Companies which manufacture products typically need development scientists who understand and control the processes used to make the final product.

Development scientists work across the manufacturing industry, on products as diverse as foods, medicines, cosmetics and paints.

Process development scientists aim to optimise the performance of manufacturing systems. They are responsible for identifying and developing new processes for product manufacture, as well implementing process controls to make sure the products are of a high quality and are manufactured in a reproducible manner.

Product development scientists work with research scientists to develop new ideas and scientific discoveries, which can be used in the manufacture of new products. They also develop and improve existing products.

Product and process development scientists are concerned with improving the efficiency and profitability of the manufactured product.

Responsibilities

Exact job roles differ depending on whether you choose to work in process or product development.

Tasks carried out by process development scientists include:

  • devising new processes, or refining existing ones, to optimise the manufacturing process;
  • planning, carrying out and supervising process trials in laboratories, pilot plants or factories;
  • scaling up the production process via plant trials, making changes to raw materials or components and process parameters to ensure quality is maintained during large-scale production;
  • improving yields by reducing costs, for example investigating alternative materials or new machinery to improve efficiency and quality in bottleneck areas;
  • devising test methods to assess the production process;
  • validating new processes and showing that they are an improvement;
  • working with product pipelines at various stages of development;
  • developing formulae, specifications and label declarations, and ensuring compliance with the finished product specifications;
  • advising on equipment modification to enable process changes for new product development;
  • reading and writing technical reports and specifications and maintaining appropriate records;
  • initiating and generating ideas based on reading and research.

In comparison, activities carried out by product development scientists include:

  • formulating and establishing product design and performance objectives, normally in consultation with other functions, including research, marketing and production, as well as contractors, suppliers and customers;
  • responding to customer requirements, liaising with suppliers of raw materials and resolving production problems;
  • conducting test protocols and procedures and product evaluation;
  • transferring new technologies across a range of product categories;
  • writing technical reports and cost estimates, documenting development work and implementing profit improvement programmes;
  • generating data to substantiate claims regarding the safety and efficiency of new products (this applies particularly to the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector);
  • overseeing the integration of new products with other commercial areas, including brand development, sales strategy, quality assurance, legal, marketing and manufacturing.

Both job roles may involve presenting ideas to senior staff, training and supervising new team members or more junior staff, and reading trade press or attending conferences to keep up to date with industry developments.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for product/process development scientists are in the region of £22,000 to £30,000.
  • With experience, development scientists can progress to salaries of £32,000 to £40,000.
  • Senior development scientists with substantial experience working at a high level can expect to earn between £52,000 and £65,000.

Salaries vary according to geographical location, sector and size of organisation. Obtaining relevant postgraduate qualifications may help to lead to higher salaries.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm. Extra hours may be required on some occasions and they may be more irregular during critical development phases or when problems arise.

What to expect

  • The working environment varies depending on the nature of the job but may include a plant or factory floor, laboratory or office.
  • Protective clothing, including headwear and glasses, may be required depending on your duties.
  • Jobs are quite widely available, although they are more concentrated in industrial areas.
  • Progression into self-employment as a consultant may be possible once significant experience has been gained. There may be the flexibility with some employers to work part time or take a career break.
  • The work can be stressful at times, for example when launching a new production line, overseeing several projects running concurrently or meeting a tight deadline to fulfil customer requirements.
  • There is frequent contact with research and technical staff, and liaison with customers, suppliers and management.
  • Within process development, travel within a working day can be necessary. Organisations with a central process development function will require travel to outlying production sites. However, travel within the working day is less common for product development scientists.
  • Absence from home overnight and overseas travel may be required occasionally, but this will vary according to the organisation and the projects undertaken.

Qualifications

Product/process development scientists are recruited from a range of degree subjects as the workload can be varied, requiring a mixture of skills. The following subjects are particularly relevant:

  • agricultural or horticultural sciences;
  • applied life sciences;
  • biochemical and biological sciences;
  • chemical and physical sciences;
  • chemical/process/electrical engineering;
  • food science/technology/engineering;
  • materials science;
  • mechanical and production engineering;
  • mineral and mining engineering.

Entry without a degree is unlikely, although it may be possible to enter at a lower level as a technician. A degree or professional qualification would then have to be obtained to progress to the role of development scientist.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but a relevant applied MSc or PhD can be advantageous and will aid future career development. It is also likely to increase your earnings.

Information on available funding and studentships for postgraduate study and research can be found at Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

You may be able to enter the career through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). This involves working on a project jointly with a company and a 'knowledge base', such as a university or research organisation. It provides the chance to get a professional qualification, be mentored at work and apply your research in a commercial setting. Find out more at Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP).

Skills

You will need to show:

  • good communication skills for effective liaison and teamwork;
  • problem-solving skills, analytical skills and attention to detail;
  • excellent organisational skills and the ability to work on several tasks or projects concurrently;
  • commercial acumen and an awareness of the business value of work undertaken;
  • presentation skills - to present ideas and findings to colleagues and customers;
  • the ability to work well independently, with minimum supervision;
  • drive, enthusiasm and self-motivation;
  • an aptitude for mathematics and statistics and highly developed IT and technical skills.

Work experience

Experience in a production environment or industrial laboratory, either as vacation work or as a sandwich year placement, will give you an edge, as will knowledge of good laboratory and manufacturing practice.

Employers

Process development scientists work in a range of industrial sectors where raw materials are converted by chemical, biological, physical or technological processes into intermediate and finished products. Product development scientists also work right across the manufacturing sector.

Major employers for both are found in the following industries:

  • biotechnology;
  • fine chemicals;
  • food;
  • pharmaceutical;
  • speciality chemicals.

Other employers include manufacturers of toiletries, consumer goods (including cleaning materials) and other materials, such as plastic, glass and metals.

There are more opportunities for work with large employers, where you could be working on a number of different projects at the same time.

Opportunities with smaller employers sometimes offer more responsibility, but may involve working on a narrower range of products or processes.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies also handle vacancies, particularly for the pharmaceutical and food industries.

It is worthwhile making speculative applications, especially to the large companies that may be recruiting more often.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

The majority of training in process and product development is done on the job. It includes design, production, plant operation and quality control.

Training will probably be based in the laboratory or workshop at first, with exposure to manufacturing at scale later. If training in manufacturing is given, it will include safety, management and regulatory and compliance issues.

You are also likely to receive training in a range of generic skills, (especially in larger organisations), which could include time management, leadership, presentation skills and possibly languages, as well as technical training, including IT and product familiarisation.

Many companies operate a mentoring system, where a more experienced member of staff offers confidential help and support on a one-to-one basis to a new or less experienced colleague.

You may be selected as a 'Qualified Person' (QP) in your organisation if you are working in the pharmaceutical industry. This is a crucial role, as the QP is responsible for approving and certifying the release of pharmaceutical products, for use with both humans and animals. This requires specialised training and membership of a relevant professional body. Applications are assessed for QP eligibility by the following organisations:

Some employers support staff in gaining further qualifications, such as a postgraduate or research degree, or a management qualification. Professional qualifications may be obtained through part-time study, self-directed learning or assessment, organised by the appropriate professional body. You may also work towards chartered status, if appropriate.

Career prospects

As you gain experience of a variety of projects and develop your expertise, you will take on greater responsibility. This will involve managing larger and higher-profile projects and supervising other members of staff, including scientists and technicians.

You can expect to undertake training and other development activities to gain knowledge and keep up to date with best practice and technological advances. You may develop a specific technical specialism or become a specialist in a particular industrial sector.

There are opportunities to move into other production or research and development roles. Some scientists move into business functions or commercial roles. These include:

  • finance;
  • IT;
  • marketing;
  • senior management positions;
  • supply chain management;
  • technical sales.

If you have been working as a process development scientist, progression to self-employment or freelance work as a consultant may be possible, but only after you have gained a significant amount of experience. There is less scope for this move for scientists in product development, due to the high capital costs involved.