Insights into Careers in Commercial Sciences

Posted on Updated on

We were lucky enough to be joined by Cliff Ramsdell, PhD, Product Development Manager for Flow Cytometry in North America for Thermo Fisher Scientific. Cliff spoke about careers in commercial sciences as a often overlooked but richly rewarding way to use your analytical and research skills!


Here are some highlights from the seminar:

  • Incorrect misnomer that leaving academic science leads to job dissatisfaction. This is not the case!!
  • Job descriptions are the “ideal” candidate and often do not represent the person that ultimately gets hired. Apply for jobs even if you don’t hit all the requirements! You don’t necessarily know the minimums until you apply for a job.
  • Networking ultimately nets you the job: its the networking you do NOW that can help you land your future position. Cliffs’ first job outside of industry was through a friend from graduate school who had changed jobs.
  • Sales provide scientists with solutions to their problems.
  • Product Managers: liaise with scientists and create new products from the suggestions from the scientific community
  • Market development manager: help connect researchers with what they may need to make their experiments more efficient.

Things to consider:


  • Get really competent in one application area, and this can help you with conversations on the business side.
  • Build your network!
    • Get out of the lab, build relationships and friendships!
    • Have colleagues in other departments (help with your research and your career!)
    • Participate in activities, inside and outside work!
    • Talk to sales reps and industry contacts.
    • Collaborate and communicate with researchers outside of your field!
    • Attend conferences and external courses (sometimes you want to invest in yourself).
  • Work on your communication skills (both written and verbal)
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses
    • Leverage your strengths
    • Work on your weak areas
  • Have some direction – get insight on what you may be interested in.
  • Honest self awareness – what do you really value? What do you really want?
  • Develop options – don’t get pigeon-holed, try to expand your options no matter what you do.

Initial job opportunities outside academia:

  • Field Application Specialist
    • Hybrid position of a narrow focus area.
    • Do a lot of demos, product education.
    • They are knowledgeable in all facets of the technical information.
    • Scientific talks on applications.
    • They don’t really sell, although they collaborate closely with sales managers.
    • Tend to travel a lot depends on the territory (although Boston is relatively dense).
  • R&D
    • Different flavors: Product development (develop new products), application scientist (generate experimental data to back up products) and often communicate to scientists.
  • Tech Support
    • If you are not as comfortable with face to face contact but great training
    • Can be good hours
  • Sales
    • Less structured but very flexible
    • Have goals and benchmarks to hit quarterly
  • Application Specialist
    • “Super” FAS.
    • Very skilled scientists as resources to solve problems

with additional certification:

  • Patent law/technology transfer – need scientists who understand the science to be able to patent the process.
  • Marketing

What you should consider when you are looking for a new job:

  • Is it a challenge? Doesn’t want to be too easy or too difficult
  • Balanced life style (different for everyone!)
  • Sense of purpose. Leaving the bench DOES NOT mean that you are leaving this behind!!
  • Knowing the options

What is marketing?

It’s unlikely to leave academia and go straight in, but it is achievable in 3-5 years

  • Advertising is only part of it.
  • A marketing professional stimulates demand for supply in the market place and engages all parties involved.
  • Marketing is used to identify the customer, to satisfy the customer and keep the customer.
  • It’s about understanding the business!
  • How the company brands themselves, what they focus on.
  • Great book to read about marketing: Made to stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  • Marketing in life sciences:
  • No matter what: Need to be passionate about what you do!


Why a PhD?

Marketing is about understanding a complex problem. You need:

  • market research
  • psychology, behavioural studies
  • communication skills
  • strategy

Most important aspects of a PhD:

  • teach yourself to learn
  • scientific process
  • ┬ácommunication skills
  • challenge of the unknown: test, fail and redirect

How to get in:




What are the 3 most important skills needed to excel in the field:

  • Communication, subject matter knowledge and humility

What is the general career trajectory:

Generally you start as sales or field application specialists (salary is ~ 6 figures) and can move up to other careers

Is being an international academic (J-1), a crux in entering this field?
Mostly yes. Getting sponsorship is costly and expensive

How applicable would these opportunities be to an MD?
Depends on training and career goals

And remember: You are AWESOME! You are in an amazing place with amazing research going on. DEVOUR everything! All of the science, watch on a broad scale everything that is going on in Boston and continue to be engaged. What differentiates you from other people, perhaps more experienced is that you are hungry! Every time you go into an interview, portray that! Go GET YOUR MONEY! You are worth a lot of money!
(direct quote from Adam, Account Manager for Thermo Fisher!).


I hope you all enjoyed this fantastic seminar on an often overlooked non-academic career!


Tufts PDA