In conversation with: Refiloe Moetsi

For the latest edition of our recently launched feature, In Conversation With, we are joined by Refiloe Moetsi, who has over 13 years’ experience in the clinical research and pharmaceutical industry.

APR: Welcome Refiloe, and thanks for chatting to us. Please tell us a bit about Refiloe. Who is Refiloe Moetsi?

RM: I was born in Potchefstroom in the North-West province, partly raised in Mabopane and then went back to Potchefstroom. I have 3 siblings and I am a mom to an adorable and smart 9-year-old. I am an introvert, who loves books, comedy, and documentaries (history, biographies and astro-physics).

APR: You spent about a remarkable 13 years with one employer before your recent move, which is not very common these days, with most people keen to switch employers every few years. How did that happen?

RM: Indeed, it isn’t common, however I was in a global organisation and I was able to move to different departments, for completely different roles and it felt like starting afresh every time. Part of me staying that long within the organisation was learning and sharpening my soft skills, the relationships formed, the flexibility that allowed me to be a mom and to study and finally the all-round experience I have gained strategically so, in my own terms. There is no one size fits all to this, but it worked for me.

APR: You also have quite a diverse industry background, having spent some time in Data Management, and you’ve also done some Project Management along with being a Centralized Monitoring Lead function, how have the various roles shaped you differently, if anything?

RM: Yes, I do have a very diverse background which I truly am grateful for, as it has morphed me into the professional I am today. I started in data management and this was my first exposure to global teams. I learned to appreciate our diverse cultures and how to lead projects. Data management has made me value quality, service, be attentive to detail in its true sense and my resilience was tested. Being a Laboratory Project Manager took me out of my shell, I was forced to be tough. And the centralized monitoring lead role gave me exposure to clinical operations.

APR: As mentioned, you recently started a new role, with a new employer, how has the journey been so far? What would an ordinary day look like as you settle in?

RM: Being with one organisation for so many years can be a daunting task to transition from. However, I feel welcomed with my current employer and I am settling in well. One must have an open mind and always be willing to learn. Currently my day is filled with training to understand the new role, the organisation, the projects, and a few refresher trainings about the industry.

APR: Alongside a demand career, you’ve also impressively managed to squeeze in a Post Graduate Diploma in Business administration and an MBA, which would’ve been quite demanding as well. What was the motivation for these, and how did you manage to juggle the two? Couldn’t have been easy.

RM: Thank you. Indeed, it was not easy, but I managed with dedication and being consistent with my mini goals. I have bigger plans for myself and I am moving one step at a time. I was ready. And by this, I mean, my mind was set, my emotions and psychologically I was in the right place. I was ready to commit to the studies and ready to change my situation. The challenges and demands were reduced to nothing by my mindset.

Although I had all the internal factors in order, my external factors had to be in sync. I sacrificed socialising, a few relationships, and my comfort. Furthermore, we cannot exist in isolation; “motho ke motho ka batho” I used all the support I could get from my family. I also strategically enrolled with the NWU because it’s in my hometown, I slept at home during class weekends and exams and my family helped with babysitting my child.

APR: As you know as well, most people tend to bump into the industry purely by accident. How was your experience? How did you first hear about the industry?

RM: Purely by accident as well. A friend referred me to a friend who then shared my CV with HR of the organization. I did not get the job on the first interview, and maybe because I did not even know what the industry was about. However, typical of me I kept looking for other roles and applied and networked like crazy because I felt that I could make it work.

APR: Having been in the industry for as long as you have, what are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way, particularly when it comes developing one’s brand and career?

RM: Never stop learning, never be complacent and you need to stay relevant. The work we do evolve every time, nothing ever stays the same, so we cannot remain with the same set of skills and be rigid about change. Successful organisations maintain their success because they reinvent, the same rules apply to individuals. Work on yourself so much that you stand out.

APR: I’m sure you frequently receive messages from a lot of graduates looking to break into the industry, any wise words for them?

RM: Learn to create opportunities for yourself, no one is coming to get you, while you rest on your laurels. It’s a harsh reality, but necessary to know. Expand your network and find out what is required for the role you are aiming for, then close the gaps you may have as necessary. If you don’t succeed with an interview, learn from it, don’t beat yourself up. See what you can do to improve your interview skills. Not everyone will start their career with an ideal job, I didn’t either. But be strategic, you can take a job that can give you access to having work references, work recommendations and funds that allow you to have access to the internet for example, for your research and networking.

Going back to creating opportunities for yourself, before I joined the industry. I worked for a government veterinary lab for several months. The job was not advertised, I gave them a call and offered to assist free of charge because like most new graduates, I was tired of applying and getting nothing in return. And I also knew they were under resourced. They gave me a chance and I worked for only one month without pay and a contract was created for me after that. I worked like crazy for those few months and when I left, I had great recommendations and references. Stay positive, you can do this.

APR: Tell us about some of the people who have influenced you along the way. Who would you say helped shape Refiloe into who she is today?

RM: My late Dad influenced the love for books and I still admire how he overcame with his resilience. My paternal grandmother and late maternal grandmother have been my consistent cheerleaders as I have progressed, and I am not sure if they know that I believe they are revolutionaries in their own right. Michael Duvenhage who was my manager during the data management years. He encouraged me to speak up.

Daniel Rodrigues who was my manager when I was a project manager was a fair leader, high EQ and he encouraged my quiet strength. Karlien Momberg who was my manager as a Centralized Monitoring lead, was supportive of my studies and was an advocate for change to some extent. Finally, I cannot discount the contribution that one gets from all the relationships one forms along the way, you don’t only learn who you are dealing with, but also what you are made of. It is important to understand yourself.

APR: While many other industries have been brought to their knees by the pandemic over the past 18 months or so, our industry has had a completely different experience. But this has also meant most professionals in the space are busier than usual. How has the experience been for you?

RM: Yeah, considering that resources had to be pulled into COVID-19 projects it has been busier than usual for all of us in this industry. We had to readjust, and fast. So, my experience has been the same.

APR: With the industry being so fast-paced, now probably more than before, how do you recharge your batteries to keep yourself going?

RM: Enough sleep, you learn how valuable this is as you get older, I keep hydrated – water is magic, I watch animated movies with my daughter and comedy in any form does the trick for me before bed. I know it may sound odd, but there is so much bad going on, I cannot recharge by adding to it with stressful activities.

APR: If you were to get a clean slate to back to Refiloe the graduate back in 2004 and start over in the industry, are there any things you would you do differently?

RM: Yes, I would not sell myself short. That is one of the mistakes that came with inexperience. I’d learn to value my time more sooner. Time cannot be recovered.

APR: Thanks for chatting to us Refiloe. It’s been a pleasure.

Refiloe Moetsi is a Clinical Team Manager with more than 13 years of experience in the clinical research and pharmaceutical industry. Her depth of experience managing clinical trials consists of phase I, II, III, and IV trials including the implementation of study protocols, data management, lab project management, centralized clinical monitoring, site activation, quality start up to close-out activities across North America, Asia Pacific, Europe and Africa. Refiloe Moetsi holds a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of the Free State, Post Graduate Diploma in Business administration from North West University and an MBA from North West University.