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Science Careers: Interview with James Templeton

Name: James Templeton
Current employer: Astellas Scientific and Medical Affairs
Job title: Scientific Director
Science Career: Science Manager
Time working in this field: 20 years

How would you describe what you do on a typical day to a student?

I work for a pharmaceutical company, and I manage a team of five field scientists. Each of these scientists works from home, as I do. Our team is responsible for being the link between our internal research at Astellas and the external world. In other words, we work to make sure that physicians and scientists who do not work for Astellas are aware of our research interests. We also work to educate the medical community on the science behind our drugs, so that they are used in a safe and effective way.

How did you become interested in this area of science?

I have always been interested in medicine and life science. However, I was not really interested in working in a lab all day. So working in an area where I could apply my skills and knowledge made the pharmaceutical industry really attractive to me.

What did you study in high school, college, and graduate school?

In high school I studied general education, not really knowing what I wanted to do when I got older. In college, I studied chemistry and computer science as an undergraduate. In graduate school, I focused more on computer science, but with a life science twist. Biomedical informatics is a field of science that combines computer science with medicine. I found my niche in this field as I was able to combine things that I really enjoyed.

How would you describe your work environment to a student?

My current work environment combines a great deal of science and managing people. The scientists that work for me are the true experts in their field, while I am often working on making sure that they have the resources to do their job. That means that I attend a lot of business meetings and teleconferences to make sure that the company has everything in place for my team to be effective and contribute to Astellas and to the community.

What are some of the key characteristics that are important for a person to succeed in your type of work?

Most of the people that I work with are very well educated. At the very least, they have a bachelor's degree in some scientific field. Most have either a master's or a doctorate degree. So education is a big component. It basically allows you to get your foot in the door. After education, it really boils down to your experience. My particular field of work requires that people have the scientific acumen but also have strong people skills with regards to developing relationships and fostering those over time.

What do you enjoy most about your work? What do you not like or wish you could change?

I get to learn about the most cutting-edge medical ideas. I attend numerous medical conferences each year and am able to see what is on the horizon.

In terms of what I dislike, working for a large company there is often a lot of paperwork and administrative things that seem overwhelming. I am not much of a paperwork person, but it is manageable.

What was a project that you have worked on that you found particularly interesting?

When I was a field scientist, we call them Medical Science Liaisons, I was working in the field of cardiovascular imaging. I was working closely with some of the smartest people on the planet in that field and was able to learn so much from them. I became the subject matter expert at Astellas on cardiovascular imaging, and I absolutely loved it.

What can a student do now to prepare for a career in your field in terms of coursework and extracurricular activities?

My best advice would be to study something that really excites you. Science can often appear to have a very narrow scope in terms of jobs. For example, a chemistry major may feel that they are going to be limited to working in a laboratory somewhere. For some, this is the ideal place to be, but others, like myself, do not feel that way. The key is to look beyond the obvious. There are scientists in all sorts of fields that you don't typically expect them in.

The other piece of advice would be to learn how to network. I have found that almost every job that I have ever had is all about perception and networking. Networking and managing the perception that others have of you is an important life skill.

Is there any advice you would give to someone interested in this field that you wish someone had given you when you were starting out?

The pharmaceutical industry is rapidly changing, as is all of healthcare. It is important to be flexible and adjust to the changes that will inevitably occur. The world needs very smart and capable people to lead us through these challenges. Don't be afraid to take risks and step forward.

Is there anything about your profession that you think people misunderstand, or anything you think people would be surprised to learn about your job?

The pharmaceutical industry is often viewed in a very bad light. Some people feel that our industry is only in it for the money. For some, that may be true. But I can tell you from my experience that the scientists that work in the industry are truly dedicated to helping other people and to make life better for everyone.

Did you ever participate in science fairs as a student? What was your experience like?

I did enter into some science fairs as a student. I made volcanoes and demonstrated magnetism effects in two of my science fairs. I really enjoyed learning about the science behind how things work.

What do you do in your free time?

I am married and have four grown children. I love to run and surf off the coast of San Diego where I live. Surfing is one of the best ways that I have found to connect with nature, such as those rare times when I get to surf with dolphins.

Free science fair projects.