Scientists in the field of Market Research
Understand your surroundings and search beyond the typical jobs.
As I was wrapping up my PhD research work at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, the oil price experienced a steep drop. Job vacancies began to dwindle, as the top petrochemical companies went through a hiring freeze. My prospects of being employed in the petroleum industry in the region started to vanish.
At this point, I started to think about an alternative career option. I am a chemist, and for the past five years, I have only done research and written papers! But my job search brought an awakening: There are so many career paths for PhD graduates, other than manufacturing or petroleum industries.
In particular, I noticed that companies in the region had a high demand for “Market Research” roles. I was intrigued by this prospect and, eventually, I was able to start my career as a Senior Research Analyst at one of the leading market research firms in the region.
Market research analyst positions
Job overview: A Market Research Analyst is required to have a complete understanding of the commercial state of a specific product, process, or technology. This includes studying all aspects of the supply chain, product development, production process, marketability, and potential clients, as well as the costs associated with each of these steps. The work also includes studying market scenarios, conducting competitor analysis, and understanding current and future trends within the industry. In short, it can be thought of as understanding the commercial aspects of the science.
Companies that require market analysts: This role exists in multiple industries such as healthcare, IT, automotive, as well as chemical and industrial manufacturing. Note that there are two major types of employers: First, many private companies have in-house departments that conduct market research. Conversely, many companies specialize almost completely in market research, and focus on a portfolio of multiple businesses within a particular field. So for example, a chemist can join the market research department in a chemicals manufacturing company or alternatively the chemicals business unit in a market research company. As PhD holders, we have the skillset to excel in analyzing information and understanding technologies making us valuable candidates for these roles.
Day-to-day work: A hypothetical example of a market research analyst task is to evaluate key strengths and weaknesses of a product, say a biopolymer used in grocery bags, compared to a competitor’s product. Why does the competitor carry most of the market share? Which parts of the market can we break into? Your job would be conducting an opportunity assessment for the product in specific markets. Are there niche areas where our product might perform better, say in food packaging?
Another example of an analyst task is to understand the value chain for manufacturing a product, say polyethylene plastic bottles, including all the production stages from the raw material up until the end product. This includes an analysis of the production steps, such as injection molding and blow molding, and the setting of each step in the value chain. The outcome of the value chain analysis serves as a crucial input for financial modelers to understand the overall requirements for establishing a production line — in this case for polyethylene plastic bottles — including the raw material, machine and equipment, manpower, etc.
Required skillset: Beyond the standard PhD skillset, it is important to have a good level of business and financial literacy. It is also important to evaluate and communicate the critical information very clearly, both orally and through reports. Also, the work might involve lots of travel to meet clients and partners, so flexibility and people skills are very important.
Finally, my advice if you are considering a similar career path is:
- Connect, learn, then apply: Connect with friends and colleagues with similar career paths. Discuss and understand their current work and learn from their experience. People like to talk about their jobs more than you think. Ask for advice and tips on different career trajectories. This will prepare you for job interviews even before you apply. Also these conversations will develop your business language that is quite different from your technical and scientific language.
- Look beyond the title and the salary: Your choices of career and lifestyle are also important. Of course, you want to negotiate a good starting salary. But the first few years after the transition might come with salary challenges. This will eventually change as you grow your years of experience. Also, hard work, coupled with an excellent skillset will put you ahead of the line for promotions. In my case, after four years in the market research and consulting industry, I became an Assistant Manager, a job title that requires 5-7 years of experience.
- Keep learning, especially about the outside world: Having a PhD means that you know too much about too little. Expand your knowledge and understand the requirements of your job. For example, learn more about the prominent market research and consulting companies, as well as the market landscape in different fields. Read articles in business journals.
- Develop your business acumen: Graduate school does not teach us much about the business aspect of science. I found it very useful to read relevant books and take online courses. PhD people like to keep learning. Expand your comfort zone and keep learning.