How to Become a Research and Development Manager

Learn how to become a research and development manager and what the career path looks like.

portrait of Doug Wintemute
by Doug Wintemute

Published August 29, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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How to Become a Research and Development Manager
Image Credit: Thomas Barwick | DigitalVision | Getty Images


Research and development job descriptions vary by organization and industry, but the importance of the role remains consistent. These professionals manage the research and development of new products and services, including scheduling, budgeting, and staff management.

Business professionals can become research and development managers in various ways, but it usually requires an advanced degree and experience. As business and project leaders, these managers need strong communication, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

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What Does a Research and Development Manager Do?

Research and development managers discover and develop new products and services for organizations. They research, prototype, and test new technologies, processes, and business models. Many of these professionals begin working with specific projects, moving to senior-level and management positions after gaining experience and advanced degrees.

Managers often undergo career changes as they progress as well, moving from project management to department or organizational management. The broadness of the business field provides research and development managers with many opportunities to switch specializations and industries.

Research and Development Manager Responsibilities

  • Investigate new technologies or look for ways to improve existing technologies.
  • Evaluate current processes and operations to suggest improvements after testing out solutions.
  • Oversee projects, budgets, and staffing requirements for research, design, and innovation teams.

Research and Development Manager Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become an R&D Manager?

Depending on the field, specialization, and organization, the steps and requirements to become a research and development manager can differ. For example, some research and development roles require specific backgrounds in science or engineering. The following section, however, details the most common requirements.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Business or a Related Field

A bachelor's in business administration or finance is an effective starting point for a career in research and development. These programs provide you with knowledge of business operations, plus many soft skills for the workplace, such as communication and collaboration. Schools may provide formal program concentrations and tracks, but you can also build a research and development specialization in other ways.

When choosing a major, look for programs that feature internships, practical experiences, and studies in project management and innovation. Consider schools that offer extras, such as career advice for business professionals, networking opportunities, and innovation hubs. This will allow you to build relationships, observe first-hand the innovation process, and develop specialized knowledge and practical experience while completing your degree.

Step 2: Get an Entry-Level Research and Development Job

After graduation, you want to find a job that connects you with the research and development process. You can start laying the groundwork for a job after college while still studying with career bridge programs, mentorship programs, and college internships. Try to secure an internship in a research and development sector to build experience and get your foot in the door.

As for the job, look for positions that offer experience-building responsibility and growth potential. Entry-level jobs in this field may include research and development assistant and associate, project management specialist, and research analyst roles. According to Payscale, the average base salary for research analysts is $58,250. The time spent in these jobs before moving up to management varies, but you should expect to put in a minimum of five years.

Step 3: Earn Your Master's Degree

After graduation, you want to find a job that connects you with the research and development process. You can start laying the groundwork for a job after college while still studying with career bridge programs, mentorship programs, and college internships. Try to secure an internship in a research and development sector to build experience and get your foot in the door.

As for the job, look for positions that offer experience-building responsibility and growth potential. Entry-level jobs in this field may include research and development assistant and associate, project management specialist, and research analyst roles. According to Payscale, the average base salary for research analysts is $58,250. The time spent in these jobs before moving up to management varies, but you should expect to put in a minimum of five years.

Step 4: Get a Job as a Research and Development Manager

With experience and an advanced business or related degree, you could qualify for careers in research and development management. This broad field may include many specialized positions, including:

  • Operations research
  • Market research
  • Engineering management
  • Project management
  • Product management
  • Product developer/strategist

According to Payscale, the average salary for research and development managers is $100,890. Entry-level professionals earn $76,000, while the most experienced professionals earn $118,000.

Step 5: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization

Though a master's degree meets the requirements for most research and development manager positions, organizations may prefer candidates with additional credentials. Professionals can improve their qualifications via continuing education, such as a doctorate in business administration or a graduate certificate in finance.

A doctorate can improve a manager's earnings as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these degrees pay over $350 in median weekly earnings and $18,000 annually more than master's degrees.

What to Know Before Becoming a Research and Development Manager

Accreditation

College accreditation comes in two major forms: institutional and programmatic accreditation.

Traditional and online school accreditation assures students that the recognized institution provides a quality education that meets the appropriate standards. Though optional, programmatic accreditation offers quality assurances for specific programs.

For business-related programs, accreditation may come from organizations like the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Cost

With annual graduate tuition rates approaching $20,000 in 2019-20, as per the National Center for Education Statistics, prospective students should keep a close eye on education costs. When evaluating price, look for the true program cost that incorporates hidden college costs and income lost during the study period. You can also compare online and on-campus costs and school types to find the most suitable option.

Be sure to research scholarships for business students to help fund your training.

Salary

The average salary for research and development managers depends on many factors, including experience, credentials, and location. According to Payscale, average salaries fall between $76,000-$118,000 for professionals with 1-20+ years of experience. Wages also increase about 20% between a bachelor's and master's degree and 22% between a master's and doctorate, as per the BLS.

The BLS also shows significant differences in state wages for business and financial occupations. For example, the median annual wage for this sector was $104,310 in the District of Columbia in May 2021 and only $67,190 in Arkansas.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an R&D Manager

What qualifications do you need to become a research and development manager?

To become a research and development manager, you typically need at least a bachelor's degree. Managers also need 5-10 years of relevant experience. Organizations may have more demanding requirements, such as a master's degree in business or a related field.

Professional certifications might also be required by organizations hiring research and development managers. For example, the project management professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute recognizes many of the skills used by research and development managers.

What is the fastest way to become a research and development manager?

The fastest way to become a research and development manager is to complete a bachelor's degree, get an entry-level job, and work your way up to a management position. This would take about four years for the bachelor's degree and then about five years of experience. Accelerated degree programs can shorten this timeline.

It may even be possible to complete a master's degree while gaining experience to save time. Those working in research and development entry-level careers could also pursue professional certificates or professional development programs to enhance their skills and qualifications.

What does a research and development manager do?

Research and development managers handle the process of finding and creating new products, services, and ideas for organizations. They may look to update existing technologies or processes or develop something entirely new. They often begin with a need, a problem, or an opportunity and then research possible solutions.

Managers lead teams of varying sizes, handling the staffing, budgeting, and project management tasks. They collaborate with engineers, scientists, and manufacturers. They also provide updates and reports to other managers and stakeholders.

Can I become a research and development manager with an online degree?

Yes. Online degrees provide the same level of education as traditional on-campus degrees. In fact, online learning allows students to reach more schools and programs across the country, which could provide access to more reputable or even more affordable studies.

Since online programs do not have the same level or kind of interaction, students should verify that they receive the appropriate support and networking opportunities. Networking can be one of the most useful and important activities in a business program.

How much money can I make as a research and development manager?

According to Payscale, the highest average salary available to research and business development managers is just below $120,000. The most experienced professionals in the field have access to these salaries.

According to the BLS, management occupations, in general, had median annual salaries of $102,450 in May 2021. This was nearly $60,000 higher than the median annual salary for all occupations. Meanwhile, the top 10% of earners in business and financial occupations made more than $130,620 in May 2021.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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