3 Things PhDs Must Know To Become R&D Project Managers

One thing I love about being a project manager?

I get to exercise my multitasking abilities to the fullest.

To be specific, I’m an associate clinical project manager, which means that I get to manage each and every aspect of a study.

This includes:

  • Site selection
  • Contract negotiations
  • Personnel management
  • Study start-up and handling of finances
  • Enrollment tracking

I have control over an entire study from start to finish, and I take love accomplishing multiple tasks every day.

But before looking for work in project management, I had to identify what sort of industry role I wanted.

This included the types of roles that I didn’t want – for example, I knew that I didn’t want to do bench research.

I wanted a multi-functional position – a requirement easily met in a project manager’s daily work!

After building a carefully tailored resume, exercising good networking practices, and a lot of time spent interviewing, I was able to negotiate my way through a few project manager job offers.

And once I really started getting comfortable in my new role, I realized how different it was from academia – the work I do has a ripple effect across the entire company.

It’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s incredibly fulfilling.

On the whole, this job represents a great opportunity for science PhDs who are interested in pursuing a nonacademic career.

Fortunately for those PhDs, industry is always on the lookout for talented project managers with science degrees.

Why Industry Needs PhD-Holding R&D Project Managers

If you think that project managers aren’t crucial employees, think again – the Project Management Institute reports that 85% of firms have a project management office.

And if salary is any indication of importance, Glassdoor confirms excellent project manager salaries from a wide range of noteworthy companies, many of which pay over $100K/year.

Companies don’t just hand out money like that – project managers are valuable assets.

There are a lot of different certification programs to become a project manager, but would you like to know a little secret?

You don’t need one.

It can certainly help, but if you’re a PhD, you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a certification – you already have the transferable skills required.

That skill is R&D project management, and PhDs have been practicing it on a daily basis in their research, dating back through grad school.

Anyone who’s worked in a university lab, or been a TA, has had to manage different academic projects.

That means you know how it’s done, and you can take that knowledge with you into an industry career in project management.

What PhDs Must Know To Become R&D Project Managers.

It’s clear that PhDs are highly suited to work in R&D project management.

But that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a master of industry work right away.

The driving forces behind industry and academia are pretty different, so it’s natural to expect that each will have its own nuanced version of project management.

PhDs know how to oversee different project parts and juggle multiple tasks.

They also know how to coordinate and bring together these separate features into a cohesive whole.

Industry project managers do the same thing!

But there are still some things PhDs need to know before they head into this career.

Here are 3 important concepts that PhDs need to consider before they pursue careers as project managers.

1. Project management can include a lot of different things.

In industry, R&D project management can include a wide range of responsibilities.

This means that the tasks you undertake will vary, and some companies might want to mix and match management types to suit their needs.

As a project manager, you’ll probably be responsible for removing obstacles from the workloads of developers and scientists.

This can mean many different things – increasing the flow of communication, coordinating efforts, managing budgets, or a lot of other issues that come up.

Generally, project managers are problem solvers who innovate efficient systems for the people under them.

In R&D project management, you will also oversee the process and techniques used by researchers.

This is to ensure financial support is being utilized properly, and that the project being undertaken by the R&D team is in alignment with the long-term strategy of the organization.

As a project manager, you’ll also be responsible for a single product (or portfolio of products), and you’re going to nurture your project all the way from conception to market.

This means you’ll likely need to understand market needs, which will help you make decisions about which new projects to initiate.

That includes decisions regarding which existing projects should be given priority.

2. Industry-style project management is different than the academic style.

Has a PI ever ruined your day by making you interrupt your research project, or even by cancelling it?

This situation can make a researcher feel lost and unmotivated – why put in the effort if it will all go to waste?

In industry, things are different.

For one, industry project management is broken down into defined work cycles.

Industry project managers set the terms and timelines of the projects, and during that time, work remains devoted to the initial goals.

Compared to academia, this can be pretty refreshing!

For example, unlike in academia, you won’t work for 2 weeks before a PI comes in and says, “Time to change direction!”

In industry, a project manager sets goals and team roles, hits predefined milestones, and follows up with team members – nothing changes until that work cycle is over.

As you worked on academic projects, you probably had no milestones to hit.

Things probably got shuffled around, and your goals were constantly changing.

Industry is not into theory and speculation – it wants results.

Your goal will be to produce deliverable results, and the project will only be completed once those goals are achieved.

3. R&D project managers have to master cross-functional work

R&D project managers aren’t sitting at a lab bench – they’re not isolated or secluded from other departments.

They actually interact quite a bit with managers and personnel from other sections throughout the company.

A project manager won’t have any authority over someone from a different department, so it will be a level work relationship.

This is called “cross-functional” work, in which employees from different company divisions work toward shared goals.

As a PhD, you’re highly trained in this.

By now, you’ve probably had to work with other postdocs in academia, other PhD students, people from other labs, etc.

You weren’t in charge of these people, and they weren’t in charge of you – this style of collaboration is key in R&D project management.

You have to be able to influence people and work together to get results, and you may find yourself coordinating with teams from:

  • Marketing
  • Medical affairs
  • Regulatory affairs
  • Manufacturing
  • An executive department

In a way, the R&D project manager is like a set focal point in company affairs – a communications hub for all the different activities that need to happen as a project moves forward.

Does a role in project management sound right for you? Are you a PhD who loves multitasking and diverse responsibility? Remember that project management can include a lot of different things. And while you may have a lot of experience managing academic projects, industry-style project management is different than the academic style. R&D project managers have to master cross-functional work, so the ability to coordinate with other personnel is essential. It may be demanding, but if you love engaging work with a leadership role, few careers are as fulfilling as this one.

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.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly

ABOUT DEVSMITA DAS, PHD

Devsmita Das, PhD, is a trained physician with 7 years of experience in public health, neuroscience, and cancer research. Included among her numerous contributions to science are published studies in high-impact journals and international conference presentations. At heart a self-motivated clinical scientist, Devsmita’s passion for data analysis and experimentation are lighthouses in the receding mist of the medical unknown.

Devsmita Das, PhD

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

Best Of Transition: Ph.D. Jobs & Job Search Strategies January 7, 2023

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

4 Red-Hot Intellectual Property Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine.  We were researchers at the same lab back in our university days. We had lost touch, but when he found me on LinkedIn I couldn’t wait to hear what he’s done since graduation.  He told me he had not wound up in chemistry, which had been his major. Biomolecular chemistry, he reminded me. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in patent law.  Here’s his transition story: I was in the process of earning my PhD in biomolecular chemistry. That’s where I learned that patents were unrecognized by…

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

4 Oddly Popular PhD Careers In Finance And Business

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

PhDs in the sciences and humanities are not qualified to work in finance or business. At least that’s what I thought. That was until I started hearing more of my former colleagues talk about their transition into consulting and financial service roles. These were people who specialized in very niche areas of science. I was surprised to learn that their skills were needed in the financial and business sectors of industry. What can a PhD in the sciences or humanities possibly contribute to finance and business? As always, it comes down to your transferable skills. These sectors are seeking highly…

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

PhD Careers In Clinical, Medical, And Regulatory Affairs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I was defending my PhD in 6 months, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. What job did I want? Where did I see myself in 5 to 10 years? My goal was to get out of academia and into industry – and as quickly as possible. Beyond that, I hadn’t thoroughly considered my options. In fact, when I finally sat down to apply for jobs, I blindly searched for open positions using standard terms: “Researcher,” “Scientist,” “Biologist,” and so on. As a science PhD, that’s what I was qualified for, right? What I didn’t appreciate…

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

6 Research And Development Roles For PhDs (Not Just Research Scientist)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When you envision yourself in an industry role, what do you see? Like many PhDs, you might imagine yourself in a research position where you are developing and performing experiments, analyzing data, presenting the data to your research team, and so on. After all, that’s what your PhD has trained you for, right? But if the thought of spending a life-long career conducting experiments fills you with dread, start looking beyond the bench. There are plenty of fulfilling career paths within Research and Development (R&D) that keep you close to the innovation. As one Cheeky Scientist member recently shared:  …

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

4 Great PhD Careers In Sales And Marketing (Don’t Overlook #3)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Like many PhDs, you may think that Research and Development is the only department in industry that hires PhDs. But the reality is, your skills are needed in every area of industry. That means that every single department within a company is seeking PhD-level candidates. In fact, there are five core industry career tracks that can provide PhDs with meaningful and rewarding work: Information and Data Management (this is a broad category that includes everything from Patent Analyst and Informatics Specialist roles to Medical Writing and Data Scientist roles), Research and Development, Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, Classical Business (e.g., Management…

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

Data Scientist, Patent Analyst & Medical Writing Positions For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

What industry position can I apply to? That’s one of the most common questions PhDs ask once they decide to leave academia. What you probably don’t realize is that you have many options when it comes to choosing a career. So, the real question is not what industry position you can apply to, but what industry position is the right fit for you. Which position better matches your professional lifestyle and career goals?  In previous blogs we’ve discussed how to establish your desired professional lifestyle and how to use it to evaluate your target career track and companies. In the…

3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

3 Factors PhDs Must Consider When Deciding Company Fit

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you recently started your job search, you probably feel the pressure of proving that you’re a good fit for the industry roles you’re applying to.  You have to carefully craft your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile, and prepare for countless interviews just to prove you’re  qualified for a position.  This pressure can make you feel that employers hold all the power, and the only thing that matters is convincing them that you’re the best candidate for the role. Don’t let this pressure make you neglect other key components of a successful career, like company fit.  You’ll likely accept…

8 Work Qualities PhDs Should Assess When Planning A Career Move

8 Work Qualities PhDs Should Assess When Planning A Career Move

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

If you have a PhD, you’re among the 2% of the population who has committed to push a field of knowledge forward.  That makes you one of the most innovative people in the world. This is something special. As such, you deserve to work in a position where your tenacity and ability to solve problems are out of good use. Where you feel satisfied and are rewarded for your job. That’s why I encourage all PhDs to look for an industry position, because academia is a dead end where dreams go to die. However, you have to be strategic when…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.