As grad students, we plunge into the murky pool that is our data set, searching for that glimmering coin of p-value significance, all while keeping an eye on that rival lab that we just know is going to scoop us right before we submit our manuscript. If you pore over the methods sections of your competitor’s papers and carefully scope out their posters at conferences, you are already engaging in a form of competitive intelligence.

Although the name might suggest all the glory of double agents and tiny Bond-esque pen cameras, competitive intelligence is in no way espionage. Instead, it is a discipline that ethically and legally collects data pertaining to the competitive environment, and transforms that information into actionable intelligence that can guide business decision-making.

I was introduced to an alumnus of my high school whose career path took her from graduate school in the sciences to the world of competitive intelligence.  First, a little about her trajectory:

she was a graduate student in oceanography, positioned to continue down the academic path, but found that world isolating. She left instead with a Master’s, and parlayed her strong quantitative background into a project management position at a consulting firm. From there she continued to analysis and strategic planning in both the defense and financial sectors before landing at her current position as a competitive intelligence analyst at an investment management firm.

Many of her responsibilities may sound familiar to a grad student: she leads research into the current state of the market, mines that data for important trends and patterns, synthesizes her findings into a form that can be visually presented to her team, and helps develop a plan for how to act on that intelligence.

In a way, her work is like a journal paper. She has to understand the context of her project (Introduction), design a strategy for analysis (Methods), report the information (Results), and fit the new information into the existing landscape in a way that moves the field forward (Conclusion). Of course, her work doesn’t require her to wait agonizing months for anonymous scornful feedback, then pay outrageous sums of money to have her report appear in a publication none of her friends or family has ever heard of, but still, you see the similarities, right?

The good news is that most graduate students are already developing the skills necessary to succeed in the competitive intelligence field. We practice project management, work in teams to achieve a mission, analyze data, assess our competitor’s projects, quickly absorb new information about our field, and learn how to communicate our findings verbally and in writing. For competitive intelligence in the biotech/pharma world, our technical knowledge of a field is advantageous too.

Check out the Links page for more information about careers in competitive intelligence.