impressive amount of talent, the industry has also its fair share of talent and appreciation. You may not be able to work on a project YOU have designed or chosen but you will work under better conditions and may be better valued.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when exploring a transition?

To people considering doing a PhD, think carefully as to WHY you want to embark on the (sometimes painful and underpaid) adventure. The experience is great and valuable, but many careers (like sales and business development) value experience over qualification.

Can you recommend any relevant resources, organisations or events that might help somebody new to the sector find out more about it?

For relationship building (and sales), the book by Dale Carnegie: How to make friends and influence people.


With over 35 years experience in the field, IQVIA has an innovative and comprehensive approach to designing and executing patient-centric clinical trials, leveraging unparalleled data sets, advanced analytics, domain expertise and transformative technology enabling real-time access to operations-critical information. Our strategy has evidence-backed ability to reduce operational risk and protocol amendments, thus saving precious time and resources and enabling the rapid and efficient delivery of the best therapies to patients, which are at the heart of our mission.