Top 10 R&D Scientist Skills in Demand

Top 10 R&D Scientist Skills in Demand April 27, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

What skills are needed to be a successful research-and-development scientist? Let’s start by building parameters for the question. Let’s assume that we’re referring to someone who has completed a PhD and/or post-doctoral work in a life science-oriented field. By that we mean biology, biochemistry, chemistry, genetics, genomics, physiology or something similar.

About five years ago, Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN) surveyed top scientists in both industry and academia about what they viewed as the best skill set for drug discovery and development investigators. Not surprisingly, a strong background in biochemistry, cell biology, and organic chemistry was top of the list. In addition, “Solid training in a basic research laboratory” made complete sense as well.

Let’s look at some other skills they suggested, and also see what others had to say.

1. Ability to handle large datasets and perform high-level data analysis.

Again, that makes total sense. If there’s anything an R&D scientist is going to do, it will involve creating and analyzing data. And in the modern world of drug development, scientists are working with massive amounts of genetic, genomic, and clinical data. Which explains why data science and bioinformatics jobs are on the rise.

2. Analytical thinker and critical problem solver.

Again, this seems obvious. Here’s something that might not be so obvious—all employers want problem solvers. Because, when you get right down to it, every job is about solving a problem. Whether it’s figuring out which particular molecule will make another molecule or cell behave in a certain way, or figuring out whether the customer wants their hamburger without mustard, all jobs require a fair amount of problem solving. As Henry Kaiser, an American industrialist who became the founder of American shipbuilding and organized Kaiser Permanente health care for his employees, once said, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.”

3. Time manager and independent worker.

All employers want things to get done. That’s just a basic fact, and it’s all about productivity. SkillsYouNeed writes, “Have you ever wondered how it is that some people seem to have enough time to do everything that they want to, whereas others are always rushing from task to task, and never seem to finish anything? Is it just that the former have less to do? No, it’s much more likely that they are using their time more effectively and practicing good time management.” That means the ability to prioritize, block out distractions, and understand the difference between urgent and important.

4. Technophile.

The definition of a technophile is “a person who is enthusiastic about new technology.” People in a technical field would seem, by definition, to be interested in technology, but that may not necessarily be true. It’s often the case—and this rather broadly applies to everybody, not just research scientists—that people quickly get set in their ways and are resistant to change. Some of that relates to finding your comfort zone and wanting to stay in it. But a successful researcher needs to keep learning, and part of that process might be learning new techniques, new software, or new technology.

5. Teamwork, multidisciplinary or otherwise.

Teamwork does not necessary mean you have to be an outgoing, social person. It means that you can work with other people toward shared goals. It’s also an awareness that it is rare and difficult for a single researcher to come up with a product on their own. And even if that does happen, it will likely require different people with different skill sets—manufacturing, distribution, sales, marketing, business, etc.—to take it to completion. It means you’re willing to recognize the strengths and contributions other people bring to a project and work with them.

6. “A knack for finding new drug discovery targets.”

That’s an interesting one to come out of the Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News list. Because it’s not something you can necessarily develop, is it? Some people just seem to have a talent for it. Today’s modern drug development often is built on high-throughput screening and massive compound libraries. Of course, if that was the only answer, cobbled together with massive computing power and bioinformatics, every drug would be a blockbuster. Of course, that’s not the case. But some people just have the ability to come up with good ideas. As the expression goes, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” But it’s better to be both, and one of the key things may be to work hard, think more, and pay attention—and some creativity wouldn’t hurt a bit.

7. Know when to fold ‘em.

Or as GEN mentioned, “Ability to clearly recognize when your research project is taking you down a dead end.” Derek Lowe wrote a fairly lengthy article on the subject in Science Translational Medicine last year. He notes the Sunk Cost Fallacy, where you feel you’ve gone too far and put in too much energy and resources to quit now. The opposite is probably the Throwing Good Time/Money/Resources After Bad. It’s true that a biopharma executive may make the decision for you, but being able to advise on that is worthwhile as well. Lowe wrote, “Be honest, then, about what can and should be accomplished by when. That way, if you’ve done it, you can feel more confident that things are moving in the right direction. And if you haven’t, then you know that the time to take stock has come, and not to put it off in the hope that things will just somehow get better.”

8. Leadership.

This is a standard resume key skill in pretty much every field. But what does it mean? Does it mean that you’re going to go from being a scientist to running the company? The team? The department? The division? Maybe. Although leadership can be an elusive topic, leadership skills generally include ability to delegate, inspire and communicate effectively. And those are, interestingly enough, very similar to how teamwork is defined.

9. “Business skills and awareness of industry trends.”

Arunodoy Sur, writing for Cheeky Scientist, said, “If you want to be successful in these industries, you must learn to stay abreast of key business trends, including financial and regulatory changes influencing each industry sector. For example, you must learn to be aware of commercial implications of your project, as well as how your project fits into the bigger goals of your organization. … Get in the habit of researching new technologies and trends in the biotech and biopharma sectors.”

10. Understanding legal and regulatory issues.

That doesn’t mean you need to become a patent attorney, but if you plan to work in biopharma at some level, it’s important that you understand how the industry is regulated. Sur writes, “While working in academia, you’ve learned to follow rules and regulations related to the use of reagents, instrumentation, and the reporting of data and results. In industry, however, you must be aware of rules and regulations beyond those related to scientific research.”

What Do Industry Jobs Say?

Looking at some job postings for R&D Scientists on BioSpace will also provide some insight on what employers are looking for.

For example, R&D Scientist, NGS for BioPhase Solutions in Burlingame, Calif., wants someone with a PhD in Genetics, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry or a closely-related field, with a strong background in NGS methods, products, and applications. They also want “excellent documentation skills” and “excellent communication skills: able to present data effectively.”

Another is Associate Scientist, Analytical Research & Development, Biologics, for Celgene in Summit, NJ. This position calls for someone with a MS in Analytical Chemistry or related discipline. The individual needs “demonstrated experience with the use of state-of-the-art analytical methods and biophysical characterization techniques for therapeutic proteins such as HPLC, CE and Spectroscopy.” They also need “demonstrated experience in analytical method development,” and “knowledge of cGMP, FDA and ICH guidances and industry standards for therapeutic protein methods development and characterization.” They also ask for “proven ability to work effectively in team structures and collaborate with cross-functional internal/external partners,” “demonstrated ability for critical thinking, problem solving and creativity in the laboratory,” and “strong written and verbal communication skills, good interpersonal skills, ability to multi-task, and a strong desire to learn, contribute and collaborate.”

In the resume-writing world, things like “teamwork,” and “time management” and “leadership” and “communication” are called “soft skills.” Hard skills fall more into the category of, “DNA assembly,” or “assay development.” Both hard skills and soft skills are important and employers look for a combination when looking for staffers.

Your new career could be right around the corner with your combination of skills.

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