Project Management

Being a successful project manager has more to do with interpersonal skills and strategic thinking than hard technical skills. You must be able to motivate a team, work well with others, and be willing to learn from failure as much as celebrate success. The ability to integrate chemistry with other disciplines is also important. Managers say being a mentor, cheerleader, delegator, and good listener are key.

Typical Job Functions

Scientific project managers understand the science involved in a project. But they’re also responsible for motivating their teams and for planning, organizing, securing, and managing resources to successfully complete projects.

Many project managers pursue this path because they want to be involved in setting research directions and contribute more strategically to the work they do.  Coordinating projects and leading groups to develop new products gives them the satisfaction of knowing they play a key role in the financial success of the company.

Typical day-to-day duties of a project manager include:

  • Overseeing the big picture and ensuring that all pieces are moving towards a common goal
  • Planning schedule and budget, setting deadlines, monitoring quality and progress, and managing budgets
  • Evaluating potential profit, return on investment, and the commercial impact of changes in project scope or timelines
  • Maintaining consistency and quality of output; deciding when the desired level of quality has been achieved
  • Communicating project results, risks, and issues

Most project managers work in an office near the laboratory and people they manage. Managers are often asked to “do more with less,” so negotiation skills and the ability to handle stress are extremely useful.

Career Paths

Generally, chemists spend a few years working in their field before moving into a management position. For most scientists, there comes a critical time when they choose a career path: technical/research or management. Considerations include:

  • A career in management dramatically changes their scope of work. Instead of focusing on research, they will dedicate their days to more business-minded pursuits (budgeting, scheduling, staffing) and mentoring the careers of others.
  • Those adept at managing often grow naturally into the role. They demonstrate aptitude in managing their own projects, and are gradually given more responsibility.

Getting Started

Taking on leadership roles in student organizations and planning events lays an excellent early foundation for science students who believe they may want to pursue a management track. The best training is to master your field of science, then broaden your perspective with knowledge of other disciplines (e.g., biology, chemical engineering, materials science, biotechnology).

  • Sprinkling some business management classes into your studies can be useful.
  • Some companies require certification in project management.

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