11 Most Coveted PhD Careers & Their Job Descriptions

What is the difference between a Data Analyst and a Data Scientist?

Well, salary, for one. 

Data scientists get paid more. 

Transferable skills for another. 

Data Scientists have the ability to not only understand and communicate technical data, but business data as well. 

In fact, they can translate technical data into business data. This ability to translate, to “speak nerd and normal person” as I like to say, is the differentiator for most of the top industry PhD careers available right now. 

Finally, job candidates with Bachelor degrees and Master’s degrees only are often hired into Data Analyst roles, while Data Scientist roles are most often reserved for PhDs. 

Of course, there are key technical skills required for a Data Scientist position that are not required for Data Analyst positions too, but these skills can be learned on the job by PhDs and employers know this.

A lot of PhDs, unfortunately, will get hired as Data Analysts, or other lower level roles, because they don’t believe in their own value. Or, they don’t believe in the importance of transferable skills in addition to technical skills. 

If you have a PhD and you want a PhD-level role in industry, you must dedicate yourself to standing out from other job candidates by being the rare candidate who has both high-level technical skills and high-level transferable skills.

You must be able to communicate technical findings with non-technical team members, including executives, investors, and other key stakeholders. 

If you refuse to differentiate yourself in this way, you will never get into the following coveted PhD careers. 

Differentiate Yourself To Get Hired Into Top Cross-Departmental Roles

In industry, nearly all companies rely heavily on cross-departmental collaboration. This means that all top industry PhD careers, require you to work cross-departmentally. 

Cross-departmental collaboration allows companies to stay ahead in their market, produce topline products, services and treatments, take care of their team members, provide exceptional customer services; become more efficient, and build trust in the organization – all at once.

For this to be successful, PhD employees in top industry roles must excel in communication and teamwork. They must also understand all departments within a company, as well as all common departments within an industry.

PhD careers

A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute showed that employees who are more connected with one another are 20-25% more productive. The study found that this productivity has the potential for additional revenues amounting to $1.3 trillion per year.

McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises. MGI’s estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent.”

If you want to get hired into a top industry role, you have to show the business acumen they are looking for to continue this open collaborative environment. 

In particular, you must be able to communicate with every type of employee in every department, whether that employee is technical or non-technical. This— above all else— is the key to rising above industry roles that any non-PhD can do and into top roles that PhDs can do best. 

Understanding The 11 Most Popular PhD Careers

1. Patent Analyst

The Patent Analyst position is similar to a Patent Examiner position, but is more advanced as it requires more research, analysis, and innovation skills. 

PhDs are being hired into this role aggressively. Patent Analysts sit under the intellectual property umbrella and their job is to review potential patent applications. They work for companies that are developing products, often before a new product is created, to see if the company’s products or potential products can be patented. 

This requires a lot of investigative work, which is why the Patent Analyst role will leverage your skills as a PhD, no matter what your PhD background is. It is your research analysis skills, your understanding of innovation and the difference between mastering a field and pushing a field forward that will make you a successful Patent Analyst.

2. Medical or Scientific Writer

Workforce decentralization has made the world rely even more on content, which is why Technical Writers, Scientific Writers, Marketing Education Writers, writers and editors of all kinds are flourishing in the new economy. All of these writing and editing job titles sit under a job title that has become increasingly popular even outside of biotech and pharma companies – Medical Writer. 

Under the Medical Writing career umbrella, there are at least 20 to 30 different job titles. You can simplify this career path, despite all of these job titles, by thinking about all of the individual roles as sitting on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, you have highly technical writing, the kind of writing where a PhD writes down the label that would go on a Tylenol or Advil bottle. On the other end of the spectrum, you have writing that would appear on social media or on a blog at a hospitality company, retail company, or any company. 

Your PhD training is highly valuable in industry because you have been trained at the highest level on the ability to know whether or not information is real or fake. We are in an information war where the average person can no longer tell what is credible information and what information is completely false. 

As a Medical Writer you will effectively communicate high level information to different audiences and your PhD will help ensure these audiences trust you and the company you represent. 

3. Data Scientist

DJ Patil and Jeff Hammerbacher were the first two people to coin the term Data Scientist in 2008. Since then, this role has become one of the most coveted roles in industry by PhDs, and also one of the highest paid. 

At the highest level, there are two types of data scientist jobs. Those that require a lot of data modeling, machine learning, and strong knowledge of programming languages like R, Python, Java and more, and those that mainly require you to analyze large data sets and help develop algorithms (which you can do even if you don’t currently have experience coding). 

As mentioned at the start of this article; however, the biggest key to getting hired as a Data Scientist, that will separate you from lower paid Data Analyst positions, is the ability to translate your technical findings into actionable business results; to work cross-departmentally with key stakeholders who lack your technical training.  

Can you translate technical data into business data? Can you understand the algorithms in theory and be willing to teach yourself new programming languages or learn these languages on the job? Do you have a PhD? If so, you can get hired as a data scientist. 

4. Application Scientist

The number one non-bench role that PhDs are hired into today is the Application Scientist role. Or Application Engineer, or Application Specialist.

As we have been discussing over and over and over again, the most important skill you must have to get into an Application Scientist role is the ability to speak nerd and speak like a normal person. You have to be able to communicate complex technical concepts into simple, actionable results that will help a business grow. 

As an Application Scientist, you are a liaison between a company that produces, for example, a medical device, and a company that buys this medical device. You will spend a lot of time in the field at Research Institutes, Hospitals, or individual clinics and labs who are buying products from biotech companies. 

Not only do you help customers apply your company’s product to their work, you also help your company better understand the needs of the customer. These PhD careers require you to communicate these needs to the management teams, sales and marketing teams, executives, investors and other key stakeholders. You will be required to work cross-departmentally from R&D to marketing to customer service to ensure that your product continues to meet customer needs. You will be required to ensure your product continues to perform, and develop, properly.

5. Product Manager

A Product Manager manages the entire lifecycle of a product developed by a company. They could also be managing an entire product portfolio. 

To put the role of a Product Manager into perspective, let us take the instance of laboratory antibodies for doing experiments. There might be a hundred antibodies in a portfolio, and a company could hire a Product Manager to manage the entire portfolio of antibodies. 

Or, a Product Manager could manage one feature of a software program. For example, at Google, there is a product manager for every feature of Gmail, for every feature of Google search, and so on. 

Product Managers work cross-departmentally with a company’s R&D department, marketing department, and many other departments to analyze market trends and to help keep the product positioned appropriately in the marketplace. 

6. User Experience Researcher (UX Researcher)

The next role is a User Experience Researcher or UX Researcher. This is very exciting PhD careers because PhDs have been identified by employers as the perfect candidates for this role and not just at biotech or pharma companies, but at companies as diverse as the Hilton Hotels, to Home Depot, McDonald’s, Bed Bath, and Beyond. That’s right – companies in the retail sector, hospitality sector, and even the restaurant or confectionary sectors (eg, Hershey’s) are hiring PhDs into UX Researcher roles.

UX Researchers are essentially Market Analysts. The key difference is that UX Researchers collect and analyze both quantitative and qualitative data to better understand the reasons and the rationale behind the user, rather than just consumer behavior. 

Since every company now has its own website and many have their own mobile applications, most of the quantitative data stream into a company’s “user data.” That being said, companies still rely heavily on focus groups and surveys to understand the customer’s story, customer lifestyle, and/or “customer journey.”

7. Project Manager

Project Managers differ from Product Managers. While Product Managers own a company’s product, or a portfolio of products, a Project Manager owns a project or portfolio of projects. It is important to understand that projects are different from operations. You may not understand the difference yet, but essentially, a project has a completion point whereas an operation continues. 

Project Managers implement company projects to a very structured methodology and a documentation process (eg. project charters, statements of work). They work cross-departmentally and will often tell executives at the company what to do and when to do it (the executives want them to do this so they stay organized).

As a whole, Project Managers will manage people and aspects across departments, making this role very cross-functional and collaboration-intensive.  You can be working with quality control, sales, marketing, purchasing, finance, operations, manufacturing, and external vendors all on one project. You will manage a project scope, budgets, timelines, produce status reports, and much more. 

8. Regulatory Affairs Specialist

The one thing that will always increase is the number of government regulations that companies have to follow. Sure, some regulations may be cut year over year, but there will always be a net increase. This is why the Regulatory Affairs Specialist role in industry is so popular with PhDs and employers alike. 

As a PhD, you must understand that your ability to read complex documents and translate them into actions that other people can follow is extremely valuable to employers. In industry companies, the regulatory affairs department maintains knowledge of all applicable laws and regulations. 

These Specialists will investigate laws, guidelines, and processes. They will also review data, update documents, check products, observe staff, and even write and record documents. They ensure that the company’s internal teams are functioning and will oversee the organization cross-departmentally to ensure that all relevant regulations are followed.  

Through a constant review process, Regulatory Affairs Specialists establish guidelines and standard operating procedures for specific tasks to make sure they are executed correctly and legally. They also ensure that all departments of a company comply with the set guidelines. 

9.  Medical Science Liaison

Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) work in the field and communicate directly with clinicians. The MSL is a very, very popular role for PhDs right now and more PhDs are getting  hired into MSL roles than ever before. 

So what does MSL do? They liaise. They communicate. They translate. In this case, they liaise between the healthcare officials, or clinicians, and their team members at the pharmaceutical company’s various departments. Specifically, MSLs cultivate new relationships with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) such as clinical researchers, clinicians practicing medicine, and other thought leaders. 

MSLs deliver information, from news about recent research developments, clinical trial activities, and therapeutic approaches. Due to increased regulations, sales professionals at pharmaceutical companies can only talk about “on label” topics with clinicians now. MSLs; however, can have “off label” conversations and discuss the science behind therapeutics with clinicians, which is why PhDs are in such high demand for this role.

These KOLs in turn share information, patient information and otherwise, with the MSLs who share it with the pharmaceutical company’s product teams and the marketing teams to improve their current therapeutic products and to help develop new treatments.

10. Clinical Research Associate

Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) participate in the design, administration, and monitoring of clinical trials. They visit clinical trial sites, and analyze and evaluate clinical data gathered at these sites during the research phases. 

The majority of CRA work for Contract Research Organizations (CROs) who themselves are responsible for helping pharmaceutical companies manage the compliance aspect of a clinical site. Knowledge of the FDA or other regulatory bodies is required for this role. You might also need to sit for different regulatory exams like  ACRP, COC, or RA. 

As CRAs are tasked with ensuring compliance, the role is similar to Regulatory Affairs Specialist roles. The one key difference is that these PhD careers are very specific to clinical research. As a CRA, you will ensure that clinical sites comply with the protocols and are going after the overall clinical objective. 

To get hired as a CRA, you must be open to gaining a strong understanding of clinical trials, data management and documentation. You will also be tasked with closely managing clinical trial sites and site projects related to these sites. 

11. Research Scientist or Engineer

R&D Researcher, Research Scientist, Research Engineer, and R&D Analyst roles are still extremely popular PhD careers with the industry employers as well . In these PhD careers, you will work in every area of a technical discipline, whether in science, engineering. or other technical field. 

As a Research Scientist, you can work in fields as diverse as medical research, geoscience, immunology, meteorology, pharmacology and hundreds of other fields that are as diverse as the fields available to you in academia. However, the job titles in industry are very generic by comparison, often called simply Scientist roles, or Principal Scientist, Principal Engineer, or even just Researcher or Analyst.

As a Research Scientist, you will plan and conduct experiments, recording and analyzing data, carrying out field work, collecting samples, presenting results, writing research papers, reports, and review summaries. Importantly, and unlike in academia, Research Scientist roles in industry are very cross-departmental. You will deal with data produced in your lab, but also data flowing into your lab (or it’s cloud-based informatics system) from other internal departments and from external CROs. 

You will have advanced robotics systems and teams of technicians producing gobs and gobs of data, while automated systems do initial analysis and document these analyses for you. More than anything else, your job in this role will be to strategize and manage experiments, and draw actionable conclusions.

Additionally, and also unlike in academia, in industry PhD careers getting published is not your goal. Instead, you will work towards getting patents and developing products that are proprietary and can be protected.

Concluding remarks

As a PhD, you may covet the above high paying industry PhD careers but remember, employers are also coveting you for these roles. You are more valuable in industry than ever before. The problem, though, is that you are very likely invisible to employers. You can increase your visibility by better communicating your transferable skills. Specifically, your ability to translate technical information into business information and to work cross-departmentally within an organization.

To learn more about transitioning into industry, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association. 

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Isaiah Hankel, PhD
Isaiah Hankel, PhD Chief Executive Officer at Cheeky Scientist

Isaiah Hankel holds a PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology. An expert in the biotechnology industry, he specializes in helping other PhDs transition into cutting-edge industry career tracks.

Isaiah believes--from personal experience--that if you feel stuck somewhere in your life, it’s a clear sign that you need to make a change. Don’t sit still and wait for the world to tell you what to do. Start a new project. Build your own business. Take action. Experimentation is the best teacher.

Isaiah is an internationally recognized Fortune 500 consultant, CEO of Cheeky Scientist, and author of the straight-talk bestsellers Black Hole Focus and The Science of Intelligent Achievement.

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