This post first appeared on Cheeky Scientist® – Industry Training For Intelligent People.
Written by Karin Weigelt, Ph.D.
I never thought much about the kits I used in a lab.
I thought about the science I was doing, of course.
But not about everything that went into putting each kit together and delivering it on time.
I never really thought about how much work went into ensuring that each kit performed (nearly) the same way in every lab around the world, or about how a company went about ensuring that the kits were delivered properly all around the world.
Well… I never thought about it until one of our kits got stuck in customs.
While working in a EU-project, every researcher in our project used the same RNA isolation kit in order to get reliable and reproducible results.
But instead of one researcher ordering RNA isolation kits for everyone and sending them out, we just ordered the right kit online and it would usually be in our lab within a day.
We relied on the ease of ordering and fast, reliable delivery, and in a sense, took this for granted.
We didn’t fully realize what would happen if the kit didn’t arrive on time.
We didn’t have a contingency plan for a failed delivery.
In this case, some paperwork wasn’t filled out correctly and our samples ended up stuck at customs.
As a result, a few researchers from our project actually had to drive 2 hours to customs at the airport to pick up the samples themselves the morning after notification.
They were picked up just before the dry ice had sublimated.
This simple example of a few samples stuck somewhere at the airport showed us how important a properly functioning supply chain is.
It gave us an industry perspective.
It helped us understand the importance of having all the right structures and warehouses in place to make sure the kits are delivered in a timely manner.
It also helped us see the potential wasted time and money that can occur if a system breaks down or is inefficient.
Why Each Department Is Critical To A Company’s Success
Have you ever worked in collaboration with another lab?
Or been involved in an international research program?
If so, you might have realized that it’s usually not a big problem to use the same kits and reagents in many labs around the world.
This might not sound so special but when you think of industry, the supply chains created there are quite impressive.
In industry, nearly all companies rely heavily on cross-departmental collaboration.
Cross-departmental collaboration allows them to provide exceptional customer service, become more efficient, and build trust in the organization.
For this to be successful, employees must excel in communication and teamwork.
They must also understand all departments within a company, as well as all common departments within an industry.
A recent report by McKinsey Global Institute showed that employees who are more connected with one another are 20-25% more productive.
The study found that this productivity has potential for additional revenues amounting to $1.3 trillion per year.
If you want to make a difference in a company, you have to show you have the business acumen they are looking for to continue this open collaborative environment.
In particular, you must show that you have a strong understanding of how various departments function, including often overlooked departments.
5 Overlooked Departments PhDs Must Understand To Get Hired
PhDs can often be so entrenched in their own work that they easily forget about the importance of cross-lab or cross-departmental collaboration.
For example, do you know what the lab two floors above you works on?
Do you know what every lab in your building works on?
Of course not.
But in industry, you must know what every department works on in order to bring a product to market.
In business, every department is serving a common goal to fulfill the mission of the organization.
Looking beyond a single department and seeing what part everyone plays to achieve this goal is crucial to its success.
If you also want to be a successful industry professional, it’s important you recognize this and arm yourself with knowledge of all industry departments, including those departments that are often overlooked.
Every PhD understands that most companies have an R&D department, a marketing department, and a sales department, but few understand that most companies have finance departments, departments to manage product supply chains, and information technology departments.
Understanding these often ignored departments and displaying your knowledge of their existence during informational interviews and site visits can help you get hired in industry.
Here are 5 often overlooked types of departments in a company’s organizational structure and how they function together to bring a product to market…
1. The service department.
In an ideal world, your product would work perfectly all the time.
But we are not living in a perfect world and perfect product performance rarely happens in reality.
Products fail to perform or break down completely.
When something goes wrong with a product, the company sends their service department to fix the situation.
The service department, typically populated with employees with backgrounds in electronics and/or engineering, can mitigate equipment failure and troubleshoot related issues.
Time is the most important factor to the service team.
When a system is broken, they work to keep the downtime to a minimum to ensure customer satisfaction.
This involves a lot of traveling for onsite repair.
In the case of clinical diagnostics, this can involve a 24-hour response time, particularly when patients’ lives can depend on the results of certain diagnostic tests.
In any research lab, a quick response by your company is needed to keep processes and experiments up and running.
Another important aspect of this work is calibrations and validation in order to fulfill the requirements for IQ/OQ (Installation Qualification/Operational Qualification) protocols or meeting the standards of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) norms and classifications.
In cases where a system can’t be fixed (e.g. because it’s too old and there are no spare parts), service engineers contact sales people to help the customer get a quick replacement or new technology as quickly as possible.
In cases where the product that fails to perform is a reagent or software program, application scientists may be brought in to fix the situation instead of service engineers.
2. The supply chain management department.
Supply chain management is all about the flow of goods and services.
From raw materials, to delivering the finished goods from the production site to the point of consumption, this involves a very efficient and effective electronic system.
The supply chain management department must handle the planning, monitoring, and execution of supply chain activities.
Most often, this is done by leveraging a worldwide logistics system.
If the supply chain is managed correctly, the company will be able to deliver their products fast and cost-effectively to clients in different countries.
This systematic, strategic coordination of different traditional business functions involves operations management, logistics, procurement, and information technology, but also industrial and systems engineering.
The end result is the synchronization of supply with demand on a global scale.
While it’s important for the customer to receive the ordered products on time, proper supply chain management also includes helping service and sales teams with special client demands.
These demands might include standing orders, storing custom products, or keeping a special inventory of certain reagent batches for customers who need these goods to keep their own production up and running.
3. The production and quality assurance departments.
The production department turns raw material or other inputs into final products following a series of processes.
This involves the purchasing of the raw materials and effective planning of a long line of production processes.
These production processes need to be monitored to make sure every product is produced correctly – including the correct amount of the product, the correct quality standards of the product, and so on.
Depending on the size of the company, these production processes may be split over several different departments.
In larger organizations, a quality assurance team may be commissioned.
With fierce competition between many biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies, quality assurance has become the market differentiator for most products and services.
Quality assurance departments take responsibility for defining the procedures for achieving and improving consistent product quality.
These departments are constantly working to enhance the existing quality of products by optimizing the existing production processes and by introducing new processes.
4. The finance department.
As a PhD, this department may have made you cringe in the past.
Balancing budgets in academia is normally equated to begging for grant funding.
Fortunately, in industry, financial experts within a dedicated finance department focus exclusively on the fiscal aspects of running a company.
These finance departments include accounting, controlling, and auditing segments.
Finance departments focus heavily on planning and organizing the company’s finances and producing financial statements.
For the customer, the finance department helps evaluate and approve their credit rating (or funding level).
Once a new customer starts ordering from a company, the company’s finance team will handle the invoices and all issues related to money trafficking.
These customer-facing finance activities are often integrated with customer service activities to keep the customer happy and cared for.
5. The information technology department.
The information technology (IT) department plays a pivotal, although often unappreciated, role in product development.
This department provides the tools to ensure every department receives information at the right time and at the right place.
Unfortunately, most employees and customers only acknowledge the IT department’s presence when a computer crashes.
Consider for a moment how many computer and computer systems a large biotechnology company with 5-10,000 employees uses.
Who manages all of these computers and systems? The IT department.
This department works hard every day to update software, upgrade firewalls, manage voiceover IPs, and in general work to ensure that communication internally and externally NEVER falters.
A company’s IT team is more than simply a support desk, often including project managers, data scientists, engineers, and developers.
One computer glitch can halt the production line at a factory in one city which can have major downstream effects for millions of consumers on the other side of the country.
As a result, the IT department has to be available to troubleshoot computer and computer system problems 24/7.
In industry, a company is only successful when each department works together to achieve its overall mission. If communication fails, then productivity and efficiency decreases. If you want to transition out of academia, you must know the essential functions of each department and the part they play in achieving this goal. This will prove you are a business-minded professional and not an academic recluse. Use this knowledge when you are networking with industry professionals, completing your industry resumes, and interviewing with hiring managers. The more acute your business acumen, the smoother your transition will be.
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