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I’m approaching the end of my PhD adventure and I’ve started looking around for job opportunities. Recently, I found a job posting that fits my career goals quite nicely, but it has more managerial ingredients in it than pure research. It is concerned with managing/coordinating multiple research teams – something I’d like to do eventually but maybe at a later stage after gaining some more research/management experience as a postdoc.

Yet, I found the job description really encouraging:

Requirements: experience in project management or a strong desire to learn it.

That’s why I decided to try my chances anyway. Lucky enough, I'll be interviewed for this position.

In the past, I have had students (BS, MS) who did their theses and semester projects under my supervision. Additionally, I’ve had a graduate-level course on general management and took the lead role in a small research project. Even though these experiences were valuable, this job would arguably require managerial skills at a higher level.

So, my question is as follows: What type of difficulties/changes should I expect from this transition that I may undergo: from a technical PhD to a research manager/coordinator?

  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is about working in industry as opposed to academia. You might get better answers at Project Management(pm.stackexchange.com) – earthling Feb 14 '14 at 22:59
  • Thanks for your suggestion. I asked this question here hoping to get some insight information from other academics that made a similar transition to a research project management, which I believe this is the correct place to ask. – xeroqu Feb 15 '14 at 0:17
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If you've taken Project Management classes and have taken lead roles in regards to projects and BS and MS students, you'll find Project Management to be a more intense version of that. For example, you'll be needing to ensure everyone is working at the pace they should, getting the needed work done, and be prepared to figure out ways to remedy issues that occur. You will be working closely with stockholders, include managerial people, customers, etc, and you need to have the ability to answer any questions they may have regarding your project, even though you yourself are not the one directly creating that content. You'll need to figure out how to effectively communicate with people under you to get a sense of what they're doing and how things will impact the project. Be prepared to do scheduling of the project, which includes figuring out things in terms of Man Hours required for project in contrast to what you have available as resources. A lot of these things are similar in respect to what you've done in school, though to a higher degree: there's more riding on it, and these people aren't grading you, they're expecting it to be done right the first time.

As far as difficulties, if you have done all the above in classes or with your BS and MS students, then just be prepared for the faster pace and higher volume of stockholders. It can be a bit overwhelming, but doable.

Having a technical PhD will help you in these situations, because you'll have a better understanding of what your workers need to complete their tasks, how fast it will take them, and what it is exactly that you're working on. In fact, it will give you a leg up on other candidates or PMs that don't have technical backgrounds. If you can listen to a technical explanation of what's happening, and relay it to stockholders in a way that non-technical people can understand, you'll be fine.

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Doing PhD research usually means following waterfall methodology or iterative waterfall, while most project management requires Agile and Scrumban. You just need one course on project-management methodologies and you can be in and be even better than other project managers who have no PhD experience

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    Surely there's more to management than just throwing around the right buzzwords... – nengel Feb 2 '18 at 5:33

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