Pharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Application Process: PPS, Rutgers and More

In the past, my friend John put up a great post on Rutgers Fellowship – Increase Your Odds of Becoming a Fellow that was extremely popular. I am sure it has helped many people get fellowships and are now full time employee shaping the industry. I wanted to take a step back a provide insights for those applying through PPS or those considering this nontraditional path in the future. We will take step by step approach based on my experience and opinion. (Note: Skip to Final part if you already know what you want to do and just want insight on the PPS process)


First, Why do a Fellowship?

Fellowships are not for everyone, but it’s an invaluable steps to get your foot in the door. Sure you can get a job straight out of school or intern while you are in school but the experience you get are limited. If you interned, you probably were involved for a short period of time (summer or just a few hours a week) and had limited responsibility. Although a bit tougher, you can get job right out of school, but they are usually entry level positions which may come with barriers to move up if you don’t have other experience. (Note: many people go into industry because there is no ceiling for growth- personally I joined because I enjoy the different stakeholder perspectives and industry is a large stakeholder).


Fellowships are not for the faint of heart as it’s 2 years (less common 1 year programs exist as well). Unlike residencies, it’s not structured/accredited so which program you pick really matter. More on that later. As a fellow, you get the full time exposure but get additional learning opportunity to attend high level meetings, work cross functionally and really network. Many make the argument that 2 year fellowship can equate to 4+ years of industry experiences based on your program.


Second, Which Fellowship Should I Apply For and What Experience Do I Need?

Not all fellowship are created equal just like no jobs are the same. The different types of pharmaceutical fellowship differ drastically from Clinical Development to Medical Affairs or Regulatory to Health Economics & Outcomes Research. Although these are all industry position, it’s as different as becoming a psychiatric pharmacist vs an oncology pharmacist. Instead of describing each area, I’ll defer to Rutger’s brochure explaining the difference.


If you are already applying, it’s time to look at your experiences and interest to decide where you fit best. Unless something from left field just calls to you, don’t apply for something you have no experience in just because it sounds cool. Fellowship programs want to take someone who are committed to the area and preferably some experience before entering the program. If you have a year or more before you apply, apply for internships and APPE experiences in the area of your interest. Many companies have summer internship (i.e AMCP/Allergan Internship program) or just google “Drug Company Name” Summer Internship. If you go to school near a large company, you can even get year round position working short hours. In addition, you should leverage any relevant experiences you can get your hands on even if it is project work or shadowing. If you want to go into Clinical Development, see if your school’s hospital is running and clinical trial programs and how you can volunteer. If you are interested in Med Affairs, find a local Medical Science Liaison and learn about what they do or even shadow them if appropriate. To get Health Outcomes Research, you should find a researcher in your school or area of interest and try to work on a project with them. This is why you should have an idea what area you are interested in to find the relevant experience for you. Final important tip: Use your APPE rotations to get relevant experiences. If you are interested in Regulatory or the FDA, apply for the FDA Rotation Experience. If you are interested in Health Economic and Outcomes Research or Market Access, the Xcenda program may be a good fit for you. For other opportunity, Eli Lilly offer APPE rotation (sorry no direct website for this one). By no mean is this a comprehensive list and just to make you aware of potential opportunities. Let me know if you want more. If we get enough requests, we will write a separate article going in depth on these experiential opportunities.


Finally, I am READY to Apply, What Do I Do?

The simple answer is to go to ASHP and sign up for PPS. It’s a conference that happens in December where most fellowships does screening interviews.


Here’s a brief timeline:

P1-P3: Gather relevant experiences and figure out what you want to do

P4: Do APPE rotations that are relevant if possible

Summer before P4: Look into the fellowships offered last year and do some research online

October P4 year: Sign up for PPS and consider doing some informational interviews with the current fellows of the programs you are interested in. (leverage resources as alumni that are going through fellowship or have gone through fellowships)

November P4 year: Inform letter writers the programs you are consider and have them draft the letter and notify them that the PPS process and you will identify the programs you will apply to right after ASHP in December and they will need to send the letter right away.

October-December P4: Send out request for interview on PPS with programs you are interested in with CV and maybe cover letter (note that Rutgers is different)

December P4 year:Get ready for PPS because this month will flash by. Practice your interview skills by doing mock interviews, clear your schedule and organize your first round interviews and prepare/hope for second/third and final rounds.

Jan-Feb P4 year:Final or on-site interviews (may be Dec depending on when ASHP is) and home for the next 2 years may be identified


I know this is overwhelming and I am not going to lie it can be. So let me answer some FAQs.

  1. What is Rutgers Fellowships vs Other Fellowships and how are they different?

Rutgers has affiliations with a dozen large industry and have ~50 (at this time) positions they recruit for so they run things different. You usually sign up for these interviews at ASHP (usually on saturday) and have an isolated section for interviews. Try to go early Saturday morning (well before the booth opens) to sign up. Some people may only go for Rutgers fellowships, but other may not bother with Rutgers programs at all depending on their area of interest. I’ve personally did both and it’s definitely time consuming. Again a previous post focused on Rutgers.


Other fellowships are programs that are independent of Rutgers. There are lot of opportunities that are non-Rutgers fellowships which have affiliations with other universities (or some with none at all). For example, Eli Lilly has program with a 10-20 one year positions, or many other pharma companies have other partnerships with other schools to have different program like MCPHS. For these programs, you will submit request for interview on PPS. Your CV will be screened, so taking it seriously and gathering the right experience will matter.


Rutgers is large and been around for a while, but programs within Rutgers are not all the same so really see what specific program/position fits you best. This matters much more than the affiliations you have with a particular fellowship program.


2)How many programs should I apply for?

This is hard for me to recommend because stronger candidate may only need to apply for a few. However, I would always recommend you to apply for more to be safe and use PPS to learn about the programs as well. Programs may look great on paper but meeting the paper and preceptors to understand the culture is essential. You will be there for two years!


I would say have at least 10 first round interviews and go as much as 20s depending on your interest. However, I will ensure that if you get second rounds, you won’t have time so know ahead of time which one are exploring program and which one are target high priority ones. Try to interview for your top priority earlier so you can ensure room on your schedule to schedule second rounds. It’s totally alright to decline second round interviews for programs you are not as interested in if you don’t have the time.


Finally don’t mess up your schedule and try to account for transportation time between interviews and try to build in breaks between each interview if possible. (This is where applying early and doing your homework helps). Try to focus on 1 area of industry (Regulatory, Medical affairs, Clinical, HEOR etc..). If you need to, you can try for 2, but I think 3 is when you are spreading yourself too thin. Also, applying broadly to different areas can make you seem like a less focused candidate.


3)What can I expect from the interview and did I hear something about Receptions?

Each program interviews differently. Some programs only have 1 round while others have 3 at PPS. (Thus do your research and know how many rounds of interview they have) If you don’t make it to their final round of interview, your chances of getting the position is slim to none. Usually if there are multiple rounds, first round would be with the current fellows and later round would be with the preceptor/fellowship director. Be prepared for “tell me about yourself and why you are interested in the program”. I would recommend to practice this elevator speech repeatedly because you will use it over and over again. Some programs will grill you with situational questions in which case the recommendation have been to response with the STAR technique and draw from your key experience that highlight your involvement in the area. (Note: although interviewers may have your CV/Cover letter, they don’t have much time to read it or remember much from it so make sure to communicate it during the interview). This applies if the interview is more laid back and is just a conversation. Make sure you are able to communicate your qualification, personality and experiences in a short amount of time while being comfortable. This is an interview for both sides as you want to make sure the program is what you want as well, so come prepared with questions (you can’t find the answer to online already)


If you make it to the final rounds of interview, some company or programs may have receptions they invite you to. Again you should do your research and know if the programs have receptions, if not don’t worry about it. Receptions are an opportunity for programs to know you outside of an interview setting. You are spending up to 2 years with the program, and you can’t be working 24/7 the whole time so how you mingle in social settings are important. Don’t stress about this but do know that you are being evaluated so just smile and have a good time. If you are lucky, you may have multiple events on any given nights. Make sure to drop by the programs you are interested in and say hi to the directors/fellows you interview with to express you interest and leave a bit early but try to end up at the place that’s at the top of your list since you want to spend more time with the people you hope to join. Receptions are great opportunities to gauge the program’s interest in you. If you are top candidate, people may look for you, try to talk to you more or remember more about you because this will increase your chances of applying for their program. Again: you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you to see what’s the best fit for both sides!


4)What are some key Do and Don’ts I should keep in mind?

Do:Smile and try to enjoy the process as you hopefully only go through it once. Thank everyone for their time to interview you (many bring blank thank you cards to ASHP and write it after each interview but that’s a personal decision). Highlight your qualifications and experiences in a sincere non-show off way. Take the chance to learn more about the program. Express strong interest in a program if they are truly you number one choice.


Don’t:Appear disinterested or feel overly qualified for anything. Get too drunk at reception or be too stressed at interviews. Be rude or too competitiveness with your fellow applicants because they may be your colleague or boss someday. Wing it because there is a lot going on at ASHP so plan ahead.


5)I made it through PPS, now what?

Congrats, you would be very comfortable interviewing if you made it through PPS. Some may get calls from competitive programs right away after PPS for final round interviews while other will wait til they get application materials. So decide on the programs you are applying to, get your application in right away  (hopefully ones that you make it to through all rounds of interview for at PPS and have a good feeling about) and let your letter writer know what is your final list of programs and where to send their recommendations to (you may have already done that before PPS for some programs).


Typically, final interviews start at the beginning of January but can happen in December depending on the program. Most are on site but some program (like mine) have webex interview for final round. These would be more formal interviews (unlike the 20-30min PPS interviews) and can ask for presentations in some cases so be prepared.


Try to arrange interview for your top programs first since you don’t want to be in a position where you get an offer you have decide on before you even interview for your dream program. (If you are in this position where you get accepted for a program but prefer another, let your dream program know your situation and see if they can interview you/decide earlier)


If you are applying for fellowship, plan a easy rotation for Jan-Feb because you might be traveling for interviews so give your preceptor a heads up.


6)Final Notes: Deciding on a program and applying for Residency + Fellowships

Applying for fellowship is like applying for a job so things happen faster. Programs won’t wait too long once they offer it to you because they know if you don’t accept right away you are considering another program, and they don’t want to lose their other candidates to other programs. Pick the program where you like the people, the work and the location. This is why you should learn all about the program before you decide. Fellowship process requires a lot of planning, organization and motivation which makes since because a fellow will need to be independent and self motivated to excel.


Now for those considering to apply for residency at the same, I won’t discourage if you are interested. However, I do caution you that applying for both is a lot work and just know you have decide on a fellowship (if accepted) usually before Match Date so make sure you are committed to fellowships you prefer over residencies. Also figuring out your letter writer can difficult because it may be hard to convey why you are interested in so many things. (same reason I say focus on 1 or 2 areas within industry)


I am sure this just scratch the surface of all your questions in the preparation for fellowships, but it’s a start. Best of luck on the process and feel free to ask questions in the comment section below!


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