Firstly, can you define what commercial science is, and why scientists should consider moving into this sector?
Commercial science is where science meets the customer. It entails commercial functions outside of the laboratory it includes roles such as applications, sales, marketing and technical support, to mention just a few. There are several reasons why scientists may consider moving into the commercial science sector.
First, the commercial science sector allows scientists to contribute to science from a different angle. By working in this sector, scientists can apply their expertise to real-world problems and develop innovative solutions that can benefit society in a tangible way.
Second, the commercial science sector is constantly evolving due to new innovations and technologies, which provide opportunities for career progression and development. Scientists working in this sector can stay up to date with the latest scientific and technological advancements.
Third, the commercial science sector allows scientists to make a difference in industries that develop products and technologies that have the potential to make a difference in people’s lives. For example, one way a commercial scientist would contribute to the success of the medical device company is by promoting and offering a solution that has the potential to improve the lives of diabetic patients.
Fourth, it can offer lucrative career opportunities with competitive salaries, bonuses and benefits, which can be especially attractive for scientists who may be looking for greater financial stability.
Finally, the commercial science sector requires a diverse range of skills, including both technical and soft skills. Scientists who have acquired these skills through their education and previous work experience can make a smooth transition into this industry without requiring any additional qualifications. Overall, the commercial science sector can offer exciting and rewarding career opportunities for scientists looking to make a difference in the world.
Tell us about why you founded the ACCSN.
I established the ACCSN in September 2022 after years of disappointment about the lack of programmes promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the commercial and broader life science sector. I was also frustrated by the absence of black role models and professionals in the field, because this made it more difficult to envision how my own career might develop in the life science industry.
How does the ACCSN help black scientists and those from ethnic minorities advance their careers?
Our goal is to increase the representation of black and ethnic minorities in the commercial science and broader life science industry. To achieve this, we plan to collaborate and co-ordinate with industry experts; connect professionals to create networks; encourage more talented individuals to pursue science careers through mentorship and work experience; educate professionals on career choices, skill development and best practices; and influence organizations to address the lack of diversity in the field. For example, our very first member, Divine Ogar Okafor, originally approached the ACCSN seeking guidance with getting his foot through the door and kickstarting his career in commercial science. With support from the network, it didn’t take long for him to get enrolled into an internship despite having been turned down a few times previously due to lack of experience. By providing work experience and helping Divine put together a career plan, we helped Divine secure a role, and the support from the ACCSN has continued to help him advance in his role.
We also aim to collaborate with academic institutions to improve employability and support UK-based life science companies on their diversity, equity and inclusion challenges.
Tell us about the impact your work is having.
The ACCSN’s work is focused on raising awareness of the diverse range of career opportunities available in the commercial and broader life science sector. Through collaborations with several universities, the ACCSN has participated in career fairs, university engagement sessions and public speaking and has provided support for diversity, equity and inclusion challenges. As a result, the ACCSN has received great feedback from our network and sponsors and this has opened new opportunities for collaboration.
The ACCSN’s main objective is to create a safe space for aspiring and current professionals to collaborate, network and thrive together. Through our platform, the ACCSN provides a community-driven environment for engagement, networking and sharing best practices, opportunities, challenges and solutions.
The ACCSN strongly believes that diversity should not be about lowering the bar but about opening the gate for everyone to excel. As such, the ACCSN equips current and aspiring professionals with the skills and competencies required to not only enter but thrive in the commercial and broader life science industry. This approach highlights that diversity should not compromise talent but instead enriches it.
How can our readers get involved or support the network?
Readers can get involved and support the ACCSN by spreading the word about our network, joining our community on LinkedIn, acting as allies and promoting positive collaborations. Science is diverse in nature, and we believe that its contributors should be diverse too. Forming sponsorship and partnership relationships with life science companies, membership organizations and educational institutions can be instrumental in advancing the mission of the ACCSN.
What have been the key achievements so far?
To mention a few, the ACCSN has recently revamped its mentorship program to provide more comprehensive support and extend its reach to more members. We recognize the vital role of mentorship in breaking down barriers and equipping aspiring and current commercial scientists with the necessary skills to succeed and thrive in the commercial science industry.
ACCSN has successfully formed three collaborative partnerships with Avantor, the Royal Society of Chemistry and Imperial College London. We have actively participated in prominent events such as the ELRIG conference, the UK’s largest drug discovery conference with over 1800 attendees and 160+ exhibitors. Our impactful work has gained recognition, leading to invitations to speak about the importance of diversity and the benefits of mentorship.
In partnership with Imperial College London, ACCSN hosted year 12 and 13 pupils of African-Caribbean heritage at the South Kensington Campus. The event provided an insightful glimpse into studying chemistry at Imperial College, including campus tours, networking with industry professionals, and exploring diverse career opportunities in commercial science. This initiative aimed to inspire the next generation while advocating for a cultural shift in the life science market, emphasizing the importance of diversity, inclusion and a valued talent pipeline for long-term sustainability.
Furthermore, on 7 September 2023, we celebrated our launch event at the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Burlington House, marking a significant milestone in the ACCSN’s journey dedicated to promoting the presence of black and ethnic minorities in the commercial and broader life science industry. The sold-out event included all strands of life sciences; engaging activities, including illuminating panel discussions; and insightful presentations from our esteemed sponsors and keynote speakers. Additionally, it provided invaluable networking opportunities, facilitating connections among like-minded individuals. It was truly an inspiring event and we look forward to holding many more in the future.
What are your ambitions for the ACCSN and where do you envisage it going in future?
The ACCSN has ambitious plans. Our main goal is to become a notable organization that promotes awareness and creates opportunities for black and ethnic minorities in the life science industry. By doing so, we aim to increase the representation of these groups in the industry.
To achieve this, we plan to lead an organization that provides diverse talent, networking events, diversity specialists and training, research and study opportunities. This approach will facilitate change and guarantee that the life science industry reflects the current population.
We will continue to partner with life science organizations to improve cultural competence and foster a thriving environment for professionals. Additionally, we aim to partner with notable organizations to challenge the status quo and instigate positive transformation. We aspire to be at the forefront of organizations dedicated to driving change and being acknowledged for our significant contribution towards promoting diversity and creating opportunities for under-represented groups in the life science industry.
Daniel Similaki has a background in chemistry. While working as a Key Account Manager at a leading global provider of products and services in the pharmaceutical and biotech sector, where he is also the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion lead for Europe, he founded the Afro-Caribbean Commercial Science Network (ACCSN), which aims to raise ethnic representation in the commercial and broader life science sector. The Biochemist spoke to Daniel about the ACCSN’s journey so far.