12 Careers for Life Scientists Outside of the Lab

Not everyone who completes a life sciences PhD wants to continue working in a laboratory or in research. They may just have grown out of it, or found that the work isn’t what they thought it was, or that they still love science and would rather find a different way of making a living than conducting academic or commercial research.

Others may find that, despite the years of education, the job market isn’t what it used to be. Clifford Mintz, writing for ASBMB Today, noted, “There is no question that traditional job opportunities for doctoral-trained life scientists are fewer in number and that they continue to disappear at alarming rates. Despite this troubling trend, most life sciences graduate programs steadfastly refuse to change or adjust their training programs to enable their graduates and postdoctoral fellows for non-traditional life sciences job opportunities.”

With that all in mind, here are 12 possible options for PhD life scientists who want careers outside of the laboratory.

RELATED: Pharm Country Hotbed Continues to Prove it is Home to a Hot Job Market

12 Careers For Scientists Outside Of The Lab


Technical Writing
Business Analysis
Biotechnology Sales
Health Informatics
Medical Science Liaison
Competitive Industrial Intelligence
Regulatory Affairs
Pharma/Biotech Marketing
Business Dev.


1. Technical Writing

Biopharma has an incredible need not only for people with higher degrees who understand technical materials but those who can write as well. There are grants and all the documentation required by regulatory agencies that need to be written.

Be warned, though—if you don’t like writing, this isn’t the job for you. Makes sense, right?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that technical writers had a median annual salary of $69,850 per year in 2016. A caveat to that number—that includes all levels of education and all fields, ranging from IT to engineering to business to life sciences.

In biopharma, where the degree demands may be higher, the pay can often be higher.
Technical Writing Jobs →

2. Business Analysis.

Financial analysts provide insight and guidance to businesses and individuals on making investment decisions. For people with life science backgrounds, this often means working with venture capital firms or investment banks.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median annual salary in 2016 for financial analysts was $81,760 per year. That’s probably completely understating the millions of dollars a successful venture capitalist can make through involvement with a successful biotech startup.
Business Analysis Jobs

3. Biotechnology Sales.

Many people with higher degrees find satisfaction as biopharmaceutical sales reps. If you’re not a “people person,” this probably isn’t right for you, but if you can tie your scientific interests into talking to people about a company’s products, this can be a lucrative area.

According to the 2016 Pharmaceutical Sales Salary Report, the median salary was $115,000 with an average salary of $122,107. Specialty pharma reps earn even more, with an average of $138,150 and a median of $125,000.
Sales in Biotechnology Jobs →

4. Health Informatics.

Health informatics professionals use their knowledge of life sciences and healthcare, information systems, databases, and IT security to make sense of the enormous amount of data available. Also called data science, although some sources feel they are distinct fields that overlap. It’s a huge area in biopharma.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Computer and Information Research Scientists had a median annual pay in 2015 of $110,620 per year and from 2014 to 2024 is expected to grow at 11 percent, faster than average.
Health Informatics Jobs →

5. Medical Science Liaison.

This is viewed as the highest-paying non-executive biopharma job in the U.S. The Medical Science Liaison Society (MSLS) defines it as “a specific role within the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, CRO and other healthcare industries.

MSLs have advanced scientific training and academic credentials consisting of a doctorate degree (PhD, PharmD, MD) in the life sciences. They concentrate on a specific Therapeutic Area (i.e. Oncology, Cardiology, CNS, Pulmonary, Hematology, Surgery, Women’s Health Care, etc) and disease state.”

A survey by MSLS found that an MSL is likely to make $132,452 per year, with a Senior MSL making $156,928, and a Manager making $187,206.
Medical Science Liaison Jobs →

6. Competitive Industrial Intelligence.

This falls into market research analysts. These individuals study market conditions to evaluate the potential sales of a product or service. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2016 the median pay was $62,560 per year.

Competitive Industrial Intelligence Jobs →

RELATED: Top 12 Biotech Companies Hiring Now

7. FDA/Reviewer/Inspector.

These positions involved inspecting drug manufacturing facilities, following up on adverse reaction reports, and overseeing the regulatory processes involved in drug approvals. Glassdoor reports that the annual base salary for FDA Investigator is $73,199.
FDA/Reviewer/Inspector Jobs →


There are job opportunities for life science PhDs in the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, and the Directorate of Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA). For example, the CIA has positions open for a Technical Researcher in a variety of fields, including Applied Physics, Bioinformatics, Biology, Optics & Electrochemistry and others. The pay is between $58,638 to $130,692.

Similar Jobs →

9. Quality Control and Assurance (QA/QC).

The biopharma industry has a huge need for specialists in quality control and quality assurance, monitoring manufacturing operations, and ensuring the quality of the drugs that hit the market. According to Payscale.com, the median salary for a QC Chemist is $48,525 a year with an upper range of around $65,145.
QA and QC Jobs →

10. Regulatory Affairs.

Another related area is regulatory affairs, overseeing and managing all the regulatory filings within the U.S. and internationally for pharmaceutical companies. Glassdoor reports that the national average for someone in regulatory affairs is $82,798 with a high of $129,000.
Regulatory Affairs Jobs 

11. Pharmaceutical/Biotechnology Marketing.

Viewed as a little broader than pharmaceutical sales positions, these jobs develop wider marketing strategies for biopharma products, including print, radio and TV ads, corporate communications and other approaches to marketing. SimplyHired indicated the average salary for pharmaceutical marketing jobs is $66,473, with a high of $115,796.
Pharma/Biotech Marketing Jobs 

12. Business Development.

Again, these positions can overlap with sales and marketing jobs, as well as medical liaison positions. Part of the job involves developing strategies for expanding business and identifying new markets and approaches to those markets. Glassdoor indicates that the national average salary for a business development manager is $96,487, with a high end of $148,000.
Business Development Jobs →

There are undoubtedly numerous others, including PhDs willing to go to law school or pick up an MBA. There’s an old saw about PhDs having “learned more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.” But that attitude can limit job opportunities instead of expand them.

Take the time, if you’re interested in working outside the laboratory, to make a list of your broader job skills—research, technical language, grant management, oral and written communication, time and project management, teaching, analytical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. It may be more important to downplay the specifics of your degree and focus on your broader interests and abilities, and to indicate that you are looking for further challenges.
Also, network—especially outside your technical network.
Arunodoy Sur, writing for the Cheeky Scientist, says, “The two most important lessons you will learn by searching for an alternative career is that there are several jobs available to you and other PhDs outside of academia. You do not have to do a postdoc or continue doing a postdoc. The key is that you must work to change your situation. In order to secure your ideal industry position, you must prepare yourself by gathering as much information about alternative career options for science graduates as possible.”

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