Saving Lives With Chemistry: An Insight Into Pharmaceutical Careers

Mitul Chatterjee is the Head – Regulatory Affairs, Baxter International Inc. She is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta (Kolkata) and Jadavpur University (B Pharm), Kolkata and has previously held leadership positions Amneal Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd.

Shilpa Jain: Why is being financially independent important to you?

Mitul: Financial independence makes a woman self-dependent which is a must in today’s society. Also, it enables a woman to have a voice in her family, helps her to stand up against any wrongs meted out to her like domestic violence. Sadly, our society is still patriarchal and thus if a woman earns and is self-dependent, the perspective changes.

SJ: How did your professional journey begin? Did you always want a career in Pharma?

M: I had done graduation with a degree in pharmacy and that way it was decided that professional life will be in the pharmaceutical field only.
I started my career in a small company in Kolkata as a Quality Control Chemist and worked in the same field for next 7 years in a couple of small and medium sized companies in Kolkata. Thereafter I shifted to Regulatory Affairs once I moved to Ahmedabad.

SJ: How did you go about fulfilling your aspirations in Pharma?

M: Once I shifted from Kolkata to Ahmedabad my perceptions about the pharmaceutical operations changed. In Kolkata at that time, the concept of exporting drugs to various countries was absolutely new and we didn’t have any exposure of the same. However once in Ahmedabad this field of Regulatory Affairs excited me and i started learning from all information available on public domain as well as started developing myself through On-Job training.
As I moved to senior roles, my learnings in my PGDBM (Post Graduate Degree in Business Management) course did help a lot.

SJ: What kind of jobs are available in the Pharma industry? Would each of these functions have a different set of qualifications that is a pre-requisite?

M: Today there are a gamut of options available in Pharma industry. Besides the common and well-known functions of Manufacturing, Research & Development, Quality, Sales, Marketing etc. we have the options of Regulatory Affairs, Supply Chain, Business Development, Project Management, Intellectual Property Rights, Procurement, Operational Excellence to name some of them. Then there are the jobs of Pharmacists as well as several jobs with the State and Central Drug Controls.
Some of the functions like Research & Development may look for a Masters in Pharmacology along with PhD while Sales/marketing will prefer a management degree along with a pharmacy graduate/post
graduate degree.

SJ: Would it be right in assuming that the Pharma industry is a growth industry? Also, in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, is this industry seeing a huge surge in demand for pharma professionals; especially in R&D?

M: I will say Pharma industry is a stable industry. It was unaffected by the IT bubble burst and similarly there is never a boom in pharmaceuticals industry. It is growing at a steady rate of around 12-13% currently.
COVID-19 is a unique case and thus it’s too early to say whether it is leading to a surge in demand of pharma professionals. I personally believe nothing of that sort is going to happen as any research in pursuit of a vaccine/medicine is a lengthy process and calls for both experience and vast knowledge.
Thus, sudden boom in job market for pharma professionals is unlikely.

SJ: Which are the high paying jobs in the Pharma industry?

M: Good question. All functions are high paying so long as you are in the right company and deliver as per organisational needs.
However, if you want me to categorize, I will say functions like R&D, Marketing, Regulatory Affairs and Quality have the maximum share in a company’s overhead expenses.

SJ: Are there many women professionals in this industry or is it more male dominated?

M: Gender diversity in pharma industry is function specific. Departments like Regulatory Affairs, Quality, R&D have many women professionals while functions like Manufacturing, Marketing and Sales are male dominated.

SJ: What are some of the challenges you faced in the path to your professional growth & success?

M: The greatest challenge I faced was when I shifted from Kolkata to Ahmedabad. I had to study and slog a lot to improve my technical knowledge with respect to the regulations and guidelines that were needed for export market.
Later as I assumed senior roles, there always have been challenges in breaking the glass ceiling and gaining acceptance. However, at the same time I have been fortunate enough to get good supporting male colleagues also who have helped me and supported me all through.

SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire for Her? And any message for the Foundation in general?

M: My only message to young members of AFH is this:
Don’t take a professional career as an optional one – take it as seriously as you have taken your education. Be sincere in your work and have the basics right. Have patience and success is bound to

SJ: Is there space for individual innovation and creativity in the industry or is the day to day business more operational in nature?

M: Yes, chances for innovation are there in different forms and are there in most of the functions. They are particularly high in R&D, Marketing, Operations.

SJ: Could you tell us a bit more about the interplay between ethics and science that is seen in this field?

M: Medicines are not Fast-Moving Consumer Goods and thus ethics is the most important thing in this industry. We are dealing with products that save or cure lives. That is the first learning which is imparted to all pharma professionals when they begin their career. Science is the backbone of all pharmaceutical products. I feel science and ethics work hand in hand in this industry. Some outliers may be there but those cannot be generalized.

Rapid Fire!

An ‘open secret’ in your industry:

Use of innovative ways to give incentives to doctors to promote drugs and generate prescriptions while remaining within the ambit of allowed legislations.

One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with:

Amitabh Bachchan / Shahrukh Khan

A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers:

Lady, you are not a Man by Apurva Purohit. This I recently read this book and found it very apt specially for youngsters who are at beginning of their career or have spent about 5 to 7 years in corporate field

Your favorite novel:

Mahabharata  (it’s my favourite book, though not a novel)

3 things on your bucket list:

– Experiencing African Safari

– Visit to Ladakh and stay there for several weeks

– Spending a long long vacation of several months in Switzerland

Interviewed by – Shilpa Jain
Executive Director, Indusion Consulting Services (ex-banker, now a head-hunter)