Career area: Technical support, application science & product management – EMBL Fellows' Career Service

EMBL Careers

A life science careers blog for early career researchers

This blog aims to inspire early career researchers exploring different career options. We provide interview-based profiles of life scientists working in diverse science-related careers and articles on a broad range of career-related topics, with new content added on a regular basis.

Career area: Technical support, application science & product management

There are a wide range of companies that develop and sell instrumentation, reagents and other related products or services in the life science field.  In addition to R&D roles developing these products, there are roles where scientists use their in-depth knowledge of particular technologies and scientific tools to provide expert technical support and training to customers and other stakeholders; or develop overarching strategies for product portfolios.

Roles and responsibilities

Possible tasks may include a subset of the following activities:

Technical support:

  • Dealing with initial technical enquiries from customers –identifying, understanding and solving technical issues with the product/instrumentation; this may involve direct interaction with the user via phone, or (for field-roles) in-person visits to their lab.
  • Providing technical advice for, or directly supporting, installation of new equipment at customer sites.

Applications scientist / product specialist:

  • Providing training to end-users on the technology, performing product demos at customers / conferences, exhibitions etc; advising / supporting installation of new instrumentation. 
  • Providing support and training to sales and marketing teams – for example, advising them on product capabilities and potential customers needs.
  • Gaining market information on how products are being used to report back to the company and inform sales, as well as development / updates to products.
  • Dealing with technical enquiries from customers – identifying/understanding and solving technical issues with the product/instrumentation on site.
  • Testing the application of products to specific scientific areas and ensuring that the product is optimised. This may also involve developing specific protocols in collaboration with the product development team.
  • Roles are often field-based, and entry-level roles usually involve a large amount of travel.

Product management:

  • Developing the overall strategy for a specific product portfolio and coordinating different aspects of the product pipeline: from providing R&D teams input on market gaps and direction,  providing support to marketing to steer the launch of new products, to deciding on pricing structures and ensuring product support is in-place etc.  
  • Monitoring the market for new competition, reporting on product performance etc

Knowledge and skills

In our careers & skills survey, 8 scientists working in technical support, application science and product management told us the competencies they use most in their daily work  The most frequently selected competencies were:

  • effective communication (selected by 88% of respondents)
  • team work (selected  by 75% of respondents)
  • self management  (selected  by 75% of respondents)
  • deep knowledge of a specific technique / technology (selected  by 63% of respondents)
  • resilient problem solving (selected by 50% of respondents; and often ranked as the most important factors for success, for those respondents)

Language skills

Language requirements for these roles vary depending on the working language of the company’s client base and therefore depend a lot on the exact role. As application scientists mainly interact with other scientists (in academic and industry labs – and within the company), it may be feasible to find positions in this career area that only require English. Nevertheless, in countries where English is not the main language, having at least some knowledge of the local language can be a requirement or preferred qualification, particularly if the product has clinical applications.

Career entry and progression

For applications scientist / product specialist roles, it is possible to enter these roles directly from a PhD or postdoc. Often the entry-level position will be a field-based role that requires frequent travel. From this role, is normally possible to gain more responsibilities (e.g. an expanded portfolio of products or managing a team working in a region), which may allow a reduction in travel time. It is also possible to move into other corporate functions. 

Product management can be an entry-level role in some companies, while others prefer candidates with some commercial experience (e.g. first experience in a R&D, sales or application role).

Example job titles 

  •  Specialist for …. products / Product specialist
  • (Field) application scientist / specialist (FAS/AS)
  • Customer support advisor
  • Technical project lead
  • Technical application manager
  • Application support scientist
  • Solutions scientist
  • Product manager
  • Service engineer

Why consider this career area?

In our careers and skills survey, scientists working in this career area told us that they appreciate that their work:

  • is intellectually stimulating
  • is financially rewarding

Sources / further information

General careers books, including ‘Alternative careers in science leaving the ivory tower‘ by Cynthia Robbins-Roth and ‘Career opportunities in biotechnology and drug development‘ by Toby Freedman.

Further internal resources

For EMBL fellows

Within EMBL, further internal resources (e.g. recorded career seminars) can be found on our career exploration intranet pages.

Informational interviews

For all career areas, we highly recommend first learning more about the careers using the resources above, then conducting informational interviews to gain further insights directly from former PhDs working in career areas that interest you.

Last update: November 2022

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The EMBL Fellows' Career Service incorporates the EMBL Interdisciplinary Postdoc (EIPOD) career development programme. EI3POD and EIPOD4 have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreements 664726 (2015-2020) and 847543 (2019-present) respectively.