What Is An Application Scientist & How To Become One
Some PhDs just want the freedom to explore the world on their own terms.
They want to be in the field, interacting and teaching – these are ideal candidates for application scientist roles.
As an application scientist, I can tell you firsthand that the road to this freedom is not easy.
But after doing a ton of informational interviews and mining my network for referrals, I landed some key interviews.
I had to give presentations since these represent an essential skill for any application scientist.
Finally, I got a job offer – in fact, I got 3 of them!
Eventually, things narrowed down to the job I wanted most.
Negotiations were challenging, but I remembered my value and worked toward a solution that satisfied both my employer and me.
For those who want to move away from research to pursue a more business-oriented role, finding your niche in application science is worth it.
Application scientists have one of the most engaging, independent careers out there – and I would know!
How Application Scientists Do Their Jobs
The first thing to know about application scientists is this: Essentially, they help customers understand and apply a range of complex technical products.
As Science Magazine indicates, it’s very common for application scientists to possess high-level credentials like PhDs.
And in most cases, application scientists will need to hold a doctoral degree.
This is because they’re experts who draw from heavy science experience to use and teach others about complex products.
Usually, application science happens in a STEM field like engineering or biotechnology.
Science-based companies like Thermo-Fisher represent the sort of employer that needs PhDs.
Industry employers need technical specialists who can interact directly with customers on their behalf.
These customers won’t usually be laypeople – very often, they are actually PhDs, MDs, or other researchers.
They might be people who use medical devices, computer systems, or other advanced technologies in their daily work.
Put bluntly by the BMJ, a medical doctor is not necessarily a scientist, so there is a strong need for science experts to fill that gap.
As an application scientist, your job will be to teach customers the proper application of your company’s products.
However, you’ll also train sales support staff, who need to be informed sellers of the product lines.
A sales team doesn’t necessarily have a background in STEM, but an application scientist does, and he or she will use that experience to educate the people around them.
5 Things You Need To Know Before Becoming An Application Scientist
It can be tricky to pin down what this job actually entails.
Here’s one reason behind the mystery of the application scientist:
It goes by a number of different titles!
You might see listings for a field application scientist, technical support scientist, field support scientist, or something similar.
These titles basically refer to the same group of job responsibilities – they’re part of the application scientist role.
But what does it mean to be an application scientist?
There are still a number of things to get straight before you look into this exciting career.
Let’s talk about 5 things a PhD needs to know before they begin a career as an application scientist.
1. Application scientists are not salespeople or researchers.
There’s a lot of confusion here. Some PhDs might think that because application scientists go into the field and deal with customers, it must be some type of sales position.
But an application scientist is not a salesperson.
PhDs often assume that an application scientist doesn’t require scientific knowledge, or that this role doesn’t overlap with a PhD skillset.
In fact, this job requires quite a lot of PhD-level skills due to its heavy technical content.
You’ll be explaining the application of company products to other STEM-field professionals, which would be impossible without a strong background in science.
And explaining or teaching are not the same as selling – application scientists are teachers, not salespeople.
They are also not researchers.
There is a reason this job is sometimes called a “field-application position.”
As an application scientist, you won’t be working on research from a single base of operations – you’ll be encountering new environments and people all the time.
Consumers need tutorials and other assistance with company products, and as an application scientist, it will be your job to deliver both of these things.
2. They need strong presentation skills.
In this line of work, you’re a little like a travelling teacher.
You might instruct field professionals one-on-one, or you might give presentations to 30+ people.
In any case, your teaching and presentation skills need to be top-notch
You don’t have to be a perfect teacher, but communication skills are key to success as an application scientist.
All the technical expertise in the world can’t make up for poor communication skills, and an application scientist needs both.
You might visit an institution and present on your company’s product – this could be a medical device, a new computer system, technical software, or a huge variety of other things.
The one thing you can know for sure is that you’ll be teaching other people about something science or tech-related.
And once an organization purchases a product, you will probably be supporting them by training personnel who will be using the product firsthand.
3. They efficiently network even while on the job.
Application scientist positions tend to be transitional.
Of course, they don’t have to be, but within a few years, the vast majority of PhDs in this role move on to higher positions in other divisions like business development or marketing.
So it’s ideal for moving upward into the ranks of industry, and an excellent way to start your transition from academia.
Remember how many people you’ll be meeting and teaching while in this role?
As you teach your many new contacts about product application, you’re efficiently building a network while doing what you’re already paid to do.
The network you build during your time as an application scientist will prove to be an asset for career progression.
Meeting professionals and dealing with new environments are both key to the job, making it ideal for those with an adventurous spirit and healthy career ambition.
4. The role is well suited to travel enthusiasts.
There’s no question about it – application scientists need to travel.
So the real question is, “How much traveling will be involved?”
If you’re in a densely populated area like Boston, London, Sydney, these trips might just consist of city-wide transit.
Or maybe you’ll be heading to nearby cities in the greater area.
But plenty of application scientists travel much further than that, and there could definitely be worldwide travel involved.
This is actually one of the biggest perks of the role.
If you’re ready to leave the lab environment, this is a job that will have you traversing far and wide – and you’ll be doing it frequently.
That degree of travel is one of the reasons that employers look for independent self-starters when filling application scientist roles.
You’ll need to have the drive and initiative to work on your own outside of an office or lab setting.
This job offers a lot of flexibility and freedom, but you have to be able to work autonomously.
5. Application scientist roles are both innovative and commercial.
As an application scientist, you’ll be working with both the marketing team and R&D to help assess the customer experience.
You’ll have direct insight into what the target demographic actually thinks, which makes applications scientists incredibly valuable assets.
So as you teach customers how to apply your company’s products, it’s important to make a note of what kind of experience the customer has.
You’ll be able to talk marketing with company personnel, but you’ll also be helping researchers and designers by informing them about user experience.
For many application scientists, this is not limited to a niche field in science.
Part of the job is having access to a broad range of research topics and products, so your role will place you in a lot of fresh and exciting situations – new places, new people, and new products to experience.
Application scientists are unique tech experts who bridge the gap between science and industry. Yet they also fill a number of different roles, which leads to some mystery regarding what it is that they actually do. If the science of application piques your interest, keep in mind that application scientists are not salespeople or researchers; they need strong presentation skills; they efficiently network even while on the job; the role is well suited to travel enthusiasts; and don’t forget that application scientist roles are both innovative and commercial. Are you ready to join the rockstars of the PhD world and begin your career as an application scientist?
If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.
ABOUT 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.More Written by Alex Woychek, PhD, MPH