Becoming a Natural Science Manager: Job Description & Salary Info

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A natural science manager's median annual salary is around $120,050, but is it worth the lengthy training requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about job prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Natural Science Management

Natural science managers are responsible for directing the research and development projects of organizations or scientific laboratories. Find out the pros and cons of a career in natural science management to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of a Natural Science Manager Career
High salary ($120,050 median annual salary)*
A bachelor's degree can qualify you for some positions*
Work alongside executives to make important decisions*
Freedom to design and prioritize project goals*
Opportunities to work in various settings (offices, labs and outdoors)*

Cons of a Natural Science Manager Career
Below-average job growth (3% from 2014-2024)*
A graduate degree may be required*
Work experience is required for many positions*
Competitive field due to financial perks and increased status*
Pressure to work under strict timelines and budgets*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

Job Description

As a natural science manager, you'll supervise a team of natural science specialists, such as biologists, chemists or physicists. You'll oversee all stages of research and development projects to ensure that appropriate methods are used, data needs are met and results are presented accurately. Natural science managers are often in charge of research and program budgets; they also hire staff members as needed. In addition to administrative tasks, natural science managers may offer technical assistance to the individuals working on a project.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

Career prospects for these professionals can vary according to their particular scientific field and industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), natural science managers could expect slower-than-average job growth of 3% from 2014-2024. This was based largely on the outsourcing of research and development activities to private research firms, resulting in consolidation of management positions.

Natural science management can be a lucrative career choice. As of May 2014, the median annual salary for natural science managers was about $120,050, according to the BLS. That same year, the BLS reported that the top 10% of workers in this field made over $187,199 annually, while the lowest ten percent earned $70,020 or less annually.

Training and Education Requirements

Experience is essential in order to qualify for natural science management positions. You typically start out as a scientist in a particular field, then work your way up after years of experience. The number of years it can take to qualify for a management position may depend on your field, place of work, level of experience and competence.

Since most natural science managers start out as scientists in their field, they need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a relevant scientific, engineering or technical discipline. However, managers engaged in high-level research or development hold master's or doctoral degrees. Alternatively, those looking for broader management roles within scientific organizations may qualify by earning Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees.

Useful Skills

These managers often assist their staff with research, so a strong scientific and technical background is required in order to communicate and work directly with other scientists. As the head of a scientific team, you must also possess strong leadership skills to organize, motivate and coordinate the work of individuals. Additional skills you need in the field can include:

  • Project management skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Strong business acumen
  • Ability to solve scientific and technical problems
  • Strong interpersonal skills to interact with internal and external personnel
  • Time management skills to oversee multiple projects at once

What Employers Are Looking For

Employers do not generally advertise for natural science managers. Instead, they may advertise for managerial roles more specific to their particular field. While not a complete picture of the job market, the following list includes job advertisements that employers posted in April 2012:

  • A company headquartered in Colorado was hiring a research manager to oversee a team of biologists. Qualifications included a bachelor's degree in biology or a closely related field, at least three years of experience in leading field projects and knowledge of Access software.
  • An engineering and environmental services firm in Pennsylvania posted a job for an environmental project manager with a bachelor's degree and at least eight years of experience in the environmental field, as well as good judgment and the ability to prepare project specifications and cost estimates.
  • A Florida corporation was hiring a senior supervisor for its analytical and microbiology laboratory. Desired qualifications included statistical and communication skills, as well as the ability to prioritize activities while remaining flexible to change. This position called for a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in chemistry or a related field, such as engineering.

How to Beat the Competition

The ability to earn a high salary, coupled with the prospect of gaining greater control over research projects, can attract many to the field. Such perks make these jobs highly competitive, but you can develop skills and gain additional qualifications that help you stand out. If you have a scientific degree, consider taking business-related courses to supplement your specialized training. Courses in finance, organizational behavior, communications, executive leadership and strategic management may be beneficial. According to the BLS, you might consider pursuing an advanced degree in a field that marries science with business management skills, such as a master's degree in management science and engineering.

Develop Related Skills

Since experience is integral to preparing and qualifying for natural science management roles, consider taking on administrative and leadership duties early in your career. For instance, you may begin training others on how to use specific software programs or how to conduct certain tests in a laboratory environment. In addition, you can develop your scientific writing skills by preparing scientific reports and grant proposals.

Alternative Career Paths

Top Executives

If you're interested in management but aren't sure you'd like work as a scientist, then you might consider becoming a general manager or director of an organization. Like natural science managers, the primary responsibility of these top executives is to ensure that organizations meet their goals. They oversee a company's finances and budgets, negotiate contracts and business deals, establish priorities and find ways to reduce expenses while improving efficiency.

Top executives typically need at least a bachelor's degree in a business field and work experience related to the company's area of specialty. Because of the high level of responsibility, these professionals have very high earnings potential - the median salary as of May 2010 was about $101,000, according to the BLS.

Research Scientist

Alternatively, if you'd rather focus more on research and less on administration, consider becoming a research scientist in your area of specialty. Research scientists typically need at least a master's degree in their field, although many jobs require doctoral degrees in order to qualify for independent research projects. Salaries for these professionals often vary by field or specialty. For instance, the BLS reported in 2011 that the median salary for chemists was nearly $70,000, while biochemists and biophysicists earned a median annual wage of about $79,000.

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