Research & development, Esprit R&D

Neil, Associate, Esprit R&D

Neil’s journey on a fast-track to scientific leadership

Esprit R&D is a three-year developmental programme designed to develop future scientific leaders.  Neil Sheppard, a former Esprit R&D Associate, shares his experiences of the scheme and what he has learned.

When I applied for GSK’s Esprit R&D programme, I had been working in R&D (with big Pharma) for five years, and was enjoying my role as a vaccines research programme leader.  My first few years in industry had been rich in development opportunities but I knew I wanted to grow my capabilities further. I thought I could offer more if only I could get the right mix of experiences to develop a more holistic understanding of the R&D process. These insights would then help me to  provide more informed leadership to support the delivery of medicines through the pipeline to patients. But how would I get such experiences? Which part of the R&D process would be the best fit for someone with my interests and talent profile?

Typically, gaining such experiences in the R&D  industry involvesprogressing along a career path that runs parallel to a product’s development cycle. In this situation, development opportunities are closely tied to the performance and continued success of the asset (potential medicine/vaccine) you are working on. t is also common for the leader of an asset to change as it moves into clinical development. While this process allows for some jumps and breaks into new business areasthe number of opportunities to move to other parts of the business without prior experience is often limited.

So, when I saw the advert for the Esprit R&D programme, I just knew I had to apply.  The scheme is designed to allow the individual to select three, year-long rotations, across the business. It enables you to broaden your skill sets and gain the hands-on experience you need to help you identify and grow towards the career you wish to pursue. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I was successful in my application!

The Esprit R&D programme has given me the opportunities I longed for. I wanted to pursue rotations that would give me experience in an entirely different disease area to vaccines. Check. I wanted to gain knowledge as a member of a clinical programme and to understand the process behind global regulatory submissions.Check. I wanted to align myself well for a full-time leadership role in one of the hottest areas of biomedical research today. Check

It is perfectly normal, and even desirable, to feel in over your head in the first weeks or months of a new rotation. That is a sign you have selected something truly stretching rather than retreading old ground. The learning curves on each rotation were fantastic, and I got a huge amount of support from my managers, colleagues and senior mentors. It is incredible to think that I was mentored by a Therapeutic Area Leader and the General Manager of GSK Australia at different times while on the programme. Getting that kind of access to senior leaders was great for building my understanding of the company, our priorities and strategy, and of course for developing a network of contacts across the business.

Esprit R&D has been a thoroughly enjoyable and stretching journey of both professional and personal growth.I have recently come off the programme and into a permanent role as a Scientific Director in Cell & Gene Therapy for Oncology, a role that I am extremely excited about.  Not only do I now feel more capable of adding value back at a much higher level than before, I also intend to keep up the good habits learned on Esprit, and will continue to stretch myself to grow and deliver.

Find out more about our Esprit R&D programme.