The R&D Career Track Versus Clinical Career Track For PhDs (12 Jobs Compared)

How can you hit your career goals when you’ve never defined your target? R&D career or Clinical, business and finance, marketing or information aggregation roles?

Every PhD, regardless of where they are in their job search, eventually admits one thing …they all admitted that they had waited way too long to take their job search seriously.

One of the biggest time sucking mistakes that PhDs continue to say they make is that they failed to correctly consider which job titles were right for them.

Many never thoroughly reviewed their industry options until they were about to defend their thesis, lose their postdoc, or run out of funding.

What would happen if you graduated, lost your funding or lost your academic position right now?

Would you even know what your options are in industry?

This is why we love training PhDs on their options in industry; because they go from believing they have few options or even no options, to realizing they have dozens of top careers to choose from, regardless of their background.

At Cheeky Scientist, we have a proven framework for getting PhDs hired called the Cheeky Scientist Methodology and part of this Methodology starts with helping you find the right career track out of the 5 major PhD industry career tracks, and then the right 1-3 job titles that are the perfect fit for you, your career dreams, and your desired compensation.

The 2 most popular career tracks of late are what we call the Research & Development Career Track and the Clinical & Medical Affairs Career Track. 

All PhDs have a research background (you couldn’t gather information and data for a thesis let alone write a thesis without learning how to do research) so, naturally, many PhDs are most immediately interested in R&D when they become interested in an industry job search. 

Here are 2 Cheeky Scientist Associates who have transitioned into R&D career in the industry recently. The first is from Swati Dhar, PhD who recently transitioned into a Senior Scientist position at NeoImmuneTech Inc. The second is from Emilia Bergoglio, PhD who recently transitioned into a R&D Engineer position at Splink Inc. Here is their industry transition video (~5 mins).

At the same time, we’ve found that many PhDs are very excited about working in clinical and medical affairs roles because PhDs (like you and like us) have always wanted to have a positive impact on humanity; specifically the health and longevity of humanity.

Here are 2 Cheeky Scientist Associates who have transitioned into clinical career recently. The first is from Haewon Park, PhD who recently transitioned into a Clinical Regulatory Affairs Specialist position at LUTRONIC. The second is from Swati Kunduri, PhD, who transitioned into a Medical Science Liaison at Chiesi. 

Below, we compare 6 job titles from the R&D Career Track and 6 jobs from the Clinical & Medical Affairs Career Track. Read through them carefully so you can start identifying which Track might be best for you. 

Should You Pursue Basic R&D Career Or Clinical Positions In Industry? 

We have rigorously studied both the R&D and Clinical industry sectors and have found that there are 12 job titles across the two that PhDs can get into regardless of their PhD background.

Importantly, these are the jobs that meet our compensation expectations for PhDs, which is why we’ve included the salaries for them below.

While the salaries are in USD, we were careful to ensure that how the salaries compared to each other were the same across countries (i.e. R&D Project Manager pays more than a Quality Assurance professional in all countries considered).

Whether your PhD background is in STEM, non-STEM, interdisciplinary, life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, humanities, mathematics, economics, teaching & learning and/or any other niche-specific discipline, you can get hired into the R&D career. 

Of course, for the Clinical & Medical Affairs job titles, you might be thinking “Uh oh, but I don’t have any actual clinical experience.

R&D career

Don’t worry about this. 

We can tell you after helping tens of thousands of PhDs get hired that you do NOT need clinical experience to enter the Clinical & Medical Affairs career track.

Importantly, the Clinical Research Scientist role can be included in either of these 2 career tracks so we have put it in both, side-by-side with the Research Scientist role in the R&D Career Track and side-by-side with the Clinical Trials Data Manager role in the Clinical & Medical Affairs Career Track.

6 Research & Development Job Titles And Descriptions For PhDs


1. R&D Scientist, Clinical Research Scientist, or R&D Engineer 

Including Scientist I, II, and III positions; Senior Scientist and Principal Scientist positions. These R&D career tracks are benchwork-based roles and can entail wet lab techniques, as well as experimental techniques related to software development, programming, or engineering. Average Salaries = $75,717 to $109,114.

2. User Experience Researcher 

This role asks a PhD to collect and analyze data to determine the reasons behind consumer behavior, including the wants, needs and priorities of people interacting with a company and companies products. Average Salary = $106,834 per year.

3. Technology Development Specialist

This role is relatively new in R&D and asks PhDs to be responsible for advising on and performing the full range of support services that facilitate the transfer of new technologies and research materials, particularly to the private sector, for further research or commercial development as appropriate. Average Salary = $76,717 per year.

4. Informatics Software Specialists 

This role is another new R&D role for PhDs and is similar to the Health Informatics Software Specialist roles found in health care facilities that are responsible for managing patient data. Here, a PhD is asked to catalog lab data and records, develop new methods for managing lab data and information, managing databases, and overseeing the process of transferring data across digital networks. Average Salary = $84,724 to $92,250 per year.

5. Quality Assurance (QA) & Quality Control (QC) Specialist 

These roles often require management of both quality assurance and quality control in a lab, which are interrelated, though defined differently. QA activities and responsibilities cover virtually all of the quality systems in a lab, supply chain or similar, while QC is a subset of the QA activities. Average Salary = $82,238 per year.

6. R&D Project Manager 

R&D project managers are asked to implement projects, particularly new product development projects, and keep them on schedule from start to completion date. This requires working collaboratively with cross-functional teams, executives and other key stakeholders, while maintaining the scope, budget, timeline and quality of multiple projects. Average Salary = $93,371.

6 Clinical & Medical Affairs Job Titles And Descriptions For PhDs

1. Medical Science Liaison (MSL)

This is the highest paid role and in it, PhDs are asked to provide information about their employer’s products, such as medical devices, drugs and treatments. They typically represent pharmaceutical companies to decision-makers in the medical community, also known as “key opinion leaders” (KOLs), as well as to investors and government regulatory agencies. Average Salary = $145,498.

2. Clinical Research Associate (CRA)

PhDs in this role are responsible for organizing and overseeing clinical studies or trials to contribute to advances in the medical community. Their duties include contacting individuals to participate in trials, reviewing medical histories of each participant before approval and writing reports to determine the overall success of a new drug, procedure or medical device. Average Salary = $84,343 per year.

3. Medical Affairs Associate 

This role asks PhDs to educate department team members, ensure questions from clinicians and patients are addressed, and provide informational services to healthcare providers. They work closely with Regulatory Affairs (see below) to help their company adhere to guidelines mandated by government and regulatory bodies. Average Salary = $87,147 per year.

4. Clinical Data Manager (CDM) or Clinical Research Scientist (CRS) 

In these roles, PhDs are directly involved with clinical research for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and other public, private, and academic-related research centers. Clinical data managers oversee all aspects of program-related data, from design and framework to collection, processing, storage, retrieval, and more, maintaining compliance with regulatory bodies such as the FDA and others. Average Salary = $78,495 to $87,121 per year.

5. Clinical Trials Project Manager (CPM) 

PhDs in this role are responsible for the management of all aspects of the clinical trial in terms of activities, key stakeholders, and assigned projects. Those in this role are accountable for achieving successful delivery of each project related to the trial while ensuring the company is meeting deadlines, budgets, quality, scope and regulations related to the trial. Average Salary = $93,751 per year.

6. Regulatory Affairs Specialist 

Here, PhDs are responsible for knowing all the regulations that apply to the industry they work in and for ensuring that these regulations are followed and documented, while also maintaining knowledge of all the applicable laws and regulations to ensure internal teams are aware of the legal standards that apply to their work. Average Salary = $93,371 per year.

Concluding Remarks

After being in academia for so long, you’ve probably let your career possibilities shrink down to doing a postdoc or becoming unemployed. Seriously, this is how bad things are getting for most PhDs in academia when it comes to their career options. In academia, we are told every day to avoid confirmation bias and to be critical of our work, which can be healthy. However, over time, this can morph into being critical of ourselves and others, and into avoiding confirmation bias in our own career progress. When it comes to your career, you must be biased. You must build a case for yourself, not against yourself. You must build a case for why you are the best job candidate for an industry job, whether the job is in the R&D Career Track or the Clinical & Medical Affairs Career Track. You are in demand in industry now, in all career tracks. Leverage this rare time and this rare economy to get hired into the top industry job of your choice. 

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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