Why PhDs Must Understand Corporate Organizational Structure, Operations Management, And Workplace Teamwork

Benchwork can make you completely oblivious to the world around you.

PhDs become so obsessed with their experiments, papers, and personal achievements, that they often forget the big picture.

When I was still in the lab, I remember a labmate doing revisions for a manuscript that needed to be resubmitted by the end of the month.

A key experiment was getting a particular Western blot to work.

This experiment was the bane of my labmate’s existence.

(Or at least that’s how it seemed to the rest of us.)

The problem was he needed a better antibody.

Then one day, my labmate finally found this critical antibody online and ordered it immediately.

Only, there was a delay in the delivery.

Due to the delay, he wasn’t able to get the experimental results he needed on time.

My labmate had to explain to our supervisor why the experiment was not completed.

Everyone got angry.

My labmate blamed the courier.

He blamed the company.

He wrote them a scathing email on how they were delaying scientific progress.

In reality, however, he was simply failing to understand the level of complexity that is involved when producing this antibody while meeting high quality standards at the same time.

He failed to realize how much effort biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies invest in bringing products, drugs, and treatments, into the marketplace.

To the company representative who answered his emails and phone calls, it must have been obvious that he was a naïve PhD student who had little business knowledge.

In retrospect, both my labmate and I learned a lot during this situation.

Eventually, we realized that if any PhD wanted to work effectively in industry, they had to learn how industry worked.

They had to start thinking about the production line from the development of products to the delivery of these products.

By learning more about how companies in industry function, especially in terms of how much effort and coordination goes into bringing products into the marketplace, PhDs can prepare themselves to work effectively in industry.

Why PhDs Must Understand Corporate Structure

Understanding corporate structure will make you a more relevant job candidate.

Just as importantly, it makes you a more effective industry employee after you’re hired.

Too many PhDs show up to their first onsite interview and completely bomb business acumen questions.

When asked about the company’s departments and how these departments work together to deliver products to clients, these PhDs stare blankly at the interviewer.

All departments perform together to achieve a specific goal.

This is true within any industry company.

“That’s not my department” isn’t a phrase you can use once you’re hired.

Instead, you must thoroughly understand how each department functions and why it functions that way.

This is because each departmental function holds its own importance and the performance of the organization is reflected in the joint efforts of every department, starting from identifying the customer’s need to delighting the customer in end fulfillment (delivery of the product).

Without teamwork, a company will fail.

In a study by Millennial Branding and American Express entitled ‘Gen Y Workplace Expectations’, teamwork skills is one of the 3 most important skills in the eyes of a hiring manager.

In addition, nearly 3 in 4 employers rate teamwork and collaboration as a ‘very important’ aspect of business success in industry.

These teamworking skills, business acumen, and transferable skills in general, are more valuable than technical skills.

Everyone in industry knows this. Do you?

5 Industry Departments And How They Work Together

In academia, your cares in life can get reduced to two things: keeping your advisor happy and graduating, or getting into a professorship.

You can learn to only care about your project, your PhD, and your publications.

Your work becomes all about you and your accolades.

This is okay because benchwork is a very individual process.

In industry, however, things can be different.

In industry, you are simply one piece in a very complex system that must work together flawlessly with other pieces, and with near perfect communication in order to keep the organization running.

In industry, you can do meaningful scientific work that directly produces products, drugs, and treatments that help people in this lifetime, all while getting paid well for it.

The key is understanding which industry positions are available and which are right for you, then getting hired into one of those positions, and then learning to work together within your department and with every other department to deliver valuable products to the company’s clients.

Here are 5 key industry departments and how these departments work together to develop products and deliver them to clients…

1. Research & Development.

The research & development (R&D) department drive a company’s innovation.

This is most commonly where an idea or finding derived from scientific research results is turned into a product or service.

Effective running of an R&D department involves a cascade of steps that need to be well-planned and executed.

Not only do the department’s research results need to be reproducible, the department needs to also ensure that the product, drug, or treatment functions properly and does not put the client in danger (because of drug side-effects, product malfunction, etc.).

For example, toxic effects are often tested on cell culture, in animal trials, and/or in clinical trials with partnering hospitals.

The research and testing process itself can easily take years.

During this time, other departments within an organization will spend time finding ways to scale up the production of the proposed product, store the proposed product, and deliver the proposed product.

Many R&D teams work together with academic researchers, commonly referred to as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), to help test early versions of the proposed product.

Depending on the size of the company, the R&D department may work side-by-side with the marketing department from very early on in the product development process.

This will ensure that the final product meets the actual needs of the market — in other words, that there will be clients who will actually want to buy the product.

R&D often carries a greater financial risk than other departments, since most experiments fail and most projects do not lead to a profitable product (as a PhD, you understand this).

For example, the Tufts Center For The Study Of Drug Development estimated that it costs an average of $2.6 billion USD and takes over a decade to bring just one product to market.

2. Technical Sales.

Salespeople develop a mutually beneficial relationship with a customer by giving the customer friendly advice, technical support, services, and of course, offering the right product to meet the customer’s needs.

If the customer is satisfied with the service of a company’s sales team, this can build a loyal foundation which will bring the company financial gain for years to come.

The goal of any technical sales team is to develop firsthand knowledge of the needs of the customers.

This can be done by doing anything from an onsite visit, to a cold call, or a cold email.

These sales activities are done side-by-side with the strategies of the product management team and marketing team .

PhDs in technical sales positions are often those who have a wide range of transferable skills, particularly those related to communication and teamworking skills. 

Technical sales people work in “the field” and are essentially the face of the company.

As such, these employees must communicate the company’s values, solve customer problems, and constantly build rapport.

By successfully selling products, technical salespeople ensure the survival of the company, namely by providing additional cash-flow for investing in new R&D innovations.

In most cases, customers will first have contact with a salesperson at a company.

This is true regardless of what the customers’ queries are about.

The salesperson will then connect the customer to other departments in the company, such as service, finance, or technical support.

If the company sells complex products, they will often employ ‘account managers’ who can focus exclusively on the relationship with the customer while instrument specialists, medical device personnel, medical science liaisons, application scientists, and other specialists work to solve the customer’s (and/or product’s) problems.

3. Marketing.

Marketing drives many different aspects of the company and, as such, works with many different departments.

For example, most marketing departments will work with the company’s product development, product management, and commercialization teams.

Most marketing departments will also work closely with the sales department to develop specific strategies to achieve the company’s sales targets.

This department’s activities can include everything from designing flyers for customers, to monitoring a competitor’s activities.

A good marketing team makes the company visible and favorable, all while attracting sales.

From the company’s point of view, marketing needs to be involved in strategic planning activities for the product (and product lines) in order to generate revenue and profit growth by maximizing knowledge of customer/application segmentation, product positioning, pricing, competition, and new product development.

Similar to product management efforts, marketing efforts require strong collaboration skills, along with the ability to identify and communicate customer needs.

Marketing teams must also be able to translate technical product information into clear, concise, and creative product descriptions.

These teams must also be cross-functional since they require feedback from many different departments.

4. Product/Project Management.

Product and project managers work at the intersection between business, technology, and user experience.

Feedback from customers is picked up by these managers, who work closely with all other company departments to improve the product.

In most cases, a product manager works more closely with the marketing team, while a project manager works more closely with the R&D team.

These managers should know all the ins and outs of the current version of the product and be able to help the sales team and the customer in cases where there are questions during the sales process or when problems occur after the product has been sold.

In addition to having near complete knowledge of the product itself, product and project managers should know details about the product’s inventory, as well as any quality issues that can result in delivery delays.

These managers should also be fully aware of ongoing product developments and upcoming product improvements.

A good product manager or project manager must work carefully with forecasting and finance teams to align sales forecasts with current product inventory and the manufacturing of additional inventory.

In short, these managers must understand the technological aspects and time frames for development.

Most importantly, these managers must excel at collaboration and teamwork, working together with many other departments (often without having authority over anyone in these departments) to maximize a product’s business value.

5. Customer Service & Technical Support.

The customer service department manages order handling, which includes processing any order that is placed via telephone, the company website, e-mail, or fax (yes, some people still fax).

Very often, these orders are transferred to an electronic order system which will provide the customer with information on the delivery time and stock available at the different warehouses.

In cases where there are delivery problems (product delays, out-of-stock situations), customer service people will inform the customer about these issues and discuss possible alternatives.

Customer service and technical support personnel must have exceptional communication skills.

They must also be able to work with different database systems to provide information on the delivery or production status of different products.

Technical support, which is different than technical sales, is focused on providing technical help and administrative support for all applications and equipment that are sold by the company.

Solving customers’ issues is the technical support team’s top priority; however, technical support teams must also excel in information management.

These teams are in charge of supporting the sales team in achieving their objectives and are essential in building and maintaining relationships with customers.

Companies rely on many departments in order to be successful. From product development to sales, to information services, they all feed off one another and need everyone’s cooperation. Academics are used to focusing on one problem to achieve one person’s success. In order to transition into industry, you need to think big picture and learn about how each cog fits in the wheel. Not only will you impress the hiring manager, but this business mindset will open doors for internal promotions and stepping up the corporate ladder. Familiarize yourself with the different departments involved in bringing a product to market so you can set yourself up for success in your industry transition.

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.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Karin Weigelt, Ph.D.
Karin Weigelt, Ph.D.

Karin holds a PhD in Molecular Cell Biology and has training in professional sales. Currently working for Bio-Rad Laboratories as an Account Manager in the Southwestern part of the Netherlands, she understands both the technological and the commercial aspects of the life science industry.

Karin loves innovative technologies and to help people in science to implement or combine these new methods and technologies so both science and patients can profit of technological progress and applied science.

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 12th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 12th 2021

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.…

The PhD’s Guide To Picking The Best Industry Data Scientist Jobs

The PhD’s Guide To Picking The Best Industry Data Scientist Jobs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I started the long road toward my doctorate, I never would have put “PhD” and “unemployed” in the same sentence.  Nevertheless, that’s the reality 60% of all PhDs will face at some point in their career. You might even be living (or soon facing) that reality right now. With more universities scaling back in-person classes in favor of virtual learning, you can expect those secure full-time professorship jobs to grow fewer by the day, too. Why offer a tenured position when you can just hire low-paid adjuncts – especially with online courses becoming the norm? Fortunately, PhDs in data…

3 Fears That Are Strangling Your Career Options

3 Fears That Are Strangling Your Career Options

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Fears destroy your poetntial. I don’t understand why anyone would get their PhD and stay in academia anymore. Logically, that is.  Logically, any PhD can see how postdocs and PhD students are exploited by the system as cheap labor.  Many of them go as far as working for free once they get their PhD, or they get into postdocs that don’t allow overtime, don’t contribute to their retirement, and pay them peanuts.  That’s when self-justification occurs … “I’m doing noble work”  “I’m doing important work”  “I can still be a professor”  “An adjunct professorship is a real professorship”  “Everyone is…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 5th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, June 5th 2021

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.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 29th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 29th 2021

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.…

Your Complete Guide To Real Networking For PhDs (Not Just A Means To An End)

Your Complete Guide To Real Networking For PhDs (Not Just A Means To An End)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Networking?” For PhDs? The whole idea of networking always seemed strange…. Kissing up to strangers with small talk all for personal gain? No thanks. Wouldn’t people know I’m just trying to use them?  Well, if the industry hiring manager can’t see my value through a resume and CV, then I don’t need them anyway. I’ll always have academia! …Except I know those secure academia jobs are getting slimmer by the year (and never pay what we deserve to begin with). Okay, fine, I’ll network—but only at a few conferences where I know I’ll run into people who can help me. …

16 Motivational Job Search Quotes (Or, In PhD-Speak: “The Rationale For Transitioning”)

16 Motivational Job Search Quotes (Or, In PhD-Speak: “The Rationale For Transitioning”)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I have plenty of time to look for a job before I defend my thesis.”What’s the rationale? “I’m struggling to find time for my industry job search with everything I have to do in the lab and at home with my kids.” “My postdoc doesn’t get over for another year so I’ll start my job search later.” Famous last words.  I’ve heard thousands of PhDs from all around the world tell me many reasons why they haven’t taken their job search seriously.  If you’re not spending at least 2 hours of focused effort executing on your job search every day…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 22nd 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, May 22nd 2021

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.…

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

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

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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…

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.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 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.