5 Reasons Why You Should Transition Into An Application Scientist Role Today

During my third year of graduate school I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life writing grants. I enjoyed teaching but at the bench side one-on-one, not in a giant lecture hall.

It became clear to me that I was not destined to be a professor, I didn’t want to chase a tenure track position I was likely never going to get, nor would really enjoy. 

At the same time, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I came from a small University, where networking was nearly impossible. I was surrounded only by other academics, who didn’t know anything about industry. 

So, I started to investigate. I needed a career track that allowed me to be involved in science, to have an impact through research, just not a track in academia. 

It was around that time that I found Cheeky Scientist and joined the association, and I’m so happy I did. Through this organization I not only learned about how to restructure my resume, I also learned why networking is so important. 

CSA provided the support and knowledge I needed to really start networking. Being at a campus that was so remote, all that networking needed to be done remotely. 

It was extremely difficult. I had an advisor who belittled me more than my male colleagues and it was difficult to find time to focus on my job search strategy with all the stress and work of my PhD. But it had to be done, I needed to do this for me. 

At first it was very difficult, but eventually it got easier, it became part of a routine. I must have set up 50 informational interviews with people from all different backgrounds and careers. Each interview gave me a slightly different perspective, new information, and a better understanding of what I wanted to do.

Each informational interview also amplified my imposter syndrome. Did I have the skills to fill that role? Was I really a good fit for that company? All the people I talked to seemed capable and I felt ill equipped to deal with the demands of industry. But eventually you have to set these feelings aside and believe in yourself.

It took me months of setting up informational interviews before I found my dream job. 

After about 15 or 20 informational interviews, I came across someone I really clicked with. We talked for hours, just getting to know each other. It didn’t feel like an interview at all. He was a field application scientist and he told me I would be perfect for the role. I was a little shocked.

The job title sounded enticing, but did I really have the skills? I told him my doubts. He told me he had the same doubts, he had been where I was only a few years ago. But after talking to me, he knew I had the qualities to excel as an application scientist. 

This was the support I needed to finally start applying, to finally feel like I could do this. I started applying to jobs and soon got call backs and interviews. Eventually landing my dream position, a field application scientist role in the bay area.

What is an Application Scientist

Application scientists are the medical science liaisons of biotech. They are the interface between the company and the customers. Therefore, they must be excellent communicators and have a strong technical background. This is why PhDs are perfect for this role, they have strong technical expertise about  equipment and other products and are capable of communicating the science behind those products. 

Application scientists are not sales professionals and they are not part of the R&D department but they work closely with both teams. They help customers get the most out of their company’s products. Customers include biotechnology companies, big pharmaceutical companies, and labs in academia and the government. 

Application scientists represent products ranging from a cell sorting machine to  software and reagents. These products require technical know-how and everyone who buys them must be trained on how to properly use them. 

This is the role of the application scientist; they connect one company to another by helping them to apply a product, optimizing research, and propelling both companies forward.

1. You love to travel

There are two major types of application scientist, field and technical. A field application scientist (FAS) travels to various sites where as the technical application scientist stay primarily at the company. So whether you like to travel or not, this role could be for you.

As we said before, field application scientists are the medical science liaison of the biotech industry. They have assigned territories and work most of the time visiting customers within that territory. Some weeks they travel locally. Other weeks, they have to travel farther, crossing both state and country lines.

Field application scientists usually spends 3-4 out of 5 days of the week visiting different laboratories, setting up demos, and training laboratory personnel. The final day may be spent interfacing with clients remotely, catching up on emails, or talking to the sales and marketing team.

If you love to travel the application scientist role may be right for you.

2. You have technical skills you don’t want to lose

As an application scientist, you are responsible for knowing the in and outs of a product. That product would depend on the company but the technical skills you’ve acquired as a PhD makes you a valuable candidate for this position. In addition, as a PhD, you likely have first hand experience and user knowledge on many of the products. This not only gives you an edge against other applicants who may not have used any scientific products before, but it gives you perspective, allowing you to connect with the end user and relate to their issues with the product, building customer relations.  

As a PhD, you have worked with a lot of different instruments and software. You already have a lot of experience and technical skills. PhDs are on the cutting edge of science, already using the top techniques to do research. This qualifies you as a field expert on products related to the techniques you used during your PhD. 

At the same time, you don’t need to be an expert on a specific product. As a PhD you are trained to take in a plethora of information and distill it down to the necessities. So, even if you’ve never used a product before you can learn the technical details on the job.

3. You enjoy teaching and communicating, but one-on-one not to a large lecture hall

Teaching is a valuable and challenging skill and not everyone can master. PhDs are often thrown into teaching roles with no real training and they learn as they go. Teaching requires a certain level of patience. A great teacher is highly knowledgeable but also extremely engaging. 

The same goes with presentations. Some PhDs dread presentation while others enjoy creating, communicating, and engaging with an audience about a certain topic. A great presenter is not afraid of speaking in public and is extremely passionate about what they are presenting.

If you enjoyed teaching on a one-to-one basis as a PhD – perhaps with an undergraduate in your lab –  instead of in a large classroom or lecture hall setting, you might be right for the application scientist role. 

At a basic level, teaching is about communication and being able to communicate with people from a variety of backgrounds without judgement. Most PhDs can only speak nerd. As PhDs, we are trained to speak a certain way, to use words such as “furthermore” or “utilize” and still fill our everyday vocabulary with jargon and niche specific acronyms. A great communicator and teacher has the ability to speak “nerd” and “normal”, getting down to the level of whomever they are speaking too, while never coming off as condescending. 

Has anyone ever told you, you are an excellent communicator? This might be the most important skill for an application scientist position.  

Application scientists serve as the liaison between a company and its customers  and also have to engage with different departments within the company. 

Application scientists interact with PhDs in research roles, or people with MBAs with no scientific knowledge. They may work with the marketing team, or the sales team. Each of these roles require a type of communication that is appropriate for the task at hand, the people involved, and is not belittling.

Application scientists have to keep everyone in the loop and feel involved. This requires the ability to communicate the same information to people from different backgrounds and who are approaching the situations through different lenses. A sales person is not going to approach a situation from the same angle as a PhD in the R&D department. Excelling at both verbal and non-verbal communication is crucial to succeeding in an application scientist role.

4. You like science, but you’re also interested in the business world

PhDs don’t get to develop their business acumen during grad school, but this doesn’t mean you can’t learn. The business world is fascinating and is so different from the scientific one. Yet, these two worlds need to coexist. 

A product may start off in the hands of the R&D team. It will then go to beta testing. Things will need to be optimized and fixed bringing the product back to the R&D team. But someone needs to communicate what the shortcomings are. What did the customer wish the product could do better? This is the responsibility of the application scientist.

This level of communication requires an innate understanding of business intricacies. Typical communication in science prides itself on direct and straightforward communication. This is not always the best way to communicate, particularly in business with situations involving customers. In business and customer relations it’s important to build rapport, which often requires more conversational and flowery language then what we are used to in the science world. 

Application scientist is a liaison position and as such it’s important to be well connected to both scientific and business knowledge. Each has their own culture and communication style. This will change from company to company or customer to customer. 

5. You have big plans for your future

Application scientist is a great position for a PhD but it can also be a great stepping stone to a number of other opportunities. Because of the versatility of the role, application scientists acquire a number of skills that allow them to transition both laterally and vertically in their career trajectory. 

Many application scientists will transition into a sales role. This position can come with a really nice salary as you will receive commission. This is a very natural transition for application scientists as they already know the product. They have spoken to the clients, they know they love the product or the shortcomings allowing them to best serve the future customers. 

Application scientists can also move into management positions. Management requires excellent communication skills, patience and understanding. These are all skills that also make a good application scientist.

An application scientist role gives you so many opportunities. You are constantly interacting with people from all different backgrounds and across all departments. In doing so, you gain information on roles and responsibilities of management, marketing, communication, sales and R&D. This makes it easy to transition into any one of these career paths. Application scientist is a great starting career even if you are not sure where you want to go, because it exposes you to a number of other career paths. 

Application scientist is one of the top careers for PhDs. So if you are looking for a position that allows you to travel, develop your communication and management skills, learn about the business world and gives you exposure to a number of different roles, the application scientist position is right for you.

To learn more about application scientist career options at the PhD level, 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 Application Scientist Assembly Program.

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Alex Woychek, PhD, MPH
Alex Woychek, PhD, MPH

Alex Woychek, PhD, MPH is an innovative research scientist with expertise in molecular biology, cell culture, and microscopy. She has many accolades, including 2 first-author publications, a best abstract award, a Teaching Excellence award, and 3 travel awards. After receiving her PhD, she successfully transitioned directly into a FAS position without doing a post-doc.

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