Not All Industrial Roles are Confined to the Laboratory

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Logically, most research scientists first enter industry in a laboratory research and development (R&D) role.  From there, they may envision that they’ll one day become a lab manager and eventually work their way up the technical ladder to a Director, Vice President, or Chief Technology Officer.  Of course, achieving those titles requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and even some luck!

Many scientists have long, productive, and satisfying careers in the traditional technical ladder.  However, there are also many other roles in industry that exist for talented technical people.  In this series of posts, I’ll examine some of these roles, the interconnectedness of them, pros and cons of each, and how to position yourself as an attractive candidate should you decide to pursue a role outside of the traditional technical ladder.

Program Management:  Program Managers are tasked with overseeing the execution of R&D projects and programs to be on-schedule, on-budget, and in-line with customer and market requirements.  Their primary concern is that technical work gets done – they care less about how it gets done.  The “how” is the realm of the R&D manager.  Scientists with strong organization skills, assertive personalities, and leadership skills may evolve into the Program Management role.

Business Development:  Business Developers set the agenda for future business opportunities.  These new ventures may involve new technologies, customers, and/or markets.  They have the ability to think outside of the box and even may suggest ventures that defy the laws of physics.  They develop key relationships with highly influential customers and can become road warriors.  Scientists that are creative, entrepreneurial, and more people-oriented than task-oriented may evolve into the Business Development role.

Product Management:  Product Managers are responsible for bringing newly developed products to market.  They are on the receiving end of the Program Manager and R&D team’s efforts.  Product Managers ensure a proper hand-off to the sales team and work with marketers to stimulate demand for new products.  They are typically held responsible for the revenue achieved from a product or line of products.  Scientists with strong oral and written communication skills, the ability to multi-task, and decisiveness may evolve into the Product Management role.

Sales:  We all know (and love) salespeople.  The best salespeople know a bit about science and technology, but really put their energy into people and relationships.  In some organizations, the business development and sales roles are blurred, but they are definitely responsible for two different things – BD is responsible for future sales while sales is responsible for today’s sales.  If a really talented scientist has a sales title, they are often really doing BD.  That said, if you’re in a technical role, and risk-tolerant with exceptional people skills, you might be able to make a lot of money in sales!  Due to their valuable relationships with customers, BD and sales are often the best paid people in the corporation.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how each of the above functions interface with the R&D staff and management team and what they expect from the laboratory scientist.  This will then lead us to examine what types of skills and behaviors are required to transition from an R&D role into one of the other functions.

Dustin Levy, Ph.D., MBA