A day in the life of a scientific regulatory affairs manager

Written by: Elisabeth Pain
Published on: Sep 29, 2021

Adrian Land
Adrian D. Land

In his scientific career, Adrian Land has hit all three of the classic academia-government-industry triumvirate. "The problems have changed," says Land, who after completing a Ph.D. and postdoc in microbiology worked at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before moving to regulatory affairs at consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. And "the environment in which I'm going to answer them is a bit different." But, Land continues, "I still see myself as a deeply analytical thinker and a problem solver." All the skills he gained in academia "allowed me to get a fast start in each of my roles, whether I was shifting from academia to government or from government to industry."

Land's current job as a global senior regulatory manager involves figuring out the regulatory landscape for a given market and devising pathways and rules to ensure that his company's R&D, legal, and marketing efforts converge into a compliant product. One of the things he likes best about his current role, he says, is "being able to use my expertise to enable my teams to take the things that they've been working so hard on and go from just ideation to something that is on the shelf, in the stores, on television."

Land spoke with Science Careers about what the day-to-day of his job is like and why it's a good fit for him. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: What specific tasks does your role involve?

A: I support our beauty care business, and my primary responsibility is to help get new products—which often employ new technologies—to market. So my role often starts with giving my input on developing technologies, and once they reach that stage when they can be developed into a product, I talk to the R&D team to learn more about the chemistry underpinning the technology we would like to market. I also partner with our safety team to ensure that the technology is going to be safe and effective for consumers. Then I work with the legal and marketing teams to see how we are going to develop and market the product, and I give them guidance to ensure that it fits within the expectations for cosmetic products in a given country. Once the product gets closer to market, I am involved in some of the commercial executions, for example helping to shape the language in commercial claims or the artwork and label on the package. Once the product is launched and in stores, the process basically starts over again with the next iteration of the product, or when we want to market it in a new country.

Q: What skills do you use in your job?

A: One is having a working knowledge of the different processes that go into putting a product on the shelf, including manufacturing practices, analytical work, packaging requirements, and local and global regulations. Being able to work collaboratively is also a huge part of being successful in this role. Besides working on multidisciplinary teams, we interact with the people who get the materials ordered and the workers in the plant. Then, we also have to work with state, local, and federal governmental organizations and understand their expectations and needs. Moreover, we constantly need to try to anticipate emerging situations that will impact our business and the products that we have on the shelves. And the last and the most important piece is communication. You have to convey multifaceted ideas and complex concepts, strategies, and principles to your stakeholders, both internal and external, in a way that is relevant and understandable to them. Getting everyone on the same page and ensuring that we're all working toward the same goal is a huge part of the role.

Q: What did you have to learn when you started?

A: I had gained some understanding of what the U.S. regulatory environment looks like during my time with the FDA. As I shifted to industry, I had to learn things like how R&D connected to the business needs, or even to anticipate what a business need could be; the complexity of advertising and marketing; and what it means to commercialize a product. Even now, there's always a ton to learn, as the regulatory environment is constantly changing—which is also part of the fun of the job. In the past 6 months, for example, the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] Act has opened up new regulatory pathways and opportunities to leverage technologies.

Q: What's your favorite part of your job?

A: So much of my output in my previous roles was far away from something that was tangible for my loved ones, and now I work on something that you can hold and feel and touch. I can bring a product home and say to my children, "Daddy worked on this." Having my wife and mom use a technology that I helped develop and commercialize, seeing a commercial that I had some input on, or going into a store and seeing one of my products on the shelf—that has really been enjoyable for me in a way that I didn't expect. It has also made my shopping trips a lot longer!

Q: Are there elements of your job that some people might dislike?

A: There are times when I have to deliver difficult news, often when things that are outside of our control will not enable us to move forward as we originally planned. Part of my job is to come up with alternative pathways, but it's still difficult to say, "Hey, we've all been working hard on this, but we just can't move forward with that idea right now, and we have to shift gears a little bit." That is never fun.

Q: Is there anything you miss from academia?

A: I always miss some aspects of academia, especially engaging and teaching students and interacting with people who are new in their careers. But I get some of that in my current role, too. Alongside my typical day-to-day job responsibilities, I coach and train junior staff, and I am also involved in recruiting and retention programs. Our organization has been good at leveraging employees' strengths and particular interests to build job responsibilities.

Q: What is your typical daily schedule?

A: I'm sort of a health and fitness junkie, so I usually get up at around 4:45 or 5 a.m. and go downstairs to my little home gym. This is how I get myself going in the morning and how I keep myself grounded, a habit that I initiated in graduate school. Then I usually start my workday at about 6 a.m., because a lot of my role is with my teams in Europe and Asia and this allows me to be part of their workday. I work until around 4 o'clock on most days. There are times when there are meetings and emergencies that require me to jump on a call later, but I take those calls from home, the car, or other places where I need to be. I coach youth sports in the late afternoon, and that has been a fun outlet for my competitive nature and a chance to spend that additional time with my children.

Q: What advice would you give to young scientists who are interested in a career like yours?

A: First, develop mastery in your current field. But it's also hugely important to read broadly and understand what types of jobs are out there, for example by doing informational interviews and internships. An undergraduate internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is actually what sparked my early interest in science policy and regulation. This really changed my outlook, and the following semester I changed my classwork so I could fit in all the prerequisites to be able to apply to graduate schools in January that same year.

Something I found helpful further down the way was seeking the support of career counselors at my graduate and postdoc institutions to relate the skills I had developed to opportunities in different fields. I also encourage developing mentoring relationships. There were people who came along to mentor me and helped me in ways that I didn't even realize I needed and showed me opportunities that I didn't realize were available to me, or to someone like me. I am from a rural area in Mississippi, and the idea that there are people out there with these sorts of careers in science never occurred to me, because it was not something I was ever exposed to. Finally, seek inspiration, both in yourself and from others. A conference for minority students I attended as a graduate student had a huge impact on how I saw myself and how I saw what was possible for me. It showed me that there was a community that was doing it and supporting one another, and the mountain didn't seem as daunting once I saw that other people had made it to the summit. Over the years, I've tried to stay involved in the conference and in other initiatives to continue to build bridges and connect and support all students, and certainly students of color.

Elisabeth Pain is contributing editor for Europe.

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