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Canada’s Best Jobs 2014: Scientific Research Manager

Keeping the lab running smoothly

scientific research manager

Dr. Christine Ayotte, director of the Doping Control Laboratory, showing reporters around the drug-testing facility that served Vancouver 2010 Olympics, seen here in a file photo. (Stephanie Lamy/AFP/Getty)

Median Salary: $79,997
Change in salary (2007–2013): -2%
Total employees: 9,500

Not every scientist gets to spend her days mixing concoctions in test tubes or digging up dinosaur bones; every lab needs a senior manager to keep research teams on track and on budget. Scientific research managers coordinate the efforts of other scientists to achieve larger goals, and handle things like human resources, budgeting, and the other managerial tasks necessary to keep a lab—or a bunch of labs—running smoothly. In cases where the government is involved, either as a funder, partner or regulator, being able to smoothly translate technical jargon for non-scientists is a helpful skill.

How to Qualify: An undergraduate science degree is the starting point, and while many scientific research managers have more advanced degrees and experience in the field or in primary research, a master’s or doctorate degree isn’t always necessary to get into management. At that point your experience, people skills and, in some cases, formal management education are going to count for more than an affinity for bunsen burners.

Money: The specialized knowledge necessary to get into science fields in the first place tends to keep the workforce in check, so employer demand is reasonably high and salaries match. With the median salary hovering near $80,000, it would be quite reasonable to break six figures with a little extra seniority or larger institutions.

Outlook: Unemployment in this field is low and Service Canada projects that demand will slightly outstrip supply through the end of the decade. As with many jobs on the list, a wave of retirements over the next few years will create the bulk of new opportunities.

What it’s Like: Moving up the chain of command in a scientific research setting means less time at the lab bench and more time on budgeting, HR, and strategy, so be sure that’s what you want. “I don’t get to do that much research any more,” says Judi Beck, Director General of the Pacific Forestry Centre in Victoria. “But I’m definitely a strong advocate. There’s a lot of joy in watching other people get excited and passionate about their work and my job is enabling that.” Beck says her job is often “bridging between the science and policy side”—allowing government and industry to make decisions based on the science her teams do.

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