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Top 5 Biocareers For Life Science PhDs

Written By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

As the end of my PhD approached, I was very uncertain about what was next for me.

Almost every PhD I knew went on to do a postdoc.

But that just did not sound appealing to me.

I did not want to spend several more years in an unsupportive academic environment, making a very low salary.

I wanted to be able to support my family and create the life that I wanted.

A postdoc salary was not going to make that possible.

But, I had no idea what else was available to me.

What else could I do with my PhD, besides do a postdoc?

I started to attend all sorts of networking events targeted at people who were not PhDs.

This was an eye-opening experience.

I met people who worked in many different industries, who told me about a huge range of positions suitable to PhDs that I was completely unaware of, previously.

There were so many more options available to me, as a science PhD, than just doing a postdoc.

Why Life Science PhDs Must Consider An Industry Career

The academic career opportunities for PhDs are dwindling.

There are just too many PhDs for the academic system to support and employ.

According to the National Science Foundation, more than 55,000 PhDs were granted in a one-year period.

This is way too many PhDs for academia to properly support.

Instead, PhDs are strung along the traditional academia path and told it will to lead them to a professorship.

But less than 1% of PhDs will become tenured professors.

And, many life science PhDs struggle to find any employment.

As reported by the Atlantic, more than 42% of life science PhDs are unemployed when they graduate.

Life science PhDs spend years becoming experts in their field, yet struggle to find employment. This is unacceptable and unnecessary.

Life science PhDs are actually in high demand outside of academia and there are many opportunities available to them.

Academia just fails to make PhDs aware of these industry opportunities.

As a life science PhD, you must take it upon yourself to learn about these alternative industry biocareers.

Top 5 Industry Careers For Life Science PhDs

Your life science PhD is highly valuable.

Do not let the poor academic career prospects cause you to lose sight of your value.

In industry, there are a variety of biocareers available to PhDs, where they will find the support and compensation they deserve.

Here are the top 5 biocareers for life science PhDs…

1. Management consulting.

As a PhD, you are an expert in identifying and solving complex problems through critical thinking.

Companies have realized that they can use PhD expertise and brain power to develop better strategies for success.

In the consulting world, life science PhDs are increasingly in demand because of their ability to integrate information and solve complex problems.

But, in consulting, you need to think quickly, as decisions are made much faster than in academia.

If you are tired of the slow pace of academia, consulting may be an exciting option for you.

With or without prior business experience, PhDs are regularly hired by some of the largest consulting firms in the world.

On top of your ability to design comprehensive solutions to difficult problems, as a management consultant, you must be able to work in a collaborative environment.

As a life science PhD, you have worked with colleagues and facilitated group collaborations.

Leveraging these transferable skills will be key to transitioning into a management consulting role.

Bottom line, your interpersonal and communication skills need to be top notch.

Being a consultant has some amazing benefits.

First, the pay is very good. Management consulting is one of the most lucrative biocareers well-suited to life science PhDs.

Second, after you have some experience in consulting, many other doors and avenues will be open to you.

From entrepreneurship to C-level management positions, your PhD and your consulting experience will allow you to go in whatever direction you want.

2. Medical science liaison.

Medical science liaison (MSL) is a growing role that is perfectly suited to life science PhDs.

MSL roles can be found in various healthcare-oriented sectors such as pharmaceutical, biotechnology, contract research organizations (CROs), and medical device organizations.

Each MSL role is highly specific and suited to a PhD’s specific expertise.

MSLs are a part of an organization’s medical staff and they are responsible for building rapport with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in various therapeutic areas of research.

The scientific and medical knowledge that you gain during your PhD or postdoctoral training in a life science field will make you a great candidate for this position.

As a life science PhD, you really are the ideal candidate for MSL positions.

But, there is more to the position than just being an expert — you also must have excellent interpersonal skills.

Your main job is to interact with research leaders and build relationships with them.

You will be required to travel extensively, meet face-to-face with people, and give presentations often.

Because of the specialized knowledge required and the specific personality needed to execute the job, MSL positions are highly competitive.

Currently, PhDs with medical knowledge have a significant advantage in gaining employment as MSLs.

But, the future for PhDs who want to transition into MSL roles is looking bright.

The MSL is one of the fastest growing biocareers for life science PhDs.

3. Medical communications.

Pharmaceutical and healthcare organizations require the development of medical communications, for a variety of reasons.

These documents, created by a medical writer or communicator, include things such as 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.

Medical writers can also be involved in medical education documents and presentations.

Clearly, a person in this role must have excellent communication skills.

But beyond that, a medical communication role is an excellent biocareer for life science PhDs because it requires high-level knowledge of medical science.

This doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert in all areas of medical science, but your background in life science is very important, and most companies only hire medical writers who have a PhD in a life science.

As a life science PhD, you know medical basics, and are a skilled researcher capable of understanding a wide variety of medical disciplines.

Often, PhDs who are trying to break into medical writing start off as freelance writers to gain initial experience and establish their credibility.

Another way to gain experience and exposure in medical writing is to join professional organizations such as the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA).

Associations like the AMWA allow you build a network within the field, and learn about the sector’s current trends and career opportunities.

There is an increasing demand for medical writers with both scientific knowledge and writing communication skills, making this biocareer a great opportunity for any life science PhD with an aptitude for writing.

4. Research and development scientist.

For those life science PhDs who want to continue to conduct research and make new discoveries, transitioning into a role as an industry research and development scientist is a great option.

As a life science PhD, you have a great advantage over other R&D scientist job applicants.

You have received the highest level of training possible, and are an expert researcher for your field.

All the skills you have gained as a PhD researcher are transferable to an industry research scientist position.

Using your critical thinking skills and analytical skills, and making new discoveries is what you have been trained to do.

And, in industry, you will be able to apply those skills to the development of new medicines or new technologies.

Plus, as an industry research scientist, your skills will be well-compensated.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an industry research scientist is $84,000.

5. Application scientist.

The application scientist role is often overlooked by life science PhDs.

PhDs are under the impression that an application scientist is just a sales role that would not allow them to use their extensive science background.

But, this impression is wrong.

In an application scientist role, you will need to use your technical knowledge and experience, as well as your great communication skills.

Troubleshooting problems for customers is a main task for application scientists, and you must be able to think critically and solve problems within a limited time.

Another advantage of this biocareer is that it offers the opportunity to hone your business knowledge.

Life science PhDs interested in pursuing other business roles might consider an application scientist positions as a bridging role.

Application scientists travel often and constantly meet with new people, making it an excellent platform for building a wide network.

While academic career prospects are diminishing, the opportunities for life science PhDs outside the ivory tower are growing. Your skills are desirable in an array of industry biocareers. Industry needs life science PhDs to fill management consulting, medical science liaison, medical communication, research and development scientist, and application scientist roles. Whatever your passion or career interests, there is an industry position suited to your skillset.

To learn more about the Top 5 Biocareers For Life Science PhDs, 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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Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

Aditya has a PhD in Physics from the University of Toronto, Canada and a passion for Nanotechnology. His PhD project focused on 3D magnetic nanostructures and he is now combining this passion with his keen business acumen and works as a scientific consultant at a top Canadian consulting firm.
Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.