A career in Project Management for Science PhDs

As Ph.D. graduates, we often find ourselves at a cross roads of choosing to either continue in bench research or diversifying away from it


Himani Nailwal

Although we gain numerous skills sets during the strenuous journey of Ph.D., there are barely a few who successfully leverage those skill sets to diversify into other career fields. To address this, Snyder institute for chronic diseases organized a talk by Prof. Derrick Rancourt on Project management. The session object to help students and post- docs identify the parallels between managing a Ph.D. project and managing a project as a career choice.

With multiple teams and constraints, projects can be complex to manage. As per the Project Management Institute (PMI), the five crucial components of project management are initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing of a project that is mostly set on tight deadlines and budget. Project managers work to streamline this process by creating distinctly defined tasks and timelines. Another aspect of project management is maintaining a steady communication within the team as well as to create a channel between stakeholders and teams. Project managers serve to understand the needs of the stakeholders, thereby also providing a clear perspective to projects. Since, every project is unique; the management draws on the knowledge expertise of the project manager along with the crucial skills of time management, communications, and risk management. According to the 2018 Pulse report of PMI, poor project management is the topmost reason for 40% of the failed projects in a survey of 4,455 global project management practitioners.

Undoubtedly, project management is becoming the most sought-after job profile. The value of project management and project managers is reflected in the fact that 68% of organizations have a project management office (PMO), globally. Even the non-project-oriented healthcare industry is constantly looking for science Ph.D.s with considerable management experience to successfully manage multidisciplinary projects. Moreover, with almost all major academic funding bodies, including National Institute of Health (NIH), encouraging collaborative research projects, it is becoming imperative for the collaborating research labs to efficiently manage projects and teams sometimes spread across cities. Thus, further reinforcing the absolute necessity to establish project management in every organization.

Apparently, research experience offers excellent opportunity to master project management. We, as graduate students or researchers master project management while working on a Ph.D. thesis or research projects. Always multitasking, we take up different roles in different phases of our project. Navigating through strict deadlines, we design, execute, and defend our research project to a successful completion. However, since the academic curriculum is focused more on building research, we fail to articulate and eventually translate these skills into a career. To overcome this, taking up short-term courses, offered by organizations like Mitac & University of Calgary, help to hone the management skills attained during a Ph.D. For practicing project managers, PMI offers Project management professional (PMP) certification that provides a global recognition and advancement in their earning potential.

Scientific research is an appealing field but the rewards are seldom prompt. Inevitably, all PhDs move away from bench work, even in companies and project management could certainly prove to be a compelling avenue to explore.