Leslie Cruz describes how she landed her first permanent position, and why it makes her happier than work at the bench.
After completing a PhD at the University of California, San Francisco and a postdoc at Stanford University, Leslie Cruz found job satisfaction in regulatory affairs. Here she describes how she chose this track, and got the training and connections to land her first position.
Click here to read about how Cruz drew on experiences to recognize that regulatory affairs was a good fit.
You credit your postdoc advisor for directing you to career services to find opportunities outside a research lab.
She helped me realize that being happy while working was very important. This was something that I had struggled with. It is important to find a mentor who is supportive of your decision to transition out of the lab. And to be truly honest, I encountered people who weren’t honest. I would ask people ‘are you happy with what you do’? And they couldn’t answer me. One should be happy in what they are doing. I feel that now.
I didn’t want to leave science. I love science. That’s who I am, but you don’t have to be a professor or a research scientist to use your science education.
You first learned that regulatory affairs existed as a career path after a series of quizzes suggested it as a good option for you. Were you surprised?
I quickly made the connection to my interest in reading about the history of the FDA and other regulatory agencies. My two favorite books are “The Jungle” By Upton Sinclair and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. Both examine the state of the food and pharmaceutical industry in the USA and how the FDA evolved into what it is today.
What did you do next?
Since most of the people in my network were in research, finding regulatory affairs connections was a very arduous process. Eventually, with a lot of help from my colleagues and their networks, I did find connections. I learned as much as I could about Regulatory Affairs through informational interviews.
They told me that it was very important to show genuine interest in Regulatory Affairs. I completed the regulatory affairs in pharmaceuticals certificate through the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS). I started monitoring which drugs and biologics were being approved by the FDA.
What led to your current job?
I found out about FDA seminars by reading just about everything on the FDA website. I signed myself up to one in the Bay Area. I made it my mission to seek out people that were very experienced in regulatory affairs. I overheard a woman speaking about how she had been through the process several times and was wondering why she was at the seminar because it was really more of an introduction. I was sitting in front of her, so I just turned around and started talking.
I explained that I was looking for a position in regulatory affairs, preferably CMC [chemistry, manufacturing, and controls] because I thought I would fit better there. I handed her my resume with my grant writing experience highlighted. She said she did have a contract position that would be available soon and we would talk more. She really enjoyed that I just introduced myself to her. She mentioned that I had the right personality for the position. Her HR department called me within a week to bring me in for an interview.
During your interview you impressed them with how you’d served as the lab compliance officer, and also convinced an operations manager to put in a work order to make a tissue culture room usable again.
That’s the key skill I had, the ability to influence people, in a nice way. They know that a PhD knows how to question and find the gaps in submission documents and in the arguments that are being presented.
Interview by Monya Baker