Alumni Profile: Paul Farrow
Green College alumnus Paul Farrow (DPhil Clinical Pharmacology, 2005) is the Oxford Barns Office Lead for Oxford PharmaGenesis, an award-winning HealthScience communications consultancy helping the healthcare industry, professional societies and patient groups to communicate medical evidence effectively.
Paul studied biological sciences at the University of Birmingham (1997–2001) before starting a PhD in the Gene Delivery Group (Institute for Cancer Studies, also at University of Birmingham) under the supervision of Professor Leonard W Seymour.
A year into Paul’s studies, the research group (and Paul’s PhD) relocated to Oxford to join Professor David Kerr, who had been appointed Head of the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Oxford.
Here, Paul discusses his time in Oxford:
‘Green College was the natural choice for graduate students studying medicine and related disciplines. It also had the advantage of being next door to the old Radcliffe Infirmary – the first floor of which was to be our new lab. We shared the space with several research groups who had moved from elsewhere in Oxford (plus the occasional feral pigeon) and soon built a tight-knit community – many of us are still close friends and collaborators today. Although I didn’t live at the college, I was fortunate to experience the academic community, fantastic facilities and beautiful surroundings. I recall particularly enjoying many an hour on the squash courts after leaving the lab, before joining the rest of the team for drinks in the Royal Oak Tavern over the road from the college.
‘It was a hard decision to leave academia, but life at the bench just wasn’t for me. I wanted to maintain close links with medical research and looked at various careers in the related disciplines, but opportunities in patent law and medical publishing didn’t feel right. Then, in New Scientist, I saw an advert for a job involving writing medical communications from converted barns in the Oxfordshire countryside. Few of us had heard of medical communications back then and some of my friends were uneasy about me joining what they saw as marketing for the pharmaceutical industry (generally seen as ‘the dark side’). However, it sounded like an interesting role, so I applied, did the writing test and interviews and got the job as a Medical Writer.
‘When I joined Oxford PharmaGenesis, it was a small consultancy of about 20 people. From my very first day, I was given opportunities to develop as a writer, grow strong client relationships and have a key role in a young team that built our biggest account. Most importantly, I got to work on cutting-edge science and learn from brilliant colleagues, clients and world experts alike.
‘Fifteen years on, we are a global community of more than 350 people and my role has grown to look after 150 or so in our Oxford Barns office. Our independence as a company protects us from external financial influence and has helped to bring long-term stability. We work on interesting projects that benefit patients and have a real impact on the world, rather than focusing on profits – something that is appreciated by our clients and colleagues. We’ve grown steadily and have been recognized with several awards including our second Queen’s Award for Enterprise, the UK’s highest accolade for business success, and are proud to be officially recognized by our employees as a Great Place to Work.
‘The chequered past of the pharmaceutical and medical communications industries greatly influenced my career focus: to develop and showcase best practice to help build trust in science and medicine. Through the work of the authors of the Good Publication Practice guidelines for pharmaceutical companies (currently undergoing its third evolution) and groups such as the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (founded in 2005), work was already underway to professionalize medical communications even before I joined the industry. At Oxford PharmaGenesis, I have the support to help drive this agenda further and have regularly contributed to research and educational initiatives for ISMPP, culminating in the delivery of two successful European meetings (member of the Programme Committee, 2018–2019). For a decade now, I have also taught publication ethics to postgraduate students on the MSc Experimental and Translational Therapeutics course at the University of Oxford.
‘Although great progress has been made in the quest for transparency in science, there is still more to do. To that end, I helped to found the Open Pharma initiative, which brings together several top pharma companies, publishers, patients, regulators, non-pharma funders and academic societies to learn from the open science movement and drive positive change in how pharma-sponsored research is communicated. We look to drive greater transparency, accountability, accessibility and discoverability of research, currently with a strong focus on open access (you can sign our position statement here). We’re proud to have helped several major pharma companies to significantly increase the proportion of their publications that are open access.
‘Away from the laptop, I’m known to accept a challenge even if I’m not particularly well equipped for it. In 2019, I was a member of the Trifecta team (supported by Oxford PharmaGenesis) that completed the National Three Peaks Challenge to climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. In the process, we raised more than £20 000 for three health-related charities based in Oxfordshire. It’s an adventure I’ll never forget.
‘Looking back, I realize how fortunate I am to have found myself in Oxford at Green College without even planning it. The DPhil experience, support from the college tutors and great research team prepared me for a successful career in a profession I’d never even heard of. I hope that sharing my experience can help students identify and succeed in valuable science careers outside of academia.
‘Visiting Green Templeton College in early 2020 brought back fond memories of my student days. I also got to hear how the college community has evolved and today makes an even bigger difference to science and medicine, and communication through the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. I also had a little fun, supporting Bursar Timothy Clayden with his mad dash across the UK to help raise funds on the first GTC Giving Day (I’m still not sure how I ended up in Cardiff). I’d definitely encourage other alumni to turn back time and get involved too.’
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