Pathways to Success in Research & Development
By Harvey Yau
Perhaps you are just starting out in your first scientific job, or maybe you have been working in the industry for a couple of years. Regardless of where you are in your career, sooner or later, you will be presented with opportunities and choices that can have a long-lasting impact on your professional future. By knowing what career paths are available to scientists in today’s dynamic scientific industries, you will be in a better position to make career moves that support your ultimate career objective.
The conventional scientific career pathway
If you are a scientist at heart and your ultimate objective is to advance to a senior role within the Research and Development (R&D) functions, then it is good to know that conventional scientific career pathways are still very much alive. You can advance from more junior positions to progressively more strategic roles where you can become a key decision maker in advancing new compound and other therapeutic product development projects. It is important to acquire skills in every R&D function in discovery science, lead evaluation and formulation in order to advance to more strategic positions. It is also important to note that scientists who possess advanced cross-functional and leadership skills often thrive in those key strategic roles.
Considering the growing importance of technology, you should also acquire the latest digital and data expertise. This will enable you to determine which research assets will most benefit your company. Due to the convergence of digital technology and science, the field of personalized medicine is poised to thrive for the foreseeable future. Imagine equipping yourself with the necessary R&D process and digital application skills—you will be highly sought-after in this increasingly competitive field!
The project-based, multi-role scientific career pathway
Other than R&D functional roles, there are also more business-oriented roles in scientific industries that require significant scientific knowledge and experience. Organizations can benefit significantly from having talent with scientific backgrounds to take on marketing, business development, regulatory affairs and product management roles. Especially with a rising number of scientific companies opting for project-based work, it is possible to step into a non-scientific position for a limited period of time to see if it is a good fit. You can also make multiple lateral moves in order to acquire a broad range of skills that will make you increasingly valuable to your employer. Some organizations may even offer the opportunity—within in a project-based infrastructure—to assume multiple roles throughout a product’s entire lifecycle, providing comprehensive experience in end-to-end product development.
To successfully navigate a multi-role career pathway, you must be able to adapt to change and quickly assimilate critical new technical knowledge. If you are primarily interested in the business side of the industry, consider earning your MBA. There are many business roles that require scientists to work with complex macro-level collaboration with other organizations. These roles frequently require additional quantitative skills sets that can be acquired through a formal business education. Plus, depending on the positions you fill throughout your career, you will also need a variety of soft skills that can range from communication and project management abilities to strategic thinking and conflict resolution skills.
Work with a mentor
Regardless of which career pathway you select, it is advisable to work with a mentor. Because if you want to take control of your career, you need to make decisions that support your professional objectives. A mentor with significant experience in the industry can provide invaluable advice and help you avoid potential pitfalls. And once you know the pathways open to you and have the support of an experienced mentor, you can confidently advance towards your career goals and become the kind of scientific professional who is highly sought-after for senior roles in your industry.