Written By: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.
As a final year chemistry PhD student the only career I thought was available to me was to be a chemist.
I studied chemistry so now I had to go and be a chemist.
Apparently my passions had shifted during my PhD.
When I started my PhD I loved chemistry it was where I focused all my energy, I thought about it all the time.
As I neared the end of my PhD I slowly realized I wanted a change.
But was that acceptable?
I worried that I would be a failure if I left chemistry or if I left academia.
The day I could put the word doctor in front of my name came and went and I was still not sure what to do next, but I really wanted to try something new.
So even though I felt like I was betraying my education I started to explore the other positions that I might enjoy.
And I learned something incredible.
There were lots of PhDs employed in positions that had nothing to do with their degree where they were very happy.
I also found PhDs using the skills they learned in their studies in ways that I didn’t even know was possible.
Down the rabbit hole I went.
I started learning about all of the companies that want to hire PhDs like me and began trying to decide what would be the best fit for me and my specific skill set.
Why PhDs Are Highly Sought After Industry Employees
The biotech and biopharma industry is growing rapidly.
ContractPharma reported that the biotechnology market was valued at $330 billion in 2015 and is expected to more than double by 2024 to $775 billion.
With that incredibly rapid growth comes massive and fast change.
New technologies and innovations create an atmosphere of constant change and industry needs employees who can thrive under these conditions.
They need leaders.
They need PhDs.
As a PhD you can learn and interpret data better and faster than almost anyone else.
It is one of your most valuable skills.
And it is a skill that can be applied to all industry positions.
So whatever type of position you are interested in your fast learning will be an asset that employers want.
15 Industry Positions PhDs Are Being Hired Into Right Now
There are so many positions available to PhDs in industry.
Positions that might be similar to what you studied and positions that are very different but are still well suited to PhDs.
Don’t limit yourself to some specific job title because you think that’s what PhDs are supposed to do.
Explore your options, network, and find a role that is truly a good fit for you.
Here are 15 industry positions well suited to PhDs…
1. Data scientist.
The data science field has continued to grow throughout the entire year and PhDs are a great fit for these positions.
The continued collection and storage of massive amounts of data by companies drives the need for someone to handle, organize and analyze that data.
Capably analyzing a large quantity of data and then finding important information from within this ocean of formless data is the key ingredient for success.
Computational and analytical skills are crucial, but they alone are not enough to be successful in this role.
You also need to understand the business aspects and be able to predict and advise how the information will influence future decisions.
2. User experience design and research.
User experience (UX) is a relatively new field and all the facets of this area are still being defined.
What that means for you has a PhD is that you can bring your unique skills into this field and create a position.
Basically, user experience design and research is a field dedicated to learning about how humans interact with machines.
So yes, some people in this field are designers, but not everyone! They need people to analyze data, make decisions, and understand how changes will impact both customers and the business.
Many UX researchers work for technology companies, but tons of other company types employ UX professionals such as retailers, banks, and healthcare companies.
The biggest skill you need to succeed in UX is a love for problem solving and finding new, better, and innovate ways of doing things.
And as a PhD this is something you do better than most people.
3. Technical sales.
Many PhDs avoid sales positions thinking that this is not a position suitable for a PhD.
But this is just because PhDs have huge misconceptions about sales. Salespeople are not manipulative, ‘bad’, ‘slick’ or any of the other stereotypes associated with sales.
In the STEM fields many sales professionals are also scientists and are passionate about providing researchers with technologies that will make their work easier and better.
Look around your lab, is there a product that you love? One that you recommend to other people because you know it works?
As a technical salesperson in industry you could be the person selling that product and helping other labs benefit from using that tool. Through sales so you can apply your scientific skill sets to a variety of labs and projects, not just one lab or one project.
With your PhD in hand, you will maintain your credibility with customers and key opinion leaders, while having more resources and more support to help these professionals solve their problems.
4. Medical science liaison.
Becoming a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) is a rapidly growing opportunity for STEM PhDs.
MSL positions can be found in a variety of healthcare-based sectors including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device sectors.
The biggest misconception regarding MSL positions is that it is a sales position. This is not true.
As an MSL, one of your key responsibilities is to build rapport with 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.
This is a great resource to find out if an MSL position is right for you.
5. Field application scientist.
This is an incredibly in demand position for STEM PhDs and often these positions will require a PhD.
This is a position that goes by many names, and so networking and informational interviews are key to finding open positions.
You might see field application scientist described as, Technical Support Scientist, Field Support Scientist, Field Service & Applications, Field Applications Manager, in most cases these terms essentially describe the same professional role.
Every company that sells a product will need an application scientist to make sure the customers are using it to the full extent.
You will provide support and training for specific products that customers need which means that you will need your PhD training to understand the products.
Application Scientists may be in the field for face-to-face interactions, while others may be in the lab offering support over the phone. Great interpersonal skills and critical thinking ability are necessary for this role.
The consultant role is a bit of an elusive position to define.
It takes on many forms depending on what sector you chose to work in and what your specific expertise is.
There are consultant positions in the life sciences, quality management, environment, processes and systems, finance, marketing, data analytics… the list goes on.
In this role you bring your expertise as a PhD and also your incredible ability to learn quickly and make decisions based on information you have learned.
Consultants also often serve as a go-between for the technical side of things and the business side of things.
So this is a great role for those who like to learn, problem solve and can communicate clearly with different types of people.
Consultants can work for a consulting firm, be an in house consultant or be self-employed.
7. Medical Writer.
Medical Writers play an integral role in the creation of a huge variety of documents for biotech and biopharma companies.
Medical writers create regulatory applications, marketing material for a drug or medical device, clinical trials related documents, documentation intended for institutional review boards and other official paperwork necessary for the medical sector.
As the job title indicates, written communication skills are very important for this position.
But keep in mind that writing skills alone are not enough to be successful in this position.
Medical writers must also have knowledge of medical science which makes this a good career choice for STEM PhDs.
It is essential to have the ability to summarize and explain large pieces of technical information in a way that will be understandable by a wide variety of readers.
8. Project manager.
In any technology-based industry, continuous innovation and development of new products is one of the key ingredients for success.
All the research going on in an R&D division needs to be managed properly in order to control expenditures, ensure the timely completion of projects, and achieve the required results.
This is the responsibility of the R&D Project Manager (PM).
The many responsibilities associated with this position make it best suited to those who possess a deep understanding of technologies (aka STEM PhDs).
As a PM you would oversee the process and techniques used by the researchers, ensure financial support is being utilized properly, and make sure the projects are in alignment with the long-term strategy of the organization.
As a PM you need to be well versed in the technical aspects of a company’s products but also the current market trends so you can make good decisions about what projects to focus on.
9. Regulatory affairs.
With the growing complexity and continuous evolution of regulatory laws, advanced science degree holders with detailed scientific knowledge are in increasing demand for regulatory roles.
The main responsibility of someone in Regulatory Affairs is to deal with regulatory matters related to the FDA and other regulatory bodies.
This mostly consists of documentation, filing of regulatory paperwork, and ensuring that the organization is following the correct regulatory guidelines.
Your purpose is to connect the dots between research and development of a clinical product and its regulatory approval.
A detailed knowledge of the regulatory requirements and the drug development life cycle is required to be successful in this role.
Being detail-oriented and skilled at time management are also essential for this role, as accurate completion and timely submission of documentation for regulatory filings are its key responsibilities.
10. Technology transfer.
Have you ever wondered if you (or your research team) ever invent something that has direct translational value, what steps will be necessary to actually bring it out in the market?
This is what a technology transfer professional does.
Technology transfer positions are often found at universities and present an opportunity for you to stay connected to academic research and industry development at the same time.
As a technology transfer professional you bridge the gap between a university and a company.
Almost every major research institute, university, and research hospital employs science PhDs as Technology Transfer Officers.
As a technology transfer officer, your goal will be to identify promising technologies, manage intellectual property (IP) portfolios, search for opportunities for the licensing of these inventions, and facilitate the foundation of start-ups based on the university’s research.
11. Science communication.
A wide variety of organizations, ranging from tech industry to market research firms, require the services of professionals who have the combination of scientific knowledge and writing skills (aka STEM PhDS).
Every major technology-based organization needs people who are good at writing scientific material for a variety of purposes, such as communicating with investors, providing information to the general public, writing instruction manuals, advertising the products, and also for maintaining a social media presence.
If you are the kind of person who really enjoys researching information and writing about it, this may be the ideal career for you.
This is a broad career where you will have the ability to stay up to date with new innovations as you communicate science to a wide range of audiences.
12. Senior scientist/engineer/researcher.
This is undoubtedly the most popular option among all STEM PhDs who wish to pursue a career in industry.
Almost every innovation-based industrial sector can offer a research opportunity to PhDs that provide a place to do meaningful and fulfilling research.
A few things that make an industry research position a superior option compared to an academic research career is that once you have transitioned to industry you will not be faced with the uncertainty of securing tenure.
Research projects in industry are financially supported by the R&D budget of the company and your work will have a tangible, positive influence on society through the implementation of innovations that solve problems in daily life, or contribute to finding a needed therapies.
13. Clinical research associate.
A Clinical Research Associate (CRA) can be described as a clinical trial professional who oversees, monitors, and provides guidance to the administration and progress of a clinical trial on behalf of the organization sponsoring the clinical trial.
In most cases a sponsoring organization is a major life science oriented company which may conduct the trial directly by itself or employ a Contract Research Organization (CRO) to carry out the trial on their behalf.
The everyday duties of a CRA consist of executing data collection methods, coordinating between sponsor and CROs, implementation of clinical trial protocols, and maintaining smooth collection and maintenance of the clinical trial data.
You have a daily connection to the tangible outcomes of life science innovations.
Marketing positions are a good option for PhDs who enjoy communication and writing for a broad audience.
Marketing teams are responsible for producing communication material for both internal purposes as well as communicating externally with corporate partners, creating advertisements and writing technical product brochures.
A marketing professional can also be involved in writing and managing the content in the official website of an organization.
So you will get to interact with people from almost every division of your organization.
You become the voice of a product or organization and it’s your job to communicate effectively with each layer of an organization.
15. Product manager.
Before the technology experts can start R&D, there is someone who determines what they should concentrate on developing and commercializing.
This is the role of a product manager.
As a product manager your responsibilities will include advising scientists and engineers where to focus their expertise as well as understanding problems in the real world, communicating with your marketing team, and finding innovative solutions to existing problems.
You would also be responsible for analyzing a product’s market performance and determining ways to boost a product’s commercial success.
PM roles are available for PhDs in most technology-based sectors, including electronics, aeronautics, IT and software, and of course, biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.
There is no shortage of positions in industry that are suitable for PhDs. All you need to do is learn about these careers and figure out which ones could be a good fit for you. Just a few of the positions that are great for PhDs and that employers are consistently hiring PhDs for are data scientist, user experience design and research, technical sales, medical science liaison, field application scientist, consultant, project manager, technology transfer, science communication, senior scientist/engineer/researcher, clinical research associate, marketing, and product manager. There are even more positions for PhDs than those listed here, so get out an do informational interviews to find out what role you can see yourself in.
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