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Chief Scientific Officer: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Chief scientific officers require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and necessary experience to see if this is the right career for you.

Leadership skills, business acumen and scientific expertise are the main requirements to be a successful chief scientific officer. These professionals, who often have a bachelor's degree or higher in a business-related field and significant industry experience, are responsible for overseeing the operational functions of a company. Continuing education is necessary as well, to stay abreast of changing technology and regulations within their field.

Essential Information

A chief scientific officer is an executive who manages the scientific, research or technological operations of a company or organization. These professionals help set company research and scientific priorities so that they line up with the overall mission and goals of the organization. Educational requirements for these professionals range from bachelor's to doctoral degrees, and extensive experience is also typically required.

Required Education Varies by employer; bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in business administration or related field
Other Requirements Extensive managerial, research and industry experience; familiarity with grant writing, research and fundraising
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all top executives
Median Salary (2015)* $175,110 for all chief executives

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description of a Chief Scientific Officer

Chief scientific officers oversee the scientific functions of a company, including basic and applied research projects, as well as the development of new processes, technologies or products. Like other jobs for top executives, this management position combines discipline-specific knowledge with leadership and business skills to promote the efficiency, profitability and competitive position of a company.

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Chief Scientific Officer Job Duties

To keep their companies competitive, chief scientific officers stay updated on technological advances and industry trends, which allows them to advise the organization's governing body in scientific matters. This may include making recommendations on future projects, such as new research opportunities or technological ventures. These professionals also coordinate research activities by recruiting qualified researchers, managing personnel and evaluating their performance.

Chief scientific officers may serve public relations functions by representing the scientific goals and interests of the company at press conferences, meetings, conventions and shareholder events. As such, they may need to travel in order to meet with branches or subsidiaries of the parent company and establish and maintain advantageous contacts in government, academia or industry.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected employment of top executives, like chief scientific officers, would grow by six percent from 2014 until 2024. Its May 2015 salary report showed that chief executives earned a median of $175,110; however, the BLS doesn't provide median salary data for subordinate executives.

Requirements to Become a Chief Scientific Officer

The BLS explains that while many top executives have a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration, liberal arts or another specialized field, upper-level management positions in scientific fields like research and development often require a master's or doctoral degree (www.bls.gov). Job postings in September 2011 on CareerBuilder.com confirmed this, showing that employers required candidates to possess a doctoral-level degree, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), as well as extensive industry, research and management experience. Chief scientific officer positions at academic institutions and professional organizations also emphasized that candidates must have significant experience with research and publication, grant writing and fundraising.

The BLS noted that employers tend to prefer candidates who have had completed postdoctoral fellowships, and it recommended continuing education, career training and membership in professional organizations to maintain knowledge in the field. These programs focus on applying business and management strategies to research and laboratory settings, which can be especially valuable for scientists who wish to transition into an executive leadership role, like project manager or chief scientific officer.

Chief scientific officers are the heads of scientific operations within their companies or organizations. This requires a combination of excellent science and business know-how, as well as the ability to align company functions with its mission and vision. A bachelor's degree is a minimum educational requirement, but chief scientific officers, like other chief executives, often have advanced training in business and extensive experience within their specific scientific field.


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