Changing gears in a scientific career

GSK medic, Emma Hilton, tells us about her career in science and how she makes hard work easier.

Emma Hilton joined GSK in 2013 as a Global Medical Manager, supporting the launch of a respiratory medicine for asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). She is now is a Global Medical Affairs Leader in COPD.

Before joining GSK, Emma worked as a doctor in respiratory medicine. She also has a Master of Science (MSc) in Clinical Pharmacology and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in translational respiratory research. Emma talks about pursuing a career in science, the challenges she’s faced and the importance of maintaining a healthy work life balance.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The diversity. I work with lots of different people, from research and development teams to commercial teams working on marketing campaigns. All are different, so I am constantly changing gears and need to use my skills as a scientist and clinician, while also being commercially aware. Having this breadth is both challenging and rewarding – things move quickly and no two days are the same so you don’t get bored, which is great for me!

Keep an open mind and see where life takes you. If you find something you’re passionate about, you should do it.

What advice would you give to people who are interested in pursuing a career in science?

“Keep an open mind and see where life takes you. If you find something you’re passionate about, you should do it.”

I always wanted a career in science but it’s a broad area so it can be difficult to know where you want to end up. It can feel like you either become a ‘proper lab scientist’ or do something else entirely but in reality there are lots of other things in between.

For those in a similar position, my advice would be to not worry too much, you don’t need to map out your entire career and even if you did, it would likely change! Opportunities will come along and it will naturally happen. Try out different roles and types of science to see what you enjoy. Whether it is laboratory science or patient orientated science, eventually you will find your way into something that you both enjoy and excel at.

Once you’ve found something you really enjoy, the hard work becomes easier.

You have achieved a lot at a young age. What strengths did you draw on to help you?

My career means a lot to me and along the way I’ve met some really inspiring, supportive people who’ve given me some great advice. The things that have really helped me are:

  • A huge amount of determination – I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a doctor. That requires a huge amount of tenacity because when you’re training, you have to try and find time to study and do exams, while also working to treat patients every day. Once you’ve mastered this, everything else almost becomes easy.

  • A passion and love for what I do – Being driven by doing something you are passionate about is crucial. Once you’ve found something you really enjoy, the hard work becomes easier because you feel motivated to understand more, to read more and to learn more, which is why I loved my PhD. I find the whole process of developing medicines absolutely fascinating which again makes it easy to be enthusiastic about what I do. 

You must have faced challenges along the way. How did you overcome them?

At times, I’ve had the impression that as a youngish looking female you have to work slightly harder to gain respect. I’ve approached that by being true to myself. I always do things to the best of my ability, and play to my strengths and my knowledge base. In most situations that is enough, and where it isn’t, maybe I wasn’t the right person to do that particular task or role.

What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received?

Just be yourself. It sounds so simple but being genuinely who you are is what will keep you happy in the long-term. Set out your own values about yourself and your life and try and stick to them.

We all know the stresses of work / life balance – how do you cope during busy times?

When your job is very busy you could work day in day out indefinitely and still have more to do, so you have to draw a line and be brutal at prioritising. For example, committing to an exercise class or making a decision to leave work on time. Everybody needs to rest.

Tell us something surprising about you?

I recently started training to be a yoga teacher. I’m a bit of a yoga fanatic and wanted to learn more about the discipline. As a doctor you focus very much on disease processes and how your body physically changes but I’m really interested to learn more about how disciplines like yoga and meditation can make you feel more mentally healthy.