Science skills in the boardroom
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Looking beyond the lab: Bringing your science skills to the boardroom

15 Nov 2017

Often, science qualifications can seem so specific that there’s really only one world in which graduates belong. However, Hays’ Paul Strouts is here to debunk that myth and show scientists the road to business.

There are many paths that proceed from a good life sciences qualification. But, all too often, graduates and postdocs only look to academia for career opportunities, thinking that the ‘big, bad world’ of business is beyond them.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the skills needed to work in industry are the ones acquired in the laboratory, where working with the very principles of life fosters common sense and logic, sharpening the mind.

If you’re a STEM graduate with an interest in moving from academia to the business world, your prospects are very good. The corporate world of big pharma and fast-moving biotech start-ups couldn’t be better disposed to hearing from you.

Here are some of the transferable skills you should be working on and communicating when seeking opportunities outside the academic environment.

Planning and time management

Those in senior lab positions are generally required to oversee a daily round of experiments, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture of supporting or refuting hypotheses.

Running multiple research projects in tandem, and having the flexibility to change course as needed, calls for excellent strategic planning and time management skills – the very kind needed in the business context.

As a manager in a commercial role, you will frequently be involved in orchestrating multiple projects, and planning, implementing and putting them back on course when setbacks arise.

Becoming aware of the way these skills can be utilised by, and save money for, your future company will put you in the right headspace for approaching potential employers.

Communication and leadership

Working in research laboratories, most postdocs have experienced taking the lead on projects to guide younger students or mentor new graduates.

They understand, at least unconsciously, that to be a successful leader you need to inspire a vision, raise enthusiasm and ‘rally the troops’ to achieve the task at hand. All of this depends on communication skills, and creating a successful career in industry can live or die by this skillset alone.

Alongside mentoring more junior colleagues, your experience of giving presentations at journal clubs, lab meetings and scientific conferences will put you in good stead for taking the lead and looking the part in a commercial environment.

Developing these skills will improve the way you hold and present yourself to prospective employers, which will in itself be a mark of your ability to communicate well.

Conflict resolution

As a senior research scientist, you will have needed to compete for everything from funding to reagents, to time under the fume hood. You’ll have had to negotiate the conflicts that arise from the inevitability that not everyone can have things their own way.

Recruiters in industry are looking for candidates who can deal with conflict and ensure that social and professional differences of opinion do not trump reality and impede the progress of important projects.

If you are aiming for a career in business, develop conscious strategies for handling disagreements. Such approaches will be of interest to prospective employers, demonstrating your aptitude for management.

Practical considerations

It almost goes without saying that a vital part of your campaign to move from benchtop to boardroom must include networking (physically and digitally) and being active on social media, especially LinkedIn.

By Paul Strouts

Paul Strouts is the global managing director for Hays Life Sciences. Strouts looks after 27 countries within the group’s portfolio, spanning from New York in the US to Sydney in Australia.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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