Lisa Buchy graduated with a PhD from the Integrated Program in Neuroscience in 2012. She currently works as Medical Science Liaison at AbbVie.
Q: How did you decide to do a PhD?
I decided to do a PhD because I was passionate about research. I initially thought I wanted to go into psychiatry. Then as I got more into third and fourth year psychology courses, I started to gain a real passion for understanding the mechanisms that lead to people developing serious mental disorders and how the brain becomes affected. So I talked to a lot of mentors and they suggested that a PhD in neuroscience would be a good fit for my interests.
Q: So what do you value the most about your time in graduate school?
It was the breadth of experience that McGill provided and the incredible support from the supervisors. The scholarships through McGill provided an opportunity for me to focus on my studies and not be distracted with work. I valued the freedom to really focus on my research but also the opportunities to be a teaching assistant or laboratory assistant as well as supervising undergraduate students and Master’s students while I was doing my PhD. So it’s really the holistic experience.
Q: Are there any experiences that you wish you had taken better advantage?
I wish I had done more social events and made an effort to go to the MNI a bit more and network there. Looking back, I wish I did that because those social experiences are really important for networking and for personal growth.
Q: What were some of your biggest challenges for you during your PhD?
For me, living so far away from home. I was homesick and I wanted to move home after finishing, so I didn’t look into doing a postdoc—I just really needed a break to be with my family. I have a first degree relative who has a major mental disorder, and he’s my inspiration for what I was doing. I felt really disconnected between why I was doing the research and where I was going with it. So I needed to go back to my roots and just be home for a while. I just listened to what my body and my mind needed at the time.
Q: So what kind of support did you receive in your program?
The other lab members of my lab were exceptional. I felt so welcomed—I was part of the lab family. I moved to a new city and our lab members provided an opportunity for me to connect on a social level and not isolate.
I had phenomenal financial support because McGill is so exceptional. I received scholarships coming into the program. My lab supported me my first year, which I am extremely thankful for. I didn’t have pressure to TA courses, for example, to pay my tuition. In the second year, I got a Master’s CIHR scholarship and then for the PhD I had a three year Vanier scholarship. Once I got that, it was great because I had the opportunity to pay my tuition without going into debt, which is hugely important because I was funding myself for my entire education. That gave me a lot of freedom to not worry about accumulating extra debt. I could live downtown to be close to amenities and close to my friends and have an experience while I lived in Montreal.
Q: What do you currently do?
I’m a Medical Science Liaison at AbbVie.
Q: So how did you sort of end up when you current position?
After I graduated, I moved back home in the summer of 2012. Then I started working for Fraser Health in January, so I did have a bit of a break. I worked as a clinical case manager until August 2013. During that time, I had a postdoc CIHR Fellowship application in the pipeline. When I was successfully awarded the scholarship I made the arrangements to move to Calgary, where I worked from 2013 to 2017.
The goal was always to move back to Vancouver again to be with my family—it was really important to me. During my postdoc, my supervisor knew I wanted to transition to industry and she was exceptionally supportive—she helped connect me with people who could provide advice, knowledge, and information about what different roles in industry would look like and what would be a good fit to my skill set and interests.
One of the people I spoke with suggested that I do a medical writer role. I really loved writing, and knew I would be successful at that role. I ultimately knew I wanted to be a medical science liaison, and transitioning directly into that role is extremely difficult, not just in terms of getting an interview, but understanding the language of pharma and then applying that when you’re an MSL. So I moved back to Vancouver in September of 2017 and I worked as a medical writer for Xenon Pharmaceuticals until August 2018. Then I got recruited for this position with Allergan. Later, Allegan was acquired by AbbVie. I worked first as an MSL, then a medical advisor, and now again as an MSL.
Q: What would a typical work day look like for you?
That’s an easy answer because there is no typical day as an MSL. I meet with external experts, gather information on unmet needs, treatment gaps, and any comments or concerns with how patients are responding to our molecules. I’m the scientific expert on all our clinical trial data. Another part of the job is training the reps. My position requires ~60% travel.
Q: What kind of advice would you like to give someone who is currently pursuing their PhD?
I would say to follow your passion. The passion is what landed me the job that I have today. I’m extremely happy with the job I have—I have a lot of independence. It’s my passion for helping patients that got me these positions. I would stay true to your interests. I had an opportunity to do a postdoc after my PhD in a lab that was in a different therapeutic area than psychosis research. I was just trying to find something because I had waited so long and I had done a lot of planning but it didn’t feel right. I always listen to my gut. Using your gut to drive your interests and your passion will make you successful because you’ll always want to get up and work in the morning and it will never feel like a job.
Many thanks to Lisa for sharing her PhD narrative! You can find her on LinkedIn.
This interview took place in June 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.