The Alea Interview… with Pav Vilkhu
Pav Vilkhu, Account Manager at Dice, discusses her personal connection to pharma and how she’s been supporting those in need during the pandemic.
How did you first get into medical communications?
It was a happy accident really. My background was in accounting – I worked for Grant Thornton before going into teaching for a short while. However, it just so happened that I had a friend who worked for Dice. When I started to look for jobs back in the corporate arena, she had accepted another job elsewhere, but didn’t want to leave Dice in the lurch. She asked me if I was interested, and I thought “Sure, why not?”
I started part-time as an office manager, but soon started picking up more work on client accounts. Having come from a client-facing background, dealing with clients was my thing, so account management seemed like a good fit for me. The great thing about Dice is that you’re not pigeonholed into a role. Yes, there are specialist roles, but if we want to challenge ourselves, Matthew (Dickinson) is great at asking how the company can help with that.
What was your experience or perception of the pharma industry prior to joining Dice?
I came into it quite naively, to be honest. On a personal level, my dad had been diagnosed with leukaemia a few days before I accepted the role at Dice, and as a family we were going through new territory with dad and his illness. I remember talking to members of the team who were compassionate about my family’s situation and how to manage it, and this gave me a really positive introduction to pharma.
Although dad was given the all clear in January 2020, unfortunately he contracted Covid in April and sadly passed away in May. We ended up saying goodbye to him via a computer screen, and having previously seen news about other people going through the same thing, you go from being sympathetic to empathetic.
It’s sad that the industry gets so much bad press; there are lots of hard-working people, but when it comes to Joe Public it seems to fare badly at times. As unfortunate and devastating as the pandemic has been, for pharma it has provided the opportunity to showcase just how much good we can and do actually do..
What aspects of your job do you find the most rewarding?
I love the feeling that I am doing something good. In my corporate career, I trained in insolvency, which sadly often meant closures and job losses, and could ruin people’s lives. In pharma, no matter how big or small your role is, you genuinely feel like you are helping in some way. The more I work on disease areas, and the more research that comes out, the more perspective I have on how much pharma actually does. Knowing I am part of that is incredibly empowering.
How would you describe the culture at Dice?
It’s a really fun-loving culture, with a beautiful and eclectic mix of people. Everyone brings a different dimension and level of experience to the team. The recently-recruited graduates, for example, bring fresh perspectives, and the senior members of the team provide collective years of expertise and wisdom, making us a real three-dimensional agency, which is very important.
As much as we love having fun, there’s still a strong ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality. Precision and deadlines are everything in this industry, so you have to be on the ball (even the fantasy football one – which Mits, Dice’s Designer and Developer, never seems to lose!). However, little things like a relaxed dress code go a long way to relieving the pressure, without reducing the incentive to work hard. I remember coming in “suited and booted” for my interview, and a couple of colleagues hedged their bets on how long I’d turn up wearing stilettos!
How do you like to unwind outside of work?
I come from an avid hockey family, so that’s my main passion. I am also a massive Liverpool fan, along with Rob, Dice’s Creative Director. All of my siblings are United fans, and my dad supported Chelsea, so you can imagine our house on match days!
I’ve also been doing charity work with the homeless in London over the past three to four years – going out once or twice a week providing hot meals. I carried on doing this throughout the pandemic and also volunteered with a local pharmacy dropping off medicines to vulnerable people who were unable to leave their homes, as well as delivering meals to the elderly in care homes.
As a Sikh, selfless service is something we are taught from a young age and forms the cornerstone of our faith. I feel very blessed and grateful to be able to serve the community, be that providing meals or simply a chat, asking someone how their day or week has been, and I have made so many lovely friends through this work. It’s a real pleasure.
What has the past year taught you, on a personal and professional level?
My ability to use Zoom, Skype and emojis has improved dramatically, that’s for sure! But on a more serious note, I think being ‘stuck’ at home in the midst of a global pandemic, working from home, home schooling and the constant battle for Wi-Fi connection have all been great teachers in the art of patience and resilience. Knowing what really matters, and ‘never mind the rest’, has been a key learning curve for me.
In a weird way, being at home has also brought me closer to some of my clients and colleagues – how often would you have a meeting in your client’s living room, sometimes with their children and/or pets present?! But somehow that feeling of everyone being ‘in the same boat’ has strengthened our connections as people, and ultimately as an agency.
What is the first thing you will do on June 21st?
It’s the cliché answer I know, but I’d love to book a holiday! Everyone at Dice knows that I’m the office eskimo and how I’m always cold, so I’d love to be able to go back to Dubai or Mexico and rekindle the ‘battle of the tans’ with James, Dice’s Art Director, and a fellow sun worshipper!
At the start of last year, I said my vision for 2020 was to set up a Dice office in Barbados. In July, Barbados introduced a Welcome Stamp that allowed people to work there remotely for up to a year, to ease the impact of the pandemic on the country’s travel and tourism industry. Everyone asked if I’d planned it!
In all seriousness, however, the pandemic has fundamentally changed working patterns. We now have a freelancer in New Zealand who we brief work to in the evening, and by the next morning it’s done. It has opened up so many avenues we previously wouldn’t have explored.