Consulting

What it is

Businesses and other organizations hire consulting firms to provide an outside perspective and analytical skill to help address pressing strategic or practical issues. Management consultants address business issues; scientific consultants address technical issues. Management consulting involves problem identification and analysis. Case by case, it can cover everything from internal systems to public perception. Technical or scientific consulting can involve bench research, usually about product or process development, or providing input on the technical aspects of a proposed project. Both require major mental shifts: the academic science community values thoroughness, narrow focus and perfect accuracy, while the business and government communities value efficiency, breadth of knowledge, and getting projects done.

Starting points

Large management consulting firms will hire STEM PhDs for their analytical skills. Large firms can take chances with hiring and are also more aware of the strengths of PhDs. You would probably start as some sort of “associate,” “analyst” or “consultant.” Entry-level position titles in technical consulting firms will often include the word “scientist” or “engineer.” Some management consulting firms are adding technical and scientific consulting to their services.

Advancement

Advancement opportunities from management consulting are vast and diverse. With a few years’ hard work and successful performance, you can move up or across within the firm, change firms, or even move into one of the businesses or industries youÕve served. Technical or scientific consulting can lead to employment with a key client, moving up within the consulting firm, or starting your own small firm.

Disciplines

All STEM disciplines can enter this field. Technical consulting keeps you closer to the bench and to science itself, whereas management consulting will take you and toward business, driven by your analytical and problem-solving ability more than your scientific knowledge. Let your interests be your guide.

Personality and outlook

Type A personalities will thrive in the intense and entrepreneurial environment of management consulting, whereas quieter souls may be happier closer to the bench in technical consulting. Social skills and a genuine interest in practical problem-solving are required by both.

Preparation

Take business courses. Read about business and industry. Join business, entrepreneurial or consulting clubs on campus. Look for internships or training programs open to grad students that would expose you to business or consulting. Conduct informational interviews with consultants of both types. Learn the major firms and their specialties. Learn case-study methods and practice them.