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Coronavirus Panic Proves The World Needs PhDs In These 9 Industry Roles

coronavirus in petri dish

Isaiah Hankel, PhD, discusses the global reaction to the coronavirus and how it demonstrates that industry needs PhDs more than ever.

The need for scientists is rising, and it’s rising fast.

With the recent outbreak of the “coronavirus,” media have reported all kinds of information, not all of it true and accurate.

News and other media outlets thrive on timely reportage, and unfortunately, panicked viewers will pay more attention than relaxed ones.

The effects of this panic are already observable.

Who is in the best possible position to work against this alarmist racket? 

Scientists holed up in academia?


In academia, brilliant PhDs are so burdened by heavy workloads and financial troubles that they can’t begin to address the world’s problems.


PhDs in pharma and other industry arenas are poised to help the world in a significant way.

These industry PhDs have fulfilling, high-paying roles that place them in positions of authority and equip them with the resources they need to make important medical advancements. 

Most people don’t know the difference between SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 – but PhDs know that SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus and COVID-19 is the disease caused by it. 

PhDs are also in a better position to understand and explain how a virus works and propagates, which helps them combat the fearful speculation that can overcome the general public.

The extensive training of PhDs equips them with the knowledge they need to understand scientific concepts and make sound and informed decisions. 

Most people hear about a new virus and decide to hoard resources and isolate themselves as much as possible. 

But closing borders and shutting down operations is not the answer.

While measures like quarantines and lockdowns can help delay the spread of the virus.

Cooperation must pair with knowledge to solve a scientific problem of this magnitude.

Industry needs confident PhDs who can share science with the general public.

It also needs PhDs who can work toward solutions, innovate, research, and experiment until the problem is under control.

And the world needs these PhDs to lead the charge against not only disease but misinformation.

PhDs in the life sciences know how long it takes to devise and test a successful vaccine.

They know how viruses propagate and exactly how concerned a person ought to be in the midst of an outbreak.

PhDs holed up in academia aren’t serving anyone – there is no honor or nobility in doing useless benchwork under bitter advisors and PIs.

The real world—the world of vaccine development, science promotion, pharma project management—NEEDS PhDs, and that is why I founded Cheeky Scientist.

Your time is now – the world needs you.

Why Industry—Not Academia—Is At The Core Of Medical Achievement

So far, children haven’t been affected by the disease to the same degree as adults – they have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

However, Nature reported on recent research that suggests children may act as coronavirus carriers.

Asymptomatic kids can move from person to person without causing panic, allowing the virus to infect adults and elder who are more prone to have complications.

Most people will not take the time to study the details of research like this, but PhDs will.

Who is in a position to appreciate this information and use it as fuel for important discoveries that protect people from disease?

The answer is industry PhDs.

The National Science Foundation is accepting research proposals for investigations on the coronavirus.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI) is hard at work developing partnerships with groups that can assist the vaccine race.

But here’s the flat truth:

As it was put by Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy,

The only real expertise in the world to make [coronavirus] vaccines in a [sufficient] quantity and a safe environment is in the private sector… If the private sector isn’t fully engaged and involved, it’s a show stopper.

Industry companies are at the core of humanitarian science like the search for a vaccine.

Without the funding and powerful drive of businesses, how can the world expect mass production of a critical new medical treatment?

For the private sector to get the scientific expertise it needs, STEM PhDs must recognize their value, learn the language of industry, and push themselves to get jobs outside academia.

PhD announcing science news about coronavirus

How Industry PhDs In These 9 Roles Can Fight The Coronavirus  

Industry PhDs don’t have to work directly on a vaccine to make a difference.

Businesses work together in complex ways to innovate and fund important medical projects, and that process requires different industry roles.

PhDs should thoroughly understand the available career options.

This article briefly presents 9 industry jobs in which PhDs can make significant contributions to the suppression of viral outbreaks.

But don’t make the mistake of chasing something that will ultimately make you miserable.

This is how many PhDs ended up in poor and unhappy postdoc positions in the first place.

And a miserable PhD is not helpful to anyone.

Successful PhDs who find the right career path can optimize their lives and contribute their best effort to issues of scientific importance.

So when choosing the next step in your career, be sure to consider not only the title and salary, but the lifestyle you want.

Here are 9 non-academic careers for PhDs and how they can contribute in the face of an outbreak …

1. Quantitative Analyst

There are many opportunities for science PhDs to transition into Quantitative Analyst (QAs).

Most QA positions are available in major financial institutions involved in financial trading.

QA responsibilities include quantitative data analysis, financial research, statistical modeling, and pattern recognition—all related to predicting trades.

Science PhD with backgrounds in “quant” related disciplines such as Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Engineering, and Computer Science are highly sought after for these positions.

However, many Life Science PhDs are also being hired as QAs. This is due to increases in financial trading in the biotechnology industry.

Some QA firms prefer science PhDs because of their proven ability to conduct independent research and their detailed understanding of the scientific aspects of technology-based sectors.

As a QA, you will be expected to have a strong scientific background and to be able to work under pressure with little supervision.

You will also be required to gain deep financial knowledge of your markets and be able to grasp advanced mathematical concepts quickly.

As we have recently seen with the coronavirus, outbreaks of infectious disease are not exclusively a public health problem. 

They can also paralyze the economy of the most-affected countries. 

QAs can help create models on how to avoid recession associated with outbreaks like that of the coronavirus.

2. Business Development Manager

The name of this role might suggest that it’s only for professionals with a business degree.

But, nowadays, science PhDs are being increasingly hired as BDMs.

This is because PhDs excel at understanding complex technologies, which is crucial to technology-based sectors such as biotechnology, software, consumer electronics, and pharmaceuticals.

A BDM’s key responsibilities include developing new business opportunities, managing existing products, developing market strategies, and building new business partnerships.

As a BDM, you will have to prioritize innovative products based on market needs and competitor positioning.

Thorough knowledge of not only a company’s technology, but its culture and products is key to this role.

BDMs are required to use a combination of scientific knowledge, analytical skills, and market trends to forecast things like revenues, profits, and losses.

Your presentation and teaching skills are also valuable to this position because BDMs are expected to present to management and marketing teams regularly.

Tying this role to the coronavirus, BDMs can help design strategies to make sure drugs and other products get to those who need them the most.

PhD researching coronavirus in lab

3. Medical Communication Specialist

Medical Communication Specialists are broadly described as technical writers involved in the development and production of medical and healthcare-related communication materials.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Medical Communication Specialist positions are expected to grow by 8% by 2028.

As a Medical Communication Specialist, your responsibilities will include writing and editing materials that healthcare organizations will use to communicate with patients, clients, and medical professionals.

You must be able to organize, edit, and present information to different audiences.

Medical Communication Specialists must also possess excellent written communication skills and understand the ethical or regulatory guidelines in their field.

The main reason for this is that Medical Communication Specialists often work to produce a variety of documents, including patient education brochures, web content, physician articles, sales training materials, and regulatory documents.

In light of the coronavirus, medical communication specialists will make sure that patients understand the implications and risks of new treatments developed to address COVID-19.

4. Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) Specialist

If you are trying to control an outbreak, this role is hugely important.

Doctors need to access patients’ information quickly and keep agencies like the NIH and WHO up to date with all the latest patient data in relation to the coronavirus.

As a HIT Specialist, you will be responsible for organizing patients’ medical records into electronic databases, verifying patients’ medical charts, and communicating with physicians to ensure the accuracy of their diagnoses.

PhDs with a Life Science background who have experience with online databases are highly sought after for this position.

You will need a strong background in medical research as well as medical terminology to excel at this position.

You must also be willing to learn about medical coding, information technology, clinical database management, and medical billing.

Hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, clinical research centers, academic research institutions, and health insurance providers are the main sources of employment for HIT Specialists.

5. Operations Research Analyst

Operations Research Analysts are responsible for investigating complex issues, identifying and solving operational problems, and facilitating a more cost-effective and efficient functioning of an organization.

In short, these Analysts are very high-level problem solvers – their job is to systemize organizations as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Operations Research Analysts were first implemented by the military a few decades ago but now they are used in almost every sector.

The demand for this role has increased with investments in big data analytics platforms.

Job reports show that Operations Research Analyst positions are estimated to grow by 26% by 2028, making it one of the hottest jobs of the next decade.

You’ll need to mine data and perform mathematical modeling/statistical analyses to provide real-time operational guidance for biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

STEM PhDs with academic training in Mathematics, Statistics, Computational Modeling, and Data Mining are highly sought after for these positions.

This role is fairly important in light of the coronavirus outbreak when companies might have to increase the production of potential treatments and preventive products with reduced manpower.

IV inserted into coronavirus patient

6. Product Manager

Product Managers (PMs) are responsible for managing the entire life-cycle of an innovative product.

They oversee the development of a product and continue to monitor it after it launches.

PMs are also responsible for analyzing a product’s market performance.

They determine ways to boost a product’s commercial success and how to terminate older versions of the product.

Product managers working in pharma can help ideate and accompany the development of new products to fight and control viruses like the coronavirus.

PM roles are multifunctional and demand collaboration spread across multiple divisions of an organization.

As a PM, you must be able to quickly identify market needs, communicate those needs with your marketing team, and find innovative solutions for these needs.

You must also possess a unique blend of business acumen and creativity. 

Successful PMs are able to envision new products and clearly understand the competitive landscape of their market.

7. Medical Science Liaison

Becoming a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is an outstanding opportunity for STEM PhDs.

MSL positions can be found in a variety of healthcare-based sectors including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device sectors.

MSLs act as scientifically trained field personnel who are considered to be part of a company’s medical staff. 

Most MSLs are not even allowed to discuss drug prices or conduct sales.

This provides them with more freedom to learn and teach. 

As a result, they gain a deeper knowledge of therapeutic areas and are able to discuss detailed medical and scientific issues with physicians.

During the coronavirus outbreak, MSLs can serve as the communication line between the companies that are developing new treatments and the physicians caring for the general public.

As an MSL, one of your key responsibilities is to build rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in various therapeutic research areas.

You must have extensive clinical or medical knowledge and, at the same time, be a “people-person.”

Strong communication skills are important, but you must also be able to work independently and travel extensively.

You can become a more competitive candidate for these positions by first taking a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) position.

A PhD combined with CRA experience is considered by industry experts as the best way to prepare yourself for an MSL position.

8. Medical Writer/Science Journalist

Medical writers and Science journalists are trained to write about technical subjects like clinical trial-related documents, marketing for medical products, and topics in medicine for different audiences.

Written communication skills are obviously very important for this role. 

Science journalists will cover a viral outbreak, playing a role in the availability of information.

They will also know which sources to trust and how to process upcoming data to keep the general public informed.

With so much negative hype and misinformation across social media, good writing, based on supported scientific facts has never been more important.

Medical writers are in a prime position to double as science journalists.

They can provide coverage on the topics they professionally write about within the medical sphere.

With an intimate knowledge of coronavirus vaccine trials, for example, a medical writer can produce well-written articles on dense scientific info that the general public can understand.


9. R&D Scientist

This is undoubtedly the most popular option among science PhDs who wish to pursue a career outside the traditional academic path. 

Many innovation-based companies have actually been showing an increased interest in basic research. 

They often encourage their R&D scientists to publish and attend scientific conferences to present their data.

On the surface, it might appear that doing research in industry is the same as in a research institute. 

Although there are some similarities, there are also key differences in conducting research for industry or academia. 

In industry, research is driven by a singular goal: developing a cure for a specific disease, for instance.

By contrast, academic research is more exploratory.

As far as the coronavirus goes, industry R&D scientists are among those who propose and develop new therapies to treat diseases – including vaccines.

So, remember how badly industry needs its PhDs. These are just 9 of the positions in which PhDs can find fulfilling work that contributes to the world in a meaningful way. The coronavirus has illustrated that society needs good medical science, and industry PhDs can help in any number of ways. 

Quantitative analysts can help create models on how to avoid recession associated with outbreaks. Business development managers can help design strategies to make sure drugs and other products get to those who need them the most. Medical communication specialists will make sure that patients understand the implications and risks of new treatments developed to address COVID-19. Healthcare information technology specialists will make sure that doctors and agencies like the NIH and WHO have access to updated patient data.

During viral outbreaks, companies might have to increase the production of potential treatments and preventive products with reduced manpower, requiring the efforts of an operations research analyst. Product managers working in pharma can help ideate and accompany the development of new products to fight and control an unknown disease. 

During an outbreak, medical science liaisons can serve as the communication line between companies developing new treatments and physicians caring for the general public. Medical writers are in a prime position to double as science journalists and provide coverage on the topics they know professionally within the medical sphere. And industry R&D scientists are among those who propose and develop new therapies to treat diseases – including vaccines.

Isaiah Hankel


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