7 Professional Skills All Scientists Need

Industry Advice Science & Mathematics

Companies in every industry want to hire well-rounded individuals with a balanced mix of technical expertise and professional skills, and the field of biotechnology is no different.

Biotechnology focuses on the intersection of biology and technology, and the development of new products that are designed to improve people’s health. For example, professionals in this field might focus on advanced therapies, stem cell and gene therapy, or biopharmaceuticals.

While the skills needed to become a biotechnologist are scientific and technical, companies today are focused on hiring individuals who demonstrate strong soft skills above all else, says Jared Auclair, director of the biotechnology and bioinformatics master’s program at Northeastern. Soft skills include competencies like communication, social skills, and attitudes.

“Scientists have a reputation for being quirky and keeping to themselves,” he says. “That’s okay if you’re going to become an academic researcher, but most students are preparing to go into industry. The No. 1 thing we hear from employers is that they want someone who fits into their business culture.”

According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 92 percent of talent professionals and hiring managers consider soft skills to be just as important or more important than hard skills. In fact, the report concluded that 89 percent of bad hires were found to have poor soft skills.

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This is a prevalent concern at life science companies, according to MassBioEd. Hiring managers are becoming increasingly concerned with finding individuals who not only possess the technical knowledge, but the skills to help implement strategies, develop industry partnerships, and lead a product or organization to success.

More than ever, companies today are placing a high value on soft skills like teamwork, business acumen, critical thinking, and problem-solving, Auclair says. “We hear all the time that employers can teach someone technical skills they may be lacking, but they can’t do that with soft skills. That’s a focus of our [master’s program] at Northeastern. We want to prepare students for an organization’s business culture.”

As the biotechnology field continues to grow—including the addition of 10 percent more jobs by 2026—it’s essential that scientists breaking into the field fortify these skills. Below, we offer a glimpse at seven key soft skills that will drive professional success.

7 Top Professional Science Skills

1. Communication

As science becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, professionals in this field must be able to distill complex topics into concepts that are easily understood by lay audiences. In the biotechnology field, these audiences may include business leaders, regulatory experts, and the public.

“You need to know how to communicate effectively with the business people who have the dollars,” Auclair says. “You need to talk about experiments and the drugs that are being developed, and make sure you’re communicating the goal, approach, and deliverables in a way that it makes sense to everyone. You can’t get into the nitty-gritty of the physics behind how an instrument works, for example.”

Scientists also need to hone interpersonal communication skills, which are necessary when collaborating with fellow scientists. Developing these abilities will be especially important for giving presentations, networking at industry conferences, and working in teams.

2. Teamwork

Biotechnology is a collaborative field. Scientists need to work well with others and navigate conflicts and differences of opinion. Being a team player is also about knowing when to step up as a leader and when to step back and take direction from someone else, Auclair explains.

“To be a good team player you need to be versatile and nimble,” he says. “You need to be a good listener and really hear what people are saying to you, process it, and execute on what they’re asking.”

3. Business Acumen

While it’s important to have a strong technical background, it’s equally as important to have an understanding of the business behind biotechnology beyond your day-to-day responsibilities. Scientists should have an understanding of financial and regulatory changes that influence the sector, the broader business’s goals and challenges, and trends that could affect the future of the industry and the future of the company.

4. Self-Motivation

 According to Auclair, employers value people who are able to self-start and take the initiative to get work done.

“This skill is a huge benefit to a company,” he says. “Directing people takes time away from getting work done. If I’m your boss, I don’t want to have to tell you what to do all the time—I want to be able to trust that you can get work done on your own.”

5. Adaptability

Biotechnology is a dynamic industry that’s evolving at breakneck speed. Scientists need to be flexible and constantly adapt to new information, tools, and protocols. As Auclair sees it, the more flexible you can be, the more successful you will become.

“Science will be completely different five years from now,” he says. “There will be new ways of doing things, so you can never get comfortable. You have to constantly evolve and adapt, and be comfortable with change.”

6. Management Skills

Great scientists will exemplify a variety of management skills. Not only is it important to know how to manage, store, visualize, and analyze large scientific data sets, it’s also important to know how to manage variables like your time, your work, and a successful team.

7. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

The biotechnology industry relies on innovation and values employees who can solve problems quickly. The best scientists are able to address and prioritize problems, then work to find the right solution.

“Scientists know the end goal [and] they know the tools that are at their disposal, but what they don’t know is what it will take to get to that end,” Auclair says. “In that process, you’re going to try new things, troubleshoot, and try again.”

Cultivating These Skills at Northeastern

Soft skills aren’t innate, they’re learned through practice and experience, Auclair says. Northeastern’s Master’s in Biotechnology program prepares students with the biotechnology expertise and professional skills they need to be productive in all settings.

“This program is developed in partnership with industry input,” he says. “They’ve asked for soft skills, and so we build that in. We give our students these opportunities to think and learn through doing. That’s how they begin to understand what their strengths are and where they can grow. Our goal is to create productive professionals with the necessary skills to be successful.”

Taking the Next Step in Your Biotechnology Career

If you’re interested in being at the forefront of emerging advances in biotechnology, now is an opportune time to earn an advanced degree. As the field continues to evolve, there’s a growing need for skilled professionals to innovate and bring new technologies to market.

If you’re interested in earning your Master of Science in Biotechnology, visit Northeastern’s program page to learn more about how the degree can advance your career.


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