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Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

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Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Dustin Levy » Sun Oct 04, 2015 5:32 pm

Not all industrial roles are confined to the laboratory.

Logically, most research scientists first enter industry in a laboratory research and development (R&D) role. From there, they may envision that they’ll one day become a lab manager and eventually work their way up the technical ladder to a Director, Vice President, or Chief Technology Officer. Of course, achieving those titles requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and even some luck!

Many scientists have long, productive, and satisfying careers in the traditional technical ladder. However, there are also many other roles in industry that exist for talented technical people. In this series of posts, I’ll examine these roles, the interconnectedness of them, pros and cons of each, and how to position yourself as an attractive candidate should you decide to pursue a role outside of the traditional technical ladder.

Program Management: Program Managers are tasked with overseeing the execution of R&D projects and programs to be on-schedule, on-budget, and in-line with customer and market requirements. Their primary concern is that technical work gets done – they care less about how it gets done. The “how” is the realm of the R&D manager. Scientists with strong organization skills, assertive personalities, and leadership skills may evolve into the Program Management role.

Business Development: Business Developers set the agenda for future business opportunities. These new ventures may involve new technologies, customers, and/or markets. They have the ability to think outside of the box and even may suggest ventures that defy the laws of physics. They develop key relationships with highly influential customers and can become road warriors. Scientists that are creative, entrepreneurial, and more people-oriented than task-oriented may evolve into the Business Development role.

Product Management: Product Managers are responsible for bringing newly developed products to market. They are on the receiving end of the Program Manager and R&D team’s efforts. Product Managers ensure a proper hand-off to the sales team and work with marketers to stimulate demand for new products. They are typically held responsible for the revenue achieved from a product or line of products. Scientists with strong oral and written communication skills, the ability to multi-task, and decisiveness may evolve into the Product Management role.

Sales: We all know (and love) salespeople. The best salespeople know a bit about science and technology, but really put their energy into people and relationships. In some organizations, the business development and sales roles are blurred, but they are definitely responsible for two different things – BD is responsible for future sales while sales is responsible for today’s sales. If a really talented scientist has a sales title, they are often really doing BD. That said, if you’re in a technical role, and risk-tolerant with exceptional people skills, you might be able to make a lot of money in sales! Due to their valuable relationships with customers, BD and sales are often the best paid people in the corporation.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how each of the above functions interface with the R&D staff and management team and what they expect from the laboratory scientist. This will then lead us to examine what types of skills and behaviors are required to transition from an R&D role into one of the other functions.
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Oct 05, 2015 7:09 pm

Hi Dustin,

Your post is great -- look forward to the next "chapter" !

Thanks again for posting here.

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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Ana » Fri Oct 09, 2015 11:47 am

Dustin Levy wrote:
Many scientists have long, productive, and satisfying careers in the traditional technical ladder. However, there are also many other roles in industry that exist for talented technical people. In this series of posts, I’ll examine these roles, the interconnectedness of them, pros and cons of each, and how to position yourself as an attractive candidate should you decide to pursue a role outside of the traditional technical ladder.


Great summary Dustin. I just wanted to flag that you have listed some of the many options that are not directly linked to the lab/technology, but depending on the organization there is a gradient of people profiles that cover a gradient of positions that is at times difficult to classify. People might reach the same positions from very different backgrounds and then move on to different paths afterwards. I see it more like a spider web than as separate clusters.

And within each role in that general classification you will still find different types of people. For example a lab that runs some standard work like toxicology will attract different scientists than a lab that works in finding new disease mechanisms, validating targets or a start up lab that does a bit of everything. Likewise some people working in business development might have a more rigid scope and have MBAs while working alongside them or at more entrepreneurial companies you have simple PhDs with very curious and proactive personalities, broad view of the field and an eye for business.

That said, for someone that is in academia and wondering about the options out there, your summary and clear classification is fantastic and I like how you highlighted the main personality traits that make someone thrive in that type of role, I think it's very well done, so I also look forward to your next chapter.

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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Dick Woodward » Fri Oct 09, 2015 12:02 pm

Dustin:

I will echo Ana and Dave - that was a great post. Ana is correct, of course - you have covered only a portion of the spectrum of positions, but what was most important and valuable is that you succinctly reiterated that there are many industrial positions that involve a knowledge of science but do not require a lab coat.

I look forward to further posts.

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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Dustin Levy » Sun Oct 11, 2015 3:53 pm

Absolutely correct, I've only discussed a few of the many career paths available to scientists. I believe the ones I've chosen have 2 things in common.

First, there is a relatively low barrier to entering these career paths with a science degree because very few people get a degree in business development, program management, product management, or sales. Because of this, you can be on an even playing field with business graduates if the company's mission is at all related to your scientific background. Contrast this with a role in a company's legal department, perhaps in intellectual property, where you'll be competing with law school graduates.

Second, the roles I've outlined have a great deal of upward mobility in most companies. Many VPs and C-levels will have these roles on their resume. Contrast this with a technical writer or training specialist, which are important roles, but maybe aren't a way to the top in most companies.

I also agree that many companies have a more flexible structure, akin to the spiderweb vs. cluster analogy that Ana provided. In particular, companies that adopt these roles very rigidly can become stuck in their silos and lack collaboration. If you're in a company, or interviewing with a company that refers to other functions as "they" instead of "we", that's a major red flag that people may be working against each other instead of with each other.

Thanks for the comments!
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby BMK » Mon Oct 12, 2015 7:42 am

I think this is a great topic, and really appreciate Dustin's and everyone's insights. I can't really think of anywhere else those currently studying the sciences (be it at the undergrad, grad or postdoc level), so these threads are a treasure trove of information.

Dustin, if I could make a suggestion, when you do start going more in depth into these tracks in your next posts, do you think it would be possible to also touch on how faculty might be able their charges
a) become more aware of these alternate paths to academia/industry; and
b) help prepare/train them to better pursue and plan for such a career track if they decide that its right for them?

I ask because I know one of the common observations made on the forums is that academics often think that they should be specifically training students to pursue academic careers to the exclusion of all else. Having this kind of additional insight could help the more progressive ones, at least, better able to assist their trainees.
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Dick Woodward » Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:27 am

BMK:

It is doubtful that faculty members will ever be able to prepare their charges for life outside of academia for the simple reason that the majority of them have never had any interaction with the industrial world - and especially that part of it that does not involve lab coats. The best that one can hope for is that they are not actively hostile to the idea.

Perhaps one way that you can begin to get that sort of exposure is to have the grad student or post-doc association develop a seminar series so that people in various aspects of industry can describe their areas of expertise and what it takes to get there. I have participated in a couple of these events, and the students/postdocs have always seemed to appreciate them.

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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby M.A. » Mon Oct 12, 2015 11:34 am

Our graduate program organizes talks by alumni of the PhD program, some of whom went into industry. I think that provides some insight into the various career paths after the PhD. We also have other career development talks by people from the industry (for example, local technical sales reps etc.).
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby Dustin Levy » Mon Oct 12, 2015 1:39 pm

BMK and M.A.:

As I shared with Dave Jensen, the content I plan to post is from a seminar I had the opportunity to give to graduate students at my alma mater. The seminar went over by 30 minutes and I got about 25% through the content. It made me realize how little I knew about what goes on in industry when I was in those students’ shoes. Hopefully our discussions can continue to fill that void.

My message to students is that academia and industry are very different places, neither is necessarily better than the other, neither is right or wrong, but understanding and appreciating the differences is essential.
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Re: Scientific Careers in the Corporate World, #1

Postby D.X. » Thu Oct 15, 2015 8:22 am

Hi Dustin,
This is good over view of were those already on the technical ladder in industry can go – reflecting on the opportunities to leverage scientific expertise that is closer to the commercial objectives/business focus.

Of course making those steps do require the preparation and work as noted, to include targeted development (as part of IDP) , internal networking, leadership development/competency and visibility which are their own topics to manage individually. The “how” to get there can be very individualized – with the common threads outlined above.

Also from a Rx Pharma (to included Biotech with marketed products) perspective, some positions can be hard for a technical person to leap to – for example Product Manager, this is a very difficult step without confirmed Sales or Marketing experience (specifically customer-facing experience) – perhaps this is more achievable in the world of Diagnostics/Workflow solutions where it was common for the technical folks to move into Product Management given the scientific/technical knowledge needed – the gap here was the commercial acumen and these days many Diagnostics companies are looking for PMs with demonstrated commercial successes (as a example I have encountered).

However, certainly Project Management (or Program Management) and BD&L represent reasonable career targets provided clear preparation and planning with management as part of company IDP etc. etc.
But good views into other opportunities that the technical ladder folks can jump into.

But some on this forum may not have insights to what you mean by technical “ladder”, so I’ll do that. – in many companies have a “career framework” divided into “technical” and “commercial” from a HR perspective that define the job title levels for each – as an example , in one company I worked for, they had these 2 “ladders” as defined by HR, and each job title was linked to a level. So a Level 6 was a Principal Scientist on the Technical Ladder and on the corresponding Commercial Ladder that was a Senior Manager.

Cheers and good post.

Happy to complement with any additional question from the forum as well (as time permits).

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