What Is Research and Development Management?

Global companies spend big on the research and development of new products and services. Learn how to land a high-paying R&D job with longevity.

portrait of Meg Whitenton
by Meg Whitenton

Published August 23, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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What Is Research and Development Management?
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Research and development (R&D) enables a business to create new products and services. Many types of businesses rely on multi-faceted research and development to stay competitive in their industry of expertise. Marketing, engineering, and manufacturing companies are just a few examples of enterprises that depend heavily on research and development.

Biopharmaceutical and technology companies are especially invested in advanced research and development. STEM industries and global giants like Amazon, for instance, spend big on research and development to drive innovation, marketability, and demand.

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What Does a Research and Development Manager Do?

Research and development managers conduct research to help companies develop new products and services. They poll consumers, test market viability, and anticipate trends to stay competitive in their industry. Companies may narrow their R&D focus to basic, applied, or developmental research practices.

R&D managers often work with human resources staff and top executives to support a project or department dedicated to R&D. They may also collaborate with technicians and designers to workshop and develop new products. Payscale estimated the annual average salary of R&D managers at $101,000 as of June 2022.

R&D Responsibilities

  • Project Management: R&D managers commonly direct multiple projects simultaneously.
  • Budgeting: R&D often requires advanced financial planning and math skills.
  • Product Development: Many R&D projects ultimately serve this singular end-goal.
  • Communication: R&D managers must possess versatile and effective communication skills.
  • Problem-Solving: Trial and error, and problem-resolution are routine aspects of most R&D jobs.
  • Teamwork/Collaboration: Collaboration between researchers, technicians, and managers is critical in any application of R&D.

Where Do R&D Managers Work?

Research and development managers work in a variety of industries across all sectors. Larger corporations tend to dedicate entire departments to R&D, while smaller companies may employ individual staff members as research and development managers or specialists.

Corporations in fields like pharmaceuticals, electrical engineering, and software technology often assemble the most robust R&D teams and focus a significant portion of their budget on this practice. R&D professionals may be hired in-house or work as contract employees.

Research and Development Careers

A variety of fields, including science, engineering, and technology, depend on qualified research and development professionals. Graduates of a bachelor's degree commonly work as entry-level R&D technicians, earning an hourly salary of roughly $20, according to Payscale data accessed June 2022.

R&D engineers can qualify for mid-level jobs in science, technology, and manufacturing with an undergraduate degree but require a wide variety of skills and experience. Research and development engineers typically earn an average annual salary of $78,000, according to Payscale data accessed June 2022.

Many top earners work as research and development managers, earning more than $100,000 a year, according to Payscale data from June 2022. R&D manager positions typically require a master's or doctoral degree.

The following are common careers for R&D professionals across multiple industries.

Market Research Analyst

Research and development can greatly impact how a product or service is advertised and promoted to consumers. Market research analysts specialize in researching market trends to forecast sales, increase a company's worth, and build a brand identity. They may carry out R&D through methods including focus groups, social media polling, and/or consumer interviews.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $63,920
Career Outlook 2020-30: 22%
Degree/Experience Level: Bachelor's degree

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and information research scientists study existing technology and forecast the technological needs of the future to innovate new products and services. These professionals may specialize in programming or robotics R&D, or focus on the research and development of new technology in fields like science, medicine, or education.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $131,490
Career Outlook 2020-30: 22%
Degree/Experience Level: Master's degree

Materials Engineer

Materials engineers research and develop new products made from metal, plastic, ceramic, nanomaterials, and composites. They ensure that the most sensible and safest material is used for a specific purpose, as in electrical, nuclear, or aerospace technology. They may further specialize in a particular type of material in working as an R&D engineer.

Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $98,300
Career Outlook 2020-30: 8%
Degree/Experience Level: Bachelor's degree

Education

R&D technicians or engineers typically need at least a bachelor's degree; however, some jobs may accept candidates with an associate degree for entry-level positions, to build experience. Employers prefer candidates with extensive experience, especially for subfields of R&D.

Most R&D managers need a graduate degree, such as an MBA or doctoral degree. Doctoral degree candidates can earn experience in R&D through university research. Some managerial roles will accept candidates in the process of earning a graduate degree or with advanced experience in lieu of a higher degree. Employers generally favor candidates with multiple years of R&D leadership experience.

The Future of Research and Development

Like most 21st-century sectors, research and development is increasingly impacted by new technologies. The future of research and development seems to be reliant on resource- and data-sharing, outsourcing, and emerging data mining software and techniques.

The BLS projects extremely favorable job growth of 22% from 2020-2030 for R&D professionals, including market research analysts and computer and information research scientists. As technology continues to advance exponentially and R&D cycles speed up, corporations will require R&D managers with specialized computer science and interdisciplinary soft skills.

Is R&D Management Right for Me?

The best R&D managers are organized, detail-oriented critical-thinkers with excellent communication skills. People uninterested in exhaustive research and intimidated by math may not excel in research and development. R&D managers must possess exceptional problem-solving, logic, and teamwork-oriented skills.

Pros and Cons of Research and Development

Pros

  • R&D professionals work with new and exciting ideas and concepts, which can keep the work interesting.
  • R&D professionals get to see their hard work and dedication translate into new products and profits for their company.
  • As an experimental department, R&D generally has fewer deadlines than departments like marketing or sales.
  • R&D offers a chance for science and math-oriented professionals to work in tech and business.
  • Job outlook and salary potential are strong.

Cons

  • R&D is a process of trial and error, which can be frustrating.
  • Budgetary constraints can limit what projects an R&D department works on.
  • R&D work must align with the company's and executives' goals, which can limit the freedom of these professionals.
  • Most professionals need at least a master's degree to pursue high-paying roles in the field.

Research and development could be right for you if …

Frequently Asked Questions About R&D Management

Why is research and development important?

Research and development is critical for companies to stay relevant among competitors in their field or industry. R&D managers can also build more sustainable customer relationships by investing in research and development resources.

Companies that employ research and development strategies can maximize their sales, build their brand, and grow their customer base. Forgoing research and development opportunities might increase a company's risk of launching unsuccessful products, slowing its sales, and abandoning its consumer's requests and demands.

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

Salaries vary for research and development professionals based on their education, experience, and field of expertise. R&D technicians can qualify for entry-level jobs to gain experience, earning $20 per hour, while similar qualifications may help professionals land R&D engineering jobs, with wages nearing $78,000 a year.

R&D managers are the highest-paid research and development professionals. Typical R&D management roles can yield average annual salaries of nearly $101,000. Senior positions may pay higher wages to candidates with multiple years of specialized experience.

What companies spend the most on research and development?

Tech giants are among the biggest spenders on R&D. Global companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, and Huawei, allocate a large portion of their budgets to R&D. Other industries that routinely spend big on R&D include pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

The most popular names in Big Tech understand the importance of R&D to stay relevant.

The costs of conducting effective R&D at these companies are commensurate with an especially high new-product turnover rate and fast-paced trends in technology.

What should I study to work in research and development?

R&D managers can qualify for jobs that require analytical thinking and leadership skills. Students may pursue a business-oriented degree such as a BBA or MBA in a concentration related to their desired area of expertise. Alternatively, aspiring R&D professionals often major in engineering, physics, or biochemistry.

Students interested in a particular specialty should target that subject, if possible. For example, students may earn a degree in materials engineering, biotechnology, or computer and information science management.

How can I find research and development jobs?

Candidates can inquire directly about R&D jobs at large corporations or search sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, or ZipRecruiter. Job seekers can visit the corporate website of the company they want to work for and apply directly for available R&D jobs.

Recent graduates can utilize the career services available through their college or university for help in their job search. Those having difficulty landing a position may consider internships or career bridge programs to help them make connections in the industry.

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