How Do I Become a Scientific Director?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills

Scientific directors usually hold the responsibility for the production of valid scientific research that can add to the body of knowledge in their field of study. Working for a diverse range of organizations in both the public and private sectors, they will lead, manage and supervise research programs and associated budgets. Extensive qualifications are required to become a scientific director. Qualifications normally include a doctorate's degree, demonstrated leadership, senior-level research experience, and earning the respect of peers in the scientific community. Other prerequisites to the job entail proven management of research programs, adept administrative skills and exceptional communication skills.

A scientific director manages and supervises research programs and associated budgets.
A scientific director manages and supervises research programs and associated budgets.

Charting a career path to become a scientific director begins with a solid educational background focused on research in a scientific or medical field of study, culminating in either a professional doctorate or a terminal doctorate degree. Acceptable degrees often include either an MD or a PhD in a relevant scientific or technological field of study, depending on the type of research programs a candidate intends on heading. During graduate study, students will need to hone their research skills and consistently publish scientifically valid findings in peer-review journals or through university publications. Thereafter, they will need to complete fellowships contributing to major scientific research programs in their field of study, while continuing to publish important findings in peer-reviewed literature.

Upon completion of fellowships, candidates will need to plot an upward trajectory to become a scientific director. Proven expertise in conducting research published in peer-review journals is only the beginning. Gaining important supervisory and management experience is the next crucial step. Future candidates for such a position can gain this experience through either promotions or taking up available positions on other research projects. Such positions may include principle investigator positions, lead scientist positions, and director positions of lesser responsibility to include associate director of scientific research.

Culminating in a professional track record that demonstrates excellent research capabilities, proven management expertise, and leadership capabilities, candidates are prepared to demonstrate competency to become a scientific director. Preparation of a curriculum vitae that meticulously outlines the accomplishments attained through both direct research and leadership within research programs should be the highlights of the presentation. Important to the task is to show progressive scientific experience over the span of eight years or more, depending on the requirements for the position. Just as important is to successfully articulate accomplishments within budget constraints and in collaborative environments.

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