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of a scientist
A KELLY SERVICES PSYCHOGRAPHIC PROFILE
Well informed and prepared
Takes supportable positions
Sensitive to others’ positions
Strives for precision
Logical, orderly workflow
Avoids unwarranted closure
Adaptable and flexible
Good with information
In a connected and mobile
world, talent is the engine
of economic growth and the
drive toward a knowledge-
Most, if not all, organizations are increasingly aware that a knowledge-
based society depends on the best talent being in place across key
sectors of the economy. Countries that have established a strong,
talent-based workforce – through attracting the best from overseas –
have developed thriving, sustainable economies.
Nowhere is the rush for talent more acutely felt than in the science
community. Private and public organizations want the best talent
working in their labs, to drive science and technology innovation
and to enhance their reputation as a preferred research destination.
To attract and retain quality science talent requires an understanding of what makes
scientists tick: what kind of environment do they thrive in? What opportunities do they
look for? What do they want from management? The bottom line is that as competition
grows and emerging markets become more attractive as research destinations,
organizations need to ‘fine tune’ what they offer scientists.
With this goal in mind, Kelly Services conducted extensive research using data from
discussion forums and groups, industry association releases, blogs, resumés and trade
press articles to paint a psychographic portrait of scientists in the US, Europe, the
Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
In this resulting paper, we present key advice for attracting, hiring and retaining
scientists to ensure you stay ahead of the game, looking in particular at what motivates
candidates to succeed. We also illustrate the difference between various science
professionals – their key traits – and investigate the types of workplace barriers that
may deter them from taking a job at your organization.
“The prospect of discovery is what keeps us hungry.”
– Professor at the Saint Petersburg State University
Scientists tend to have perseverance, patience, tenacity,
thoroughness and a singleness of purpose that is not
common in other career fields.
Traditionally, they have been overachievers at school, particularly in science and math,
and have worked incredibly hard to achieve their academic goals.
They are typically driven by their inquisitiveness and desire for knowledge, which
means they have a passion for and are motivated by their work. “I think the first
and most important trait that scientists need to have, and something that I think
I have observed during the course of my career, is natural curiosity,” said one expert
contacted by Fuld + Company on behalf of Kelly Services.1
Productive scientists have a strong internal drive to achieve their goals and have high
levels of concentration and persistence. Nothing is accepted at face value for scientists
– every angle of a problem, all of the available data and interpretations of a problem
will be digested before any conclusions are drawn.
/06WHAT MAKES SCIENTISTS TICK?
scientists have a
drive to achieve
For the EMEA Psychographic Profiles subject matter experts were interviewed in April 2014 about the characteristics of science
professionals. The experts were two professors – one from Saint Petersburg State University and the other from European Science
Foundation – and an HR manager from the European Science Foundation.
Lab workers vs.
“In the sciences, it is generally accepted that you
need to be a specialist rather than a generalist.”
- Professor at the Saint Petersburg State University
/08LAB WORKERS VS. CLINICAL WORKERS
Lab and clinical scientists have many of the same ‘umbrella’
characteristics of all scientists, including common personality
traits and career aspirations.
These include being keen to work on significant global research, and having clear plans
for what they want to accomplish and how they expect to accomplish it.
However, there are some key functional differences to be aware of when approaching lab
scientists and clinical scientists, mostly to do with their areas of specialty.
A lab scientist will set their mind to a task and see it through to completion. Focused and goal-
orientated, they will not be too interested in peripheral discussion, although they will absorb
all other people’s opinions – particularly those of peers – and consider alternative approaches.
They are unlikely to get personal and will respect contrary views. There is care and due
diligence in the work that they do; hence, it would be no surprise to learn that they will not
rush into tasks, decisions or judgements. Evidence is evaluated in a systematic manner;
conclusions are delayed if the necessary data and insights do not stack up. Everything is
carefully measured in the lab worker’s world.
A lab scientist
will set their
mind to a task
and see it through
LAB WORKERS VS. CLINICAL WORKERS /09
According to research conducted by Kelly Services, clinical scientists’ work dictates a
different skillset. Clinical data managers and research associates are better skilled at
understanding business processes and management principles, strategic planning,
resource allocation, human-resources modeling, leadership techniques, production
methods, and the coordination of people and resources. Our research found that the
role of a clinical data manager has evolved according to technological advancements,
with data management and accompanying ‘soft skills’ becoming more important in
today’s clinical environment.
As the role involves more collaboration, a clinical scientist gives colleagues their full
attention and takes time to digest others’ points, while also rigorously self-assessing for
areas of improvement. He or she will use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths
and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches.
Clinical scientists are solutions-driven individuals who can engage comfortably with
complex problems – weighing up the costs and benefits of all outcomes to choose the
most appropriate course of action.
The role of a clinical
data manager has
Deciding factors: what
do science candidates
value in a career?
“Above all, it is about growth and development opportunities.”
– Professor affiliated with the European Science Foundation
DECIDING FACTORS: WHAT DO SCIENCE CANDIDATES VALUE IN A CAREER? /11
What a scientist most values in his or her career probably
equates to what we all look for – stability, good management
and freedom to work.
There are some further reasons, however, that are fairly unique to the science community.
These relate to the intensive nature of their work and the commitment they have to
making a difference.
Fulfillment is the strongest driving force for a scientist. For example, if a person
engaged in the sciences feels fulfilled and engaged by their work, then he or she will
really devote his or her life’s work to specializing in his or her chosen field – some can
spend entire lives focused on one area of research.
Our primary research revealed this is driven by a sense that scientists feel like their
work is more advocacy than profession. Some believe that their findings will help
contribute to advancing their countries, which to a large degree is true of the work
Fulfillment is the
force for a scientist
to work on research
important to society
is hugely valuable
/12DECIDING FACTORS: WHAT DO SCIENCE CANDIDATES VALUE IN A CAREER?
A chance to innovate
Scientists value opportunities and a workplace that generates them. One subject
matter expert said: “If organizations – academe or companies – wish to retain talent,
they just need to constantly present opportunities. Sometimes scientists are looking
for growth opportunities, but most of the time they are simply looking for research
and development opportunities.”
Being in an environment and around people who feel and think the same way is a
value many scientists cherish. They find great appeal in organizations that align with
their creative thinking and empower them to do what they do best.
In a field of work known for breakthroughs and discovery, it makes sense that most
scientists fear living a life dedicated to science only to conclude that they made little
or no significant impact on science or society.
“A scientist might devote his life to just one project and still fail,” said one interviewee.
The opportunity, then, to work on research that’s fundamentally important to society is
hugely valuable to scientists. Another subject matter expert noted: “People are driven
by the fact that they will be published or become prominent in the field because of
/13DECIDING FACTORS: WHAT DO SCIENCE CANDIDATES VALUE IN A CAREER?
In general, scientists benefit from an increasingly globalized and borderless science
community that allows for more collaboration and travel, and greater diversity in the
work they do. Opportunities abound in the private and public sector. At home and
overseas, specialists can move where the financial, governmental or political climate is
Most who work in the field are acutely aware of where the opportunities lie – whether
academic, government or industry – and where they can best practice their specialty
according to policy settings. For example, a lab scientist will be aware that in Germany,
government regulations are relatively more open to experimentation than in the US.
There are a number of paths open to a scientist today – academic, industry and
government sectors all offer something different. Jobs in science are also increasingly
becoming ‘cross-border’, so many science candidates value the opportunity to work on
important research projects with overseas partners.
“Employment is no longer an issue, with the establishment of the European Union,
as well as the agreement among institutions that the sciences should be a borderless
and apolitical field. In a lot of ways, these changes contribute to what drives people to
engage in the sciences,” observed one subject matter expert.
There are a number
of paths open to a
scientist today –
sectors all offer
/14DECIDING FACTORS: WHAT DO SCIENCE CANDIDATES VALUE IN A CAREER?
They added: “In the sciences, it should be recognized that young people know this
is a field to which they need to devote time and resources – and given that there are
a few private enterprises, the government and other research institutions are the sole
providers of lucrative careers for the younger generation. In a way, the main driver
Sustained funding and research grants are a key pull factor for science talent. For
example, China has made a priority of bringing in talent from overseas through
incentives such as the ‘Thousand Talents’ program, which was set up to attract experts
in science, technology, and entrepreneurship.2
As part of the program, successful
candidates get a salary plus benefits, a lump sum of 1 million yuan (US$160,000), and
research subsidies ranging from 3 to 5 million yuan (US$490,000 to nearly US$820,000)
over a three-year period.
Scientists face an
obstacle course of
Lenora Chu, ‘Looking to China for Scientific Careers’, Science, November 2013, sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/
/15DECIDING FACTORS: WHAT DO SCIENCE CANDIDATES VALUE IN A CAREER?
What do they dislike or avoid in professional life?
In their daily jobs, scientists face an obstacle course of puzzles, hurdles, roadblocks
and experimental problems; a work environment that adds to those challenges is
probably not appealing. Science candidates are often aggressively unwilling to be
stopped by obstacles.
Our research also highlighted the need for a supportive working environment.
“Scientists ought to be in the middle of a perfect condition – a combination of desire
and a reinforcing environment that encourages them to pursue what they want,” said
one HR manager.
A workplace that is burdened by processes, bureaucracy and politics would not
be appealing to scientists, who, like most of their peers, are ambitious and driven.
Also note: younger candidates may be less responsive to the hierarchical corporate
structures that govern most workplaces. They have more freedom today to express
and share their ideas than their predecessors; they will therefore be less tolerant of
encroaching management and executive bodies.
most of their peers,
“Scientists are very loyal to institutions that
they feel support them and help them grow.”
– Professor affiliated with the European Science Foundation
/17SOURCING AND MOTIVATING TALENT
A scientist needs
to be challenged
and able to work
with a certain
degree of autonomy
By their nature, scientists are not happy with the status quo,
which means they are constantly moving forward and looking
for new things to discover to stimulate scientific progress.
If opportunities do not present themselves in the workplace, then logically scientists
will find it hard to adjust and will look elsewhere, which is why employers need to think
carefully about what motivates candidates to succeed.
The need to be challenged
A scientist needs to be challenged and able to work with a certain degree of
autonomy. Any employer looking to engage candidates should think seriously about
how to create an environment with these two things in mind. Subject matter experts
interviewed for our survey agreed that an environment that favored micromanagement
was not conducive to retaining science talent.
“The best way to retain talent is by providing as much assistance as you possibly can to
ensure that they are supported and encouraged to pursue developments in the field,”
one expert observed. “Providing assistance in terms of funding, research opportunities
and publishing, among other things, would allow science candidates to maximize their
potential and contribute greatly to the institution and society.”
Although scientists do collaborate on research projects, subject matter experts also
observed the benefits of offering flexibility, variety and choice in the way scientists work.
“Working on your own is the most preferable set-up, but most of the work is often
collaborative – sometimes with groups of three and as large as a group of one hundred
people collaborating from multiple areas,” one expert said. “Many scientists are not
people-persons. They often work on their own and they prefer it that way.”
Rise of the social scientists
Popular culture has always painted scientists as introverted ‘geeks’ – socially awkward,
unable to form functioning relationships and happy engrossing themselves in their
research as an alternative to real engagement. But that stereotype is being quietly
eroded by the influence of technology. In particular, the rise of social media as a tool
of mass communication has allowed scientists to communicate their ideas with a much
bigger audience. Science blogs have even become a major social media phenomenon:
the I F***ing Love Science Facebook page now boasts more than 17 million followers.
/18SOURCING AND MOTIVATING TALENT
most of their peers,
Without doubt, social media has given science – in particular a younger generation
of scientists – a platform to develop and hone a profile. Business Insider, an online
business publication, recently posted a list of the top 40 scientists using social media;
among them were astronauts, physicists and molecular biologists.3
That is something
to consider in recruiting from a talent pool reared on these technologies – they are not
necessarily going to fit into a box labeled with old stereotypes.
/19SOURCING AND MOTIVATING TALENT
The rise of social
media has allowed
ideas with a much
Melissa Stanger, ‘These 40 Science Experts Will Completely Revamp Your Social Media Feed’, Business Insider, March 2014,
Five key tips
Not all organizations are going to be able to meet the demands
or satisfy the desires of all scientists.
For example, not all companies and organizations operate at the cutting edge of
science, focusing on hugely significant discoveries or the solutions to life’s problems.
However, science candidates will appreciate the ability to learn from those who have
experience: mentorship programs are a good way to entice talent into an organization
– offering them an opportunity to work with an established expert, in order to learn
/21FIVE KEY TIPS FOR ATTRACTING AND RETAINING SCIENCE TALENT
the ability to learn
from those who
The following are five key steps organizations can take
to better meet the needs of today’s science candidates:
1. Revise management structures – create management hierarchies that minimize
administration for science workers.
2. Assign mentors – consider a mentorship program to allow young recruits regular
exposure to experienced specialists and practitioners.
3. Invest in training – offer additional training to help develop ‘soft skills’ not picked
up in tertiary education, such as management and presentation skills.
4. Nurture innovation – consider using new technologies to encourage more online
collaboration between scientists.
5. Offer further opportunities – Look at additional learning opportunities, such as
conferences, to encourage networking and personal development.
/22FIVE KEY TIPS FOR ATTRACTING AND RETAINING SCIENCE TALENT