What Does a Scientific Director Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2019
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A scientific director acts as an administrative overseer for a research facility, reporting to executive staff. Large facilities may have several directors to handle different departments and disciplines. Scientific directors manage personnel, supervise procedures, participate in study design, and interact with members of the public with interests or concerns about the operation of the organization. It is usually necessary to have a PhD or MD degree to work in this field. Many workplaces also seek candidates with at least five years of experience in positions as lead researchers.

Administration of a research facility can involve a broad variety of tasks. One part of a scientific director’s job is recruitment to attract personnel, particularly star researchers conducting work that dovetails with the organization’s mission. Employee retention is also important. Scientific directors work on benefits and other incentive programs to keep staff. They also develop documentation to provide guidance to personnel so they understand the standards and practices at the facility.

Researchers can discuss proposals and projects with the scientific director, who can decide which resources to allocate and whether to move forward with the study. Directors may also sponsor grant applications and other requests for assistance. If there are ethical concerns because a study involves living subjects, the research director may participate in the review of the study proposal and practices to confirm that it will abide by regulations and facility standards. Communication with other executive staff to inform them about ongoing research activities is also important.


Budgeting can be part of the job as well. A scientific director may prepare or review a budget, discuss earnings from the lab, and work on new sources of revenue to keep research operational. This can include applying for grants, working with pharmaceutical companies, or seeking government funding for critical research. Budgeting can also include discussions on equipment purchases, hiring and compensation practices, and other matters that might affect expenditures at a lab.

As an administrator, the scientific director may periodically roam through the lab to meet personnel and see them at work. Travel can be required to communicate with others in the field, attend events, and meet with prospective researchers and government representatives. Administrative support from a secretary or personal assistant is often available to help the scientific director complete tasks. Benefits can depend on the employer but may include health care, paid time off, and participation in pension and retirement accounts.


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