What my EMBA gave me that my PhD in natural sciences could not

If you are looking for an article describing how much your salary is going to increase or how fast you will move up the ladder within your company after an EMBA, this is not the article you should read. I did not decide to do an EMBA for those reasons (at least they were not my main reasons). My motivation for pursuing an EMBA came from something very common among scientists: the thirst for knowledge.

I am a scientist at my core and I will probably always be, independently of the job I end up doing. I was fascinated by cellular and molecular biology since I was in school and I could not wait to finish university to start a PhD. Once I finally reached that stage in my life, I found myself living three and a half years of incredible excitement. The learning curve was exceptionally steep. I was using cutting edge technology, driving a fascinating project, working with patient associations, presenting my work at international conferences and collaborating with laboratories in other countries. I felt alive and with a true purpose, I never thought I could be doing anything else than research… at the time.

Somewhere between my PhD and my first postdoc I started noticing the downside and the flaws of academic research, and some of the things I saw came into conflict with my fundamental believes. There were vital skills and knowledge that were missing in the academic research environment: how to define and keep control of the long-term strategy, how to use resources effectively, how to formulate a value proposition that resonated with the ultimate market (the payer, the patient)… all in all it missed the fundamental strategic planning of how the research would be applied in the real world. I realised that I had spent almost 10 years in a career where I never really learned how to do any of that.

I decided to start an EMBA because it was the most efficient way to get that knowledge and those skills, and in retrospective, I really think it was the right decision for me. At this stage of my life (pre-EMBA), I had already taken the decision to leave research, and although I did not know exactly what I wanted to do, I did know that I wanted to stay in the field of biotechnology. An EMBA in Management of Technologies fit very well into that plan.

What I learned from the EMBA went well beyond my initial expectations, and my two biggest gains were without any doubt “perspective” and “teamwork skills”. These are some of the differences between what I learned in my PhD in natural sciences (academia-based) and what I learned in my EMBA:

What EMBA taught that my PhD didn't

Language

My PhD taught me how to talk to scientists; I learned a complex technical language that I could use with my peers. My EMBA, on the other hand taught me how to talk to all the stakeholders in a business ecosystem; from how to talk about numbers with an investor or intellectual property rights with a lawyer, to how to talk about tangible benefits to a costumer.

Use of logic

During my PhD I learned how to produce, handle and analyse large sets of data. I was taught to use logic for complex problem solving.  My EMBA gave “People skills”, it taught me that conventional logic is not always applicable in matters of human perception and interaction. Beyond the “business language” itself, the EMBA taught me to understand the reasoning and motivation of people with backgrounds different from natural sciences. That information alone showed to be very powerful for working in teams.

Selling

As a PhD I showcased my research to a scientific audience, relying strongly on rational thinking. The EMBA showed me that in business we sell ideas based on insights from potential customers, while leveraging perceptions and emotional biases.

Structure

With my PhD I learned how to write well-structured, well-referenced, consistent documents. With my EMBA I learned less structured, but more appealing ways of presenting information.

Money

In academic research one is told that some of the resources used in the lab are more expensive than others and that one should be conscious about the expenses. In business, one uses systematic tools to forecast cash flows, monitor expenses and make Net Present Value assessments.

Project management

As a PhD I learned to lead my own project and to leverage international collaborations. Beyond that my EMBA taught me to monitor and measure the progress of a project and most importantly, it taught me that the inflow of money is dependent on progress.

Market research

During my PhD I was used to only monitor new technologies and discoveries within my field or applicable to my field. During my EMBA I understood that I should follow not only my market of interest, but also everything that can have an influence on it: politics, economy, law, technological trends, etc.

Organisational structure

My years in research gave me an overview of the career progression and structure of an academic environment. My 16 months EMBA helped me discover the structure of complex organizations, the role and function of the different departments and the way they interact with each other.

KPIs

In research I learned that a scientist is measured through one main tool: number and quality of publications. In business however,there are other key performance indicators: revenue, network growth and client satisfaction, among others.

Career path

My PhD set up a path for me to become a specialist in a field of research, it made me better in what I was. The EMBA showed me that research was not my only interest. It presented me with other career opportunities to pursue and it primed me for something new. The EMBA alone however did not allow me to switch careers while continuing on the same hierarchical level. I had to learn to accept that in my new career path, I was in many aspects starting all over again. My soft skills were transferable, but my experience was not.

 

I felt in love with science the way one falls in love with its first true love: wholehearted, committed, full of drive and completely reluctant to the idea that there could be anything/anyone else or that I would ever want something different. Through my EMBA I discovered a passion for something else, something that fit better the person I have come to be and the ambitions I have come to develop.