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5 Ways Your PhD Skills Can Turn You Into A Business Development Professional

Contributing Author: Aditya Sharma, Ph.D.

“What on earth does a doctoral degree have to do with business development?”

This is a question I would have asked years ago – before my industry transition.

As it turns out, a PhD actually has a lot to do with business development – in particular, the role of a business development manager.

At first glance, it might appear that this job’s duties don’t require any technical knowledge.

But while that might be true in the case of some other management positions, it doesn’t apply to technology-based industries.

In order to function efficiently as a business development manager at a tech company, it is imperative that you have a detailed comprehension of technical info – which PhDs definitely do.

Still, I’ve seen smart PhDs get scared off by the general job description of a business development manager: to ensure long-term business growth.

More specifically, the key responsibilities of this role involve:

  • Developing new business opportunities
  • Managing existing products
  • Developing market strategy
  • Building new business partnerships.

That list is pretty heavy on the business side of things, but think about this for a moment.

PhDs have a number of extremely valuable skills, like data analysis and interpretation.

PhDs have also had to manage multiple projects simultaneously, supervise interns and undergraduates, and satisfy expectations from multiple bosses.

Still think a PhD doesn’t have what it takes to find success in the business world?

Let’s talk a little more in depth about why that isn’t true.

How A PhD Can Carve Out A Career In Business Development

Technical and interpersonal skills makes business development a major opportunity

As in the case of Silvan Mueller, Business Development Manager of Bel Power Solutions & Protection, a background in STEM opens up a big door for PhDs.

Even if they don’t realize it.

After all, a huge concern of many PhDs is that they lack the business experience to enter into a business development role.

But the business school of your university probably offers a series of courses aimed at business novices, so those can be a great resource.

It’s possible your department would offer a tuition waiver for these, though you shouldn’t count on that.

Some management departments even offer business development courses tailored to technical work in sectors like IT or biotechnology.

Even if none of these are an option for you, Nature agrees that the right combination of technical and interpersonal skills makes business development a major opportunity for PhDs.

If you’re still not certain, don;t forget that sometimes, PhDs enter a company in a technical role before transitioning to business development once they’ve acquired some industry knowledge.

Why PhDs Are The Perfect Candidates For Business Development Roles

Not just anyone can jump right into a business development role – no, that takes a PhD.

But why are we so well-suited to this role?

Because we have spent our academic years carefully honing the most important traits of a business development manager.

Here are the 5 most important traits or skills that employers look for in a business development manager, and how PhDs already have them in great volume.

1. Amazing powers of communication.

As a PhD student, it would be an understatement to say that you have a little practice writing papers.

From grants to journal manuscripts, your dissertation, and everything in between – you’ve been working hard at the craft of clear written communication for many years.

And when it comes to oral communication, you’re an old pro.

How many presentations have you given over the years?

Think of conferences, lectures, defenses, and all of the other opportunities you’ve had to get up there and express what you know.

And what you know is no small pocket of info.

You’re a veritable fountain of complex knowledge, and it’s been your duty to communicate that knowledge in a comprehensible way.

PhDs can put these skills to work as they manage projects and work with others to develop marketing strategies and business operations.

2. Information literacy and expert planning abilities.

Job applicants who excel at analyzing and interpreting large volumes of data are great candidates for business development

Shall we talk about data analysis?

It’s safe to say that PhDs have this one on lockdown.

Yet it’s still worth discussing because technology is a part of everyday life, and globally, the volume of industry data generated every day is beyond comprehension.

This is especially true for biopharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, which collect increasingly massive sums of data all the time.

They have to – it’s a crucial component of a company’s competitive edge.

So the important thing to understand is that candidates who excel at analyzing and usefully interpreting large volumes of data are treasured in the world of business development.

Do you know anyone with practice in that department?

You’re a veteran of data consumption, but the true key to success in a position like this is to translate information into plans of action.

Good plans see results, and industry loves results.

So analyzing the data and keeping up to date with evolving industry trends will be among your absolute core skills as a business development manager.

3. Strategic decision-making founded in logic.

PhDs are experienced strategic thinkers.

You have planned and executed multi-year projects, which cannot be accomplished without strategic vision and good decision-making skills.

A corporate strategy is not totally unlike its academic cousin, but it does have different goals.

In academia, the goal of a project is to discover and document publishable data.

Meanwhile, industry wants to generate workflows, products, and services that advance its mission – this mission defines the direction that a company takes, and how it strategically manages its resources.

As a business development manager, you will have to decide which new innovation among those in the pipeline should be given priority.

You’ll apply your information literacy as you base your decisions on market needs and the successes of top competitors.

You’ll have to manage timelines, budgets, research efforts, and other plans of action that keep your business successful.

In industry, the optimal plan of action is not always apparent.

Thus, a business development manager with a PhD will be valued for their ability to make strategic decisions based on logical information.

4. Shrewd negotiation skills and smooth diplomacy.

Conflict resolution is natural for a PhD

Business and negotiation go hand in hand.

This is one of the essential parts of any company’s operations, and no successful business can suffer from sub-par negotiation skills in its chief executives.

At its core, good negotiation is made up of interpersonal skill, communicative prowess, and active listening.

Negotiation is at the heart of conflict resolution, not to mention a good business deal!

Of course, few negotiators can manage positive outcomes without a dose of diplomacy.

With that said, here’s a question:

Have you ever been in a situation where your life’s work, your reasoning, your job, and your life philosophy were dissected by five intellectual critics?

For PhDs, this is not a hypothetical scenario – it’s called a thesis committee meeting, sometimes known as “a shark tank meeting.”

But even postdocs and associate professors persist in attending lab meetings, advisor meetings, tenure track meetings, journal clubs, and other variations on the salty shark tank experience.

So as a PhD, you may know what it feels like to be shark food, but you also know about conflict – and conflict resolution.

PhDs can’t succeed without navigating difficult relationships and the professional hostilities of committee predators.

If you can weather the mighty jabs of academia, business negotiations will be completely doable.

5. Creativity and innovative minds.

Business development demands innovation, and for that you need creativity.

Creative thinking is paramount to the improvement of your company’s market position – competition demands new and novel ideas.

To stay profitable and relevant, companies innovate or die.

So the question is, can PhDs innovate?

Do they have what it takes in the creativity department?

Well, think about a Masters degree.

This achievement indicates mastery of a field – but a PhD requires the recipient to add to that field.

PhDs can’t just repackage or reissue old information to get a degree.

They have to discover and communicate brand-new info – some might call this process “innovative.”

PhDs are expert innovators because they have developed something new from a complex world of data.

In summary, PhDs are extremely well-suited to roles in business development management. They have amazing powers of communication from years of writing and presenting. They possess great information literacy and expert planning abilities. They are famous for strategic decision-making founded in logic. PhDs have painfully honed shrewd negotiation skills and smooth diplomacy strategies. And no one can question that they have, in abundance, creativity and innovative minds. Are you ready to pursue your own career as a business development manager?

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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.