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Interview with Ms. Nitharna Sivarajah (MHRA)

We were fortunate enough to have ANOTHER virtual interview with Cambridge graduate - Ms Nitharna Sivarajah from the the Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Read about her personal journey below.

  1. What is your current role at the Medicine and healthcare regulation agency?

I'm currently an associate signal assessor. This role falls under the division of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines at the MHRA and relates particularly to the area of pharmacovigilance. This term refers to the continuous monitoring of a medicine's safety profile, ie the medicine's risk of side-effects vs its intended therapeutic benefit, after it has been licensed. At a day to day level, my role is part of the UK'S Yellow Card Scheme through which health care professionals and patients can report any suspected side effects they've experienced to a medicine. We process these reports into our database as well as any reports we've received via the medicine's license holder. We then evaluate any reported side effects that may be of potential concern (a signal) and take these forward as necessary.

2. Could you outline your journey prior to this job role?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge, particularly focusing on pharmacology and neuroscience. I was unsure what direction to take next in terms of career field so did a 3 month internship at Cancer Research UK as I had always been interested in the voluntary sector, here I helped develop new fundraising initiative ideas. This however wasn't for me so I then considered a mix of science and policy and began a role with the Government Office for Science, the Office for the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor. Here I worked for 10 months in a team that looked at potential long term impacts to the UK in different areas, such as from an ageing population and increased urbanisation. While the Office did various interesting work, I wanted a role more related to my degree and medicines. So I turned my sights to the MHRA, where I began as a pharmacovigilance service associate, providing support to EU level committee members and the division and building my understanding of pharmacovigilance, before beginning my current role a year later.

3. Would having a PhD be beneficial in your role?

There are roughly 15-20 signal assessors and we all have a range of qualification levels - undergraduates, masters, pharmacists and perhaps 1 or 2 PhDs. However, for the signal assessor role we all cover a wide variety of medicines and tasks so I don't think the specialism provided with a PhD is particularly necessary. However it is important to show you have strong attention to detail and ability to assess and evaluate information of a scientific nature, whatever your qualification may be.

4. What do you hope to be doing in 5yrs?

It's taken me 3 years since graduating to finally find a role and field that I'm excited by! But I'm happy to finally be able to say I think I'd like to still be working in pharmacovigilance in 5 years’ time. However pharmacovigilance is done by all national regulators and pharmaceutical companies as well as having a coordinating agency at EU level (European Medicine's Agency) who are based in London until Brexit. So I may explore the different organisations and find a particular focus point in pharmacovigilance, perhaps in a pharmaceutical company. But the MHRA deals with such a range of areas related to medicines and devices so I may end up finding a different field here!

5. What tips would you offer PhD students hoping to work in apply for this or similar roles?

It's a very interesting role with a steep learning curve and lots of variety and exciting projects, once you get past the initial learning stages and routine tasks. There are regular rounds of recruitment so follow MHRA on LinkedIn or keep an eye on the civil service website. If you're thinking of applying, draw on whatever experience you have, even if not an employment example - we have people who have joined us straight out of their undergraduate degree. Prior pharmacovigilance experience isn't particularly necessary but show in your application / interview that you've done your background reading on why pharmacovigilance is important and have examples of outcomes - the MHRA website and it's drug safety updates have plenty! Finally, you'll only ever really know if a role is for you if you try it. If it's not for you, then you'll still learn plenty and gain experiences as I've found, so give it a go!

To hear more stories likes this, come along to our PhD Careers Event on Wednesday 22nd March, click HERE for more info.

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