professional development

Five PhD skills that prepare you for a science start-up

If you’re nearing the end of your PhD, you‘re probably starting to think about what career to pursue afterwards. A post-doc position may well be for you, but you might also be considering moving away from academia and perhaps even research. Working for a start-up has a lot to offer…

If you had told me while I was writing my PhD thesis that I’d be working as a marketing coordinator for a science company, I don’t think I would have believed you. I was sure I wanted to move far away from working in the lab, but I hadn’t entertained the idea of securing such a commercial role. I knew I wanted to stick to my scientific roots but frankly the idea of a marketing and sales position seemed alien to me and somehow far removed from my scientific background.

I knew something of the start-up world from my sister who was starting her own company as part of a year-long entrepreneurship program. She mentioned to me that there were two entrepreneurs in her cohort starting a biotech company and I was also aware that there was some research commercialisation happening in my former research group. It got me thinking about science start-ups and what it would be like to work for one.

 
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I was told that start-up life would require taking on many different roles. It seemed like an ideal opportunity for me because I wasn’t sure what I would excel at outside of research and what I would ultimately enjoy. Furthermore, I would still be able to stay in science, which is important to me.

All of this led me to where I am now, working for NuNano. As expected, I wear a few different hats as a NuNano employee, namely under marketing, sales, and office management.

If you‘re thinking about a post-PhD career, I’d like to share with you five science PhD skills that translate well into a commercial role within a science start-up:

1.  Conducting scientific research:

The ability to assess the value and quality of the information you gather as part of your PhD is a valuable skill to have in a marketing role. At NuNano, I research content for various types of marketing collateral and conduct market research to, for example, further product development.

2.  Analysis of research data:

During a PhD, you spend much of your time analysing data gathered from experiments. Fundamentally, sales and marketing is all about data and, importantly, analysing this information to help guide company decisions. As part of NuNano, I, for example, structure a sales database to extract useful data, and review marketing analytics to assess the viability of our marketing activities.

3.  Communicating your research:

In a start-up company, your skills, abilities, and opinions count at a higher level much sooner than say in a larger corporate organisation.

It’s likely that you’ll attend high level management meetings and need to present your ideas and findings in a clear way, just as you do with supervisors and peers during your PhD. Similarly, you can find yourself on the frontline, representing the company and needing to talk at both a high level and with some detail to academics. Your scientific background is ideal for giving you confidence in these situations. In my role at NuNano, I have presented marketing and sales updates at commercial meetings and interacted with scientific researchers at conferences for sales and market research purposes.

 
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4.  Scientific writing:

A science start-up is a different kind of a beast to other kinds of start-ups in that often the product and market is niche and specialised. Whilst any business is commercial, it’s also about offering a broader service and content to support the community it serves. This may come in the form of creating technical articles and blogs, which makes full use of the writing skills gained during your PhD.

5.  Training new PhD students and supervising undergraduate students

Unlike a role in the corporate world, in a start-up, the chances are you’ll quickly take on more managerial type responsibilities such as interviewing, training, and managing interns. Any experience gained during your PhD in training new PhD students who will continue your work or supervising masters/undergraduate students undertaking projects in your research group will serve you well in these managerial roles.

 
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So, if you’re finishing your PhD (or indeed your science degree or postdoc) and feel that research is not for you, why not consider working in a commercial role within a growing science start-up? It’s certainly been an invaluable experience for me so far.

And of course, if you still love working in the lab and wish to move away from academia, they conduct research and development in science start-ups too of course.

If you are interested in finding out more about what it’s like to work in a science start-up post-PhD, I’d be more than happy to answer any questions. Drop me an email at maire@nunano.com.

If you liked this blog post, you may also like Season's Greetings: 3 things you need to know when setting up a scientific company and Why growing your start-up business inside an incubator is a good idea – an outsider-insider perspective.