The aim of the skills analysis is to understand to what extent do the perceived skills of PhD candidates fit the requirements and needs of employers in the life-science sector.  To find answers to these question we conducted Online survey among the PhD students and series of semi-structured in-depth interviews with employers of PhD holders outside academia, PhD students, and PhD holders working in the life science sector and other stakeholders.


The survey was distributed to PhD students at Slovak Academy of Sciences, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava and University of Vienna and received 230 answers. It provided several interesting findings on how PhD students evaluate their skills and the skills which are necessary for a career in the research-intensive private company in the life sciences. Knowledge transfer and commercialization, project management, communicating research to different audiences, creativity, innovative thinking and social skills are perceived by PhDs to be comparatively more important in private R&D than the skills in those areas developed within the PhD. This also suggests that those are the skills that the PhDs think would be most likely important do develop further for a successful career in a research-intensive job in the private sector.

Other interesting findings:

  • 49,2% of the respondents (both men and women alike) were definitely or probably planning to find employment outside of academia. 40,9% were definitely or probably planning to find employment in academia and 10% were not sure about their plans.
  • Pressure to publish or present the outcomes, pressure to obtain funding or generate income and low salaries - were seen as the least appealing aspects of a career in the academia.
  • Advantages of a career in the private sector are seen mostly in the domains of (a good) salary and career progress possibilities.
  • Driving change and innovation, independence and creativity and intellectual adventure are seen as the main benefits of starting one’s own R&D company/start-up.
  • Most PhD students see the disadvantage of starting one’s own R&D company/start-up in the need to be aware of wide spectrum of legal regulations, experiencing job insecurity, long working hours and the pressure to create networks of contacts. Interestingly, there are no notable differences in evaluating disadvantages of starting one’s own R&D company/start-up among PhD students in Austria and Slovakia.
  • Overall, the differences between answers of Austrian and Slovak PhD students suggest that PhD students in Austria perceive academic careers as less secure and more dynamic connected to long working hours, while in Slovakia those careers are perceived as more secure, less dynamic with a potentially rigid workplace culture.

Read more about the survey outcomes in the report from the survey.


We talked to 34 representatives of companies and PhD holders working in those companies. Interviewees came from the organizations varying in their area of activity (pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, health applications and devices, environment and agriculture, consulting…) and size and held different positions within them (researchers, R&D managers, consultants, members of board, owners etc.).

Some of the key findings include:

  • PhD holders are mostly hired for research related positions. However, in most companies represented in the interviews, PhD holders can be found in all types of positions, e. g. in regulatory affairs, pharmacovigilance, quality assurance, medical affairs, marketing, sales but also as project and R&D managers, members of management board and even CEOs.
  • When asked about their experience with the transition from academia to private sector, PhD holders often referred to different dynamics and internal structure of the private sector organisations. PhD graduates need to learn how to prioritise the tasks, manage their time more efficiently and understand their own role within the team etc.
  • When asked about the skills PhD graduates often miss, employers mentioned practical skills such as project management, basic knowledge of finance and/or legal issues (patent law, regularities of drug licensing, industry standards like ISO etc.).
  • They also stressed the importance of soft skills such as ability to work in team, ability to communicate scientific or expert knowledge clearly and presentation techniques. and ability to collaborate with people with different backgrounds, self-management.

Read more about the interviews outcomes in the short summary.

Would you like to see the main outcomes summarised in a few key messages? See our infographics