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Project Management for Scientists, Part 2: Getting Experience

The first article in this series introduced readers to a relatively new but increasingly popular field that is in heavy demand by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies: project management. However, before you convince yourself that it's time to leapfrog into a new career in this discipline and spend your hard-earned money--and lots of it--on the required training, it would be prudent to get some experience, just to make sure.

Informal PM Training

Once you have decided that you have the personal characteristics required to be a good project manager, it's time to build on your strengths, says Michael Marmur, a certified management consultant. He recommends that while you are still engaged in research, explore opportunities that are "miniprojects." For example, consider taking up supervisory responsibilities; write, execute, and present your experiments in a project context; and volunteer for project management-style projects, such as setting up a new instrument that your institute has just purchased or organizing an event.

Keyword: Experience

A good option for resolving the experience dilemma is to become a member of a project management organization in your country. A list of international project management organizations can be found here. The membership fees of most organizations are quite affordable, and prior project management experience is usually not a prerequisite for membership. And by attending local chapter meetings and events, says Marmur, you'll have the opportunity to talk to project managers and get their perspective on project management and the challenges they face at work, as well as what they like and dislike about their jobs.

Furthermore, these meetings provide the perfect opportunity to emphasize your project management skills: Talk to your chapter group in the context of your experience in training students and technical staff, managing scientific projects, budgets, time frames, what they entailed, and the eventual outcome of the projects (even if they are unsuccessful). Eventually, your new contacts might be able to assist you in targeting pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is by far the largest project management organization, with chapters in over 45 countries. (Information on PMI chapters can be obtained here.) You can also consider becoming a member of PMI Specific Interest Groups. SIGs offer members the ability to network with peers and project managers with similar interests. For example, the Pharmaceutical SIG provides an opportunity for project-management professionals in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, contract research, and medical-device industries to network and learn from one another. Because SIG membership has no geographical boundaries, members generally meet face to face once a year at PMI's Annual Seminars & Symposium.

In the San Francisco Bay area, the Project Managers in Pharmaceuticals group meets quarterly with the primary objective of advancing the profession through cooperation, networking, and professional growth.

The Canadian Association of Management Consultants (CAMC) welcomes nonmembers and members alike to its networking meetings and chapter events. It also publishes names and contact information of CAMC management consultants and project managers on its Web site, along with a list of the fields they have consulted in. CAMC provides a terrific opportunity to expand your networking base, get significant discounts on educational training, workshops, and seminars, or find a mentor.

Formal PM Training

In addition to your science training, it's a good idea to acquire additional training in project management principles, tools, and business skills. An excellent start is to become familiar with Microsoft Project 2000, the software tool most commonly used by project managers. It would also help to get an idea of the kind of skill sets required for project managers in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries by scanning job advertisements.


An excellent site for a primer on project management, recommended project resources, and books can be found on the Mindtools Web site.

There are lists of registered project management training institutes in several countries. For example, PMI Registered Education Providers offers training in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States. Project management training generally focuses on case studies from different industries that demonstrate basic concepts and tools. Some academic institutions also offer certificate and degree courses in project management; however, not all courses are accredited by project management associations. PMI maintains a list of degree courses in project management in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.

It's also a good idea to attend symposia, conferences, and seminars in project management for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. If you don't have the money to attend a symposium, try asking your local chapter to let you represent it as a volunteer. You can also volunteer in the PMI Standards Program to further develop your skills.

Once you have completed the training, it's time to obtain certification. Certification demonstrates your knowledge and understanding of project management principles and concepts. It reinforces the value added to employers, team members, peers, and stakeholders and considerably boosts your worth in the industry. Each candidate needs to satisfy all educational and experiential requirements established by project management associations (in general, a university degree and 4500 hours of work experience) and must demonstrate an acceptable and valid level of understanding and knowledge about project management that is tested in an examination.

Formal professional certification programs have been established by the following project management associations:

  • Association for Project Management (APM)

  • Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM)

  • International Project Management Association (IPMA)

  • Project Management Institute (PMI)

What It Costs

In the United States, Canada, and Australia, training delivered by registered providers can typically cost US$1000 and up for workshops and individual courses that contribute Professional Developmental Units (PDUs), which go toward fulfilling the criteria for eligibility for taking the certification exam. Depending on the training provider you choose, expect to pay US$8000 or more for acquiring all of the requisite PDUs.

For those who would prefer to acquire a master's or MBA in project management, be prepared to pay upward of US$20,000. Depending on whether you are a member of a Project Management Association, taking a certification exam can cost you up to US$500. And annual membership fees for various Project Management Associations are AUS$297 per year for AIPM, US$119 for IPMA, and between £85 and £120 for APM. Chapter memberships for PMI typically range from US$10 to $25.

Job Hunting

Some noteworthy Web sites to check out job opportunities in this field are:

Job Hunting

Career opportunities are posted at most project management association Web sites. For example, PMI offers its members free posting of résumés/curriculum vitae in the online CareerLink Directory, where employers often look to fill their project management positions.

Some of the technical skills and strengths employers in the biopharma industry look out for include:

  • Cell/Molecular Biology/Biochemistry:

    • Ph.D. with 2 to 5+ years relevant industry and postdoc experience

    • A track record of successful leadership in managing research initiatives

    • Experience in current research technologies

  • Bioinformatics:

    • Ph.D. in molecular biology or related field

    • Expertise in standard bioinformatics tools and pertinent biological systems

    • Experience in scientific programming skills, scripting, databases, and operating environments

    • Proven project management skills

  • Data Management:

    • Degree in science

    • Clinical or data management experience

  • Clinical Research Associates (CRA):

    • Bachelor's or master's degree in science

    • Knowledge of good clinical practices (GCP) and International Conference on Harmonisation (ICH) guidelines

    • Clinical trial experience in phases II, III, or IV clinical trials

    • Experience in management of clinical studies with a Contract Research Organization (CRO) or pharmaceutical corporation


Depending on qualifications and years of experience, a project manager can expect to make a salary anywhere between US$30,000 to $100,000 or more. Salaries for Ph.D.s with project management experience tend to be higher, but jobs for people with a bachelor's or master's degree and relevant experience are more plentiful, especially in clinical research.

With every project, there's a hierarchy involved. Individuals with a bachelor's or master's degree with 2 or more years of project management experience are generally hired as project leaders for smaller projects and can expect to earn about US$30,000 or more. A project manager, in turn, oversees project leaders; these positions can be filled with a B.Sc. or M.Sc. and 5 or more years of experience or a Ph.D. with 3-plus years of experience and can pay from US$60,000 to $80,000, on average. A senior project manager is responsible for leading project teams and interacting with project managers, vice presidents, and directors. Individuals with a B.Sc. or M.Sc. and at least 10 years of experience, or a Ph.D. with 5 to 10 years of experience are hired as senior project managers and can expect to make anywhere between US$80,000 and $100,000 or more.

Off to a New, Challenging Career!

Sooner or later, many scientists arrive at a crossroads in their career. Project management might just be the ticket for scientists who imagine themselves in a challenging career away from the bench, managing cutting-edge science projects.

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