Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

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Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu May 24, 2018 4:55 pm


We've had many people come here over the years and lament about the fact that they are in lab-based positions. They often describe the kind of work they'd like to do as "office based" or science oriented but without the lab bench. My hunch is that this happens frequently because by the time a person gets their PhD and perhaps even a postdoc, they are fried on the lab bench and want to try their hand at something else.

1) Product Manager: A product manager can be either a junior person or it can be a very senior marketing expert, so you can't always tell by the title. My colleague at our recruiting firm, Dr. Ryan Raver, has written a lot about careers in this field, as he went from his PhD to product management roles in supplier companies. It's a great career track, leading to marketing management positions.

2) Sales Rep: Dick Woodward and I wrote an article years ago on this site called "His Mother Cried When He Went into Sales" and it was a big hit. I think it has opened the eyes of many early stage scientists over the years to the fact that selling technical solutions can be a very appropriate career choice, with lots of income and promotional opportunities. See

3) Applications Scientists: We've written about these posts here and have discussed them at length. Often the first stage of employment for those who want access to #1 or #2 above.

4) Business Development: What a fascinating career choice, but there are far fewer total jobs in this category. (Every company needs a couple of BD people, but they don't fill out entire ranks of people with this job title.) BD people work with science and intellectual property, but in collaboration with other entities. They are "deal makers" and represent the company in discussions about mergers, collaborations of all kinds. Fun -- working with scientists, but not at the bench!


I can think of a dozen other jobs that should be in a thread like this. How about if you jump in and offer them up, and we'll discuss them?

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Re: Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby D.X. » Fri May 25, 2018 3:39 am

Hi - I can add:

1. Project Manager: can be a good first step from the bench, responsible for having an overview of varied projects with objectives, timelines, and resources mapped. Key role is to identify risks and help set up mitigation plans. They can be deployed anywhere in organizations. High attention to detail that scientists carry is an asset especially management of project with high complexity, and capablity to have high science and techinical discussions with project responsibles is a benefit. This can be low hanging fruit. Future career development wise i've seen lab bench folks go this route and have experiences that let them take a product from research through early development, ulitmately being a Product Team Lead or late down the road, R&D Program Development Lead or Head for a TA or Portofilo.

2. Technical Operations/QA: ensuring physical product is within specifications that define Quality - whereas not on the bench they can be apart of proceeses aiming to acheive and ensure Quality, assess specification deviations and trigger investigation accordingly. High science knowledge needed to help interpret and communicate findings. High cross-functional work to include collorations with other Technical Operations functions, Regulatory Affairs, Drug Supply, Production Line folk, QC scientists etc. etc. Opportunites to grow into Techincial Operations and other Pharmadevelopment roles that manage the delivery of the physcial asset from manufacturing to customer or end distrubutor.

3. Medical Writer: From the lab-bench can go into technical writing to support techincal components of varied Regulatory Dossiers. Can be broad from the technical scientific details of production to clinical data as relevant such as pivitol study data and/or drug safety data. Can find roles after exposure in Regulatory Affairs or Drug Safety at entry-level and grow from there.

Some can go into Publications from a clinical perspective to support communication of clinical data generated and sponsored by the company. There are many places a Medical Writer can sit. Can be highly techincial, however can give very broad and fast eposure to clinical data - can bridge quickly depending on personality and interest to other roles be it on the agency or eventually in-house pharma in varied roles beyond medical writer such as publications management or other medical affairs roles.

4. Market Research Specialist: Usually in pharma - For those looking more commercial yet using high science analytical skills this can be a good entry to understand Marketing. Can be grunt work in the begining, i.e. excell file programing, deep quesionnair development, data-gathering work, and compiling data for output. But alot of opportunity to see boarder picture. Good opps to grow in MR, especially on agency side and eventual transition to in-house. I've seen MR folks grow in Market Research it-self or transition internally to entry level Brand Management role (only accessible to people with experience, so MR would qualify). Fairly easy access, many agencies looking for grunt workers. Fast learning opportunity.

Those are just a few i think relatively lower hanging fruit folks can look at.

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Re: Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby M.W.S. » Fri May 25, 2018 4:39 am

Hi everyone,

Thanks for all of the information. Can anyone comment on how to advance from a phd-level lab position to strategy development?


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Re: Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby D.X. » Fri May 25, 2018 9:00 am

M.W.S. wrote:Hi everyone,

Thanks for all of the information. Can anyone comment on how to advance from a phd-level lab position to strategy development?



What do you mean by "strategy development?" - to develop what? what sector? you need to be clearer.

And strategy let's say is not a next step in general from the bench. Its more first about tactical exectution say administrative/grunt-work wise of an operational plan - once you're proficient with tactical execution then you build to more strategic abitions as a genearal rule of thumb.

And strategy development ..well many people are involved in different functions..from what function do you want to eventually par-take in "strategy development" Please expand if you want help.

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Re: Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri May 25, 2018 10:08 am

Strategy Development, from a recruiting perspective, is something required in many jobs, and over the years dozens and dozens of searches we've taken on have had that language in the official job description. But I don't see it as a stand alone job.

You have research program strategy development, for example, where the direction of R&D is set by those who have this expertise (along with teams of others, because it certainly isn't done in isolation). We have a current assignment from the largest non-profit in the world of maize improvement, and the person they are looking for will head the strategy development for their grants that go out to donors to fund new research, new varieties of this food security crop. That's a good example of where you'll find the topic of strategy development.

I'd suggest project management training for those who want to be more involved in strategy. It's only by learning how large projects are funded and how they move through organizations that a person can get a handle on better or different strategies.

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Re: Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby Caroline Ritchie » Sun Jun 03, 2018 6:17 am

I recently wrote a list of 50 careers for PhD scientists, which I have copied/pasted below. Some are lab-based, but most are not.


1. High School Teacher – Teach younger students science and enjoy higher pay because of your PhD.

2. Community College Professor – Work as an adjunct as you work your way up the ladder or continue as an adjunct as a side gig. Many community colleges have tenured professorships as well. Share your passion for science with college students without the stress of applying for research funding.

3. Research Professor – Engage in independent research, grow a lab, and teach students how to ask and answer important scientific questions.

4. Online Teacher – Create your own science courses to sell on Teachable, Udemy, or some other platform. Some teachers make over 6 figures per year teaching their courses online.

Industry Research

5. Pharmacology Scientist – Discover how a drug or small molecule works using many of the same techniques you used in graduate school.

6. Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics Scientist – Design and analyze study results in animals and humans to understand how a molecule is metabolized by the body.

7. Toxicology Scientist – Design and analyze study results in animals to determine how a molecule affects the body and different organ systems.


8. Academic Medical Writer – Work in an academic institution, writing grants, manuscripts, and other important scientific documents.

9. Publication Writer/Scientific Communications – Assist in publication planning, publication writing, and conference support directly for a pharmaceutical/medical device company or support many clients by working for a contract research organization or specialty communications firm.

10. Regulatory Medical Writer – Prepare documents for health authorities, including clinical trial protocols, investigator brochures, clinical study reports, and drug applications. See my post on regulatory writing for more information.

11. Medical Editor – Provide minor editing and substantive editing services for medical or regulatory documents.

12. Scientific Editor – Provide editing services for manuscripts, grants, and other scientific documents. This skill is in high demand, especially for editing manuscripts written by non-native English speakers.

13. Scientific Translator – If you are bilingual and are well-versed in communicating scientific concepts in both languages, scientific translators are in high demand. Translate a variety of scientific documents, including publications and regulatory documents.

14. Scientific Journalism – Write about science and scientific news for non-scientists.

Scientific Customer Support

15. Medical Science Liaison – Support physicians and other customers by explaining the landscape of a product (competitors, most recent data), and providing up-to-date evidence to support a product’s claims.

16. Field Application Scientist – Support customers in using a company’s product; offer hands-on training and trouble-shooting.

17. Facilities Manager or Director – Oversee core scientific facilities (often at research institutions) to ensure that equipment is maintained and services are completed (eg, Director of Mass Spectrometry Core Facilities).

Sales/Sales Support

18. Salesperson – Work directly with current customers and potential customers to sell a product or secure a contract. Connect customers with other internal personnel (eg, field application scientists) to ensure they receive the support needed.

19. Marketer – Develop science-based collateral to communicate the benefits of a product; work closely with sales teams to provide them with information/materials.

20. Business Development Manager – Prepare proposals to secure contracts with customers.

21. Product Manager – Lead marketing/sales teams by serving as product expert, liaising with internal stakeholders and customers.

Clinical (Non-bench) Research

22. Clinical Educator – Provide educational material and training for internal (eg, medical science liaisons) and external (eg, physicians) stakeholders.

23. Clinical Research Associate – Support clinical trials by working directly on project teams to ensure data clinical trial protocols are adhered to, data are documented, and any questions from investigators are answered.

24. Clinical Trial Manager – Serve as a project manager for a specific clinical trial, by directing other clinical study team members and overseeing overall timelines and budget.

25. Medical Affairs Specialist – Support a company’s product development, from concept through launch and marketing.

26. Medical Information Specialist – Serve as a scientific content expert, and support the educational needs of both internal and external stakeholders.

27. Pharmacovigilance Specialist – Monitor the safety of a drug or device by ensuring that all clinical trial and postmarketing safety events are documented, and that all available data are analyzed and reported to health authorities.

28. Health Economics and Outcomes Research – Provide information to healthcare providers and consumers on the landscape of a pharmaceutical product or medical device with regards to economic value and insurance coverage.

29. Regulatory Affairs Specialist – Communicate directly with health authorities (eg, the FDA) to ensure that any information they request is provided and that all applications and scheduled reports are delivered.

30. Data Manager – Develop case report forms for clinical trials and ensure that all data are recorded according to specifications; work directly with Biostatisticians to ensure that data are collected in a way that can be effectively analyzed.

31. Data Programmer – Develop programming language that can transform data collected in case report forms into an analytical output that is aligned with the trial design planned by the Biostatistician.

32. Biostatistician – Play a key role in designing clinical trials and statistical analysis plans to ensure that hypotheses can be tested effectively; work directly with data managers and statistical programmers to produce the final statistical output for interim and final analyses of clinical trial data.

33. Clinical Scientist – Serve as a scientific expert who can provide input in clinical trial design and data analysis and interpretation of clinical data.


34. Scientific Consultant – Provide scientific expertise through a variety of mechanisms to individuals or corporations.

35. Start-Up Founder – Start a company using your scientific expertise, either a company focused on selling products or a company focused on providing services to other organizations.


36. Competitive Intelligence Specialist – Gather and analyze information on the competitive landscape of a product, service, or industry to help company executives make strategic decisions.

37. Business Analyst – Work directly with company stakeholders to understand their needs, and implement changes in processes or systems to meet a company’s needs.

38. Venture Capitalist – Network and research potential business deals to invest in. Pitch potential investment opportunities.

39. Equity Research Analyst – Analyze stocks and provide recommendations to investors on whether to buy, sell, or hold certain stock.


40. Technology Transfer Specialist – Identify technologies that could become commercially viable, and establishing partnerships and licensing agreements to transfer the technology development from the inventor to a commercial entity.

41. Patent Agent – Serve as a liaison between an inventor and the United States Patent and Trademark Office in preparing patent applications.

42. Patent Attorney – Represent clients in obtaining patents and represent clients in patent disputes.


43. Scientific Event Planner – Plan scientific events, from international conferences to trade shows and fundraising events.

44. Scientific Librarian – Support universities or, more commonly, biotechnology companies in ensuring that any required literature is available and securing the appropriate copyright to obtain and share literature. Larger companies provide more services, including performing comprehensive literature searches for regulatory documents and meta-analyses.

45. Science Publisher – Work with journals or other communication media to plan content and secure reviews and editorial staff.

46. Project Manager (in a variety of fields) – Develop project plans, timelines, and budgets, and oversee project teams to ensure that project deliverables are completed on time, within budget, and at high quality.

47. Data Curator – Organize and annotate data to ensure that data and its interpretation are maintained over time.

48. Management Consultant – Work on project teams to solves issues for clients and help clients realize new opportunities.

49. Science Policy Analyst – Assess how laws and policies affect scientists, and serve as a liaison between lawmakers and scientists.

50. Non-profit Employee – Support non-profit organizations in their scientific outreach and fundraising efforts.
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Re: Moving from "Lab Based" to "Office Based" jobs in the Sciences

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:27 pm


That's a great list -- thanks so much for providing it here.

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