Managers with a chemistry background work in a wide range of workplaces in the private sector, government, academia, or not-for-profit organizations. The balance between technical and scientific knowledge and business experience varies with the size and mission of the organization and the responsibilities of the specific position. Often, managers begin their careers as technicians or research scientists and take on increasing levels of managerial responsibility as they gain experience.
"Natural sciences managers" oversee projects or supervise scientists and technicians. They direct research and development activities, coordinate production and quality control, or oversee a laboratory or business unit. The term "laboratory manager" can describe lead technicians, laboratory administrators, research coordinators, and a variety of other positions.
Managers in large organizations or groups may spend all of their time coordinating projects, supervising technical personnel, and performing administrative duties. Managers in smaller operations may divide their time between technical work and administrative work.
Typical Work Duties
- Plan or direct research, development, or production activities. Review activities, monitor progress, and prepare reports
- Hire, supervise, or evaluate technicians, researchers, engineers, or other staff
- Determine scientific or technical goals within broad outlines provided by top management and make detailed plans to accomplish these goals
- Plan and review projects with scientists, engineers, regulators, and upper management or other business units.
- Provide technical assistance on projects
- Troubleshoot and respond to problems or non-routine events
- Communicate with clients to prepare and explain project proposals, present research findings, establish specifications, or discuss project status
- Develop or implement policies, standards, or procedures to ensure regulatory compliance or to improve operations
- Develop or acquire innovative technology and train staff on new instrumentation or methods
- Engineering manager
- Environmental coordinator
- Medical laboratory manager
- Production manager
Laboratory managers often start out as technical or scientific workers, and they transition into management after they obtain several years of experience. A bachelor's degree and five or more years of experience in an applicable area (chemistry, biochemistry, materials science, etc.) are usually required.
Some employers provide on-the-job training or subsidize training costs for management positions. Non-managerial employees may demonstrate competence by taking responsibility for projects or leading teams in order to be considered for management positions.
Some people return to school to obtain an MBA or PSM (professional science master's) degree when they make the decision to go into management, but this is not an absolute requirement. Management positions are areas of opportunity for chemists holding a master's degree who do not wish to obtain a Ph.D.
Some management positions, especially higher-level positions or highly visible positions, require a Ph.D. and an exceptional track record in performing or overseeing research and development activities.
Licenses are not generally required for managers. Managers may obtain certifications after completing training in project management, specific business practices (e.g., Six Sigma), or laboratory management.
Much of a manager’s time is spent in meetings or on conference calls, writing reports, attending to lab operations, and dealing with employee issues. They may work in a laboratory, in an office, or some combination of the two.
A typical requirement for managers is to gather data and compile metrics on productivity, spending, and progress toward goals for the projects they oversee. They compile graphs, tables, and reports, using information that they collect by visiting production sites, observing daily laboratory operations, and reviewing documents and records.
Also, managers often teach, coach, and mentor the employees who report to them. They may teach employees new methods in the laboratory, help them find solutions to non-routine work problems, or discuss career advancement and performance issues during one-on-one meetings.
Managers make presentations at conferences or internal meetings, and they may travel to various corporate or client locations or sites.
Managers in scientific enterprises commonly begin their careers by gaining technical or research experience in a laboratory. This hands-on experience provides practical knowledge of the technology and personnel resources needed to achieve specific goals. It also provides a sense of what projects and goals are feasible, and it helps in performing critical assessments of the progress and results of a given project.
Technical employees who are interested in becoming managers often take responsibility for small projects or lead task-oriented teams in order to demonstrate competence, progressing toward larger and more complex responsibilities as they gain experience. Some employers provide on-the-job training or subsidize costs for training employees who are interested in management positions.
New managers may supervise a small group of technicians or a single analytical laboratory. As they gain experience, they may be put in charge of larger groups, more senior-level scientists, or more complex projects.
Some companies provide dual career ladders that allow employees to progress on either a management or a technical track. Technical-track employees at higher levels often assume a significant level of managerial and mentorship responsibility in addition to their research and technical work.
Future Employment Trends
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of positions for natural science managers (all branches of science) will increase by 2,900 between 2012 and 2022, an increase of 6%. This is less than the 14% average for all jobs, but more than the predicted 4% growth in chemistry jobs overall.
Is This Career a Good Fit for You?
"People skills" are important for most jobs, but this is especially true for management positions. The best managers are those who deal as effectively with the human aspects of those working for, with, and above them as they do with the technical and financial aspects of a project or business unit.
Good communications skills are essential for channeling information. Keeping co-workers and stakeholders at all levels "in the loop" helps prevent costly mistakes, misunderstandings, and priority clashes. Team-building skills keep things running smoothly for team leaders and team members.
Managers typically spend significant amounts of time in meetings, on the phone, and responding to email. Often, they are required to make presentations to and write reports for upper management, team members, employees who report to them, clients, or other stakeholders. Depending on the size and nature of the operation, managers may spend little or no time working in the laboratory.
Chemists in management must assess the performance of the employees who report to them. They advocate promotions and pay raises for their direct reports to upper management, and they determine appropriate actions to address problems caused by employees who under-perform or otherwise disrupt the workplace. Managers must be capable of communicating clearly and directly what is expected of employees and keep them apprised of how they are measuring up to company standards.
Managers must be able to coordinate the various priorities of their direct reports, upper management, multiple projects and business units, and available resources. This requires the ability to negotiate with and influence people with varying skill levels and backgrounds, and it requires the ability to avert and resolve conflicts.
It is essential for managers to be able to plan, organize, and make decisions, sometimes on very short notice and under pressure. They must be able to coordinate several projects and activities at once and be aware of how these interrelate with other projects and activities in the organization.
Also, it is important for a manager to maintain an awareness of the business side of their operations as well as the technical aspects. They are responsible for making and adhering to budgets, planning equipment upgrades and other major purchases, and planning responses and mitigation strategies for potential risk areas. Managers must often factor in the money-making aspects of a project as well as the scientific and technical value, and they may be required to help generate new business for their employer.
Managers are often required to work long hours to ensure that deadlines and project goals are met. They may be called in to work during their "off hours" to oversee the response to a crisis or pressing deadline. Good time management skills and the ability and willingness to delegate tasks helps to keep work hours at a reasonable level.
Managers may work in a wide range of workplaces in the private sector, government, academia, or not-for-profit organizations.
"Natural sciences managers" oversee projects and/or supervise scientists and technicians.
"Laboratory managers" are lead technicians, laboratory administrators, or research coordinators.
Bachelor's degree and five or more years of experience in an applicable scientific area.
On-the-job training or job-specific coursework.
A master's degree (MBA or PSM) may be beneficial or required for some positions. Some higher-level positions may require a doctoral degree and an outstanding track record.
- Natural science managers - $120,160 (2015)
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