Scientist interested in career in design


I am interested in a career in design but do not have a design degree. I am finishing a doctorate in behavioral and systems neuroscience, I’m writing a thesis on the neural circuitry involved in motivated behavior, habits and decision making. I like research, I’m good at it but I need a change. I like design. Most of my projects at work or around the house turn into design projects and I’d say I have more than a casual interest. Last year I picked up Donald Normans book Design of Everyday Things and it inspired me to rewrite the entire user interface for a behavioral testing system that my coworkers use regularly. The results were greater efficiency, fewer errors, and a more enjoyable experience for the user. I noticed along the way that I had become more passionate about this design project than my actual research project!

I’m drawing close to graduation am looking for a job – not more school (not yet anyways). But I’d like to try out design whether as a beginning designer or working in some support role so that I can get a better idea of design as a career. I have a skill set that might be useful to a firm that specializes in user interface design or medical/surgical devices. I don’t know a lot about the field, and am looking for sources of basic information about the industry as well as job search strategies particular to my background.

What types of jobs might be available within a design firm for someone with experience in scientific research?

Do design firms have in-house consultants?

Does anyone know someone who got started in design after training in a different field?

I’ve exhibited artwork as well as a hobby, should I try to put a creative spin on a resume?



I am interested in a career in systems neuroscience but do not have a science oriented degree. Does anyone know someone who got started in neuroscience after training in the design field? . :unamused:

Read the following, take two aspirin, and call us in the morning…

It seems to me that the described situation is different those described in the links. It doesn’t sound as if you’re asking if you could be a designer, but if there are any support roles within a design firm that you could fill, am I right? People seem too quick to give the response “no, you’re not a designer” around here, even when that’s not the question being asked.

Thanks to lmo for the list of links, these are helpful discussions.

It seems like people would suggest

  1. go to school
  2. put together a great portfolio

But it does leave aside the other half of my question, is there anything in a design firm that I could do now, with my current education, without actually doing design. For example, financial consulting firms often hire PhDs because research and analytical skills mesh well with that profession, and the background knowledge can be useful in some sectors such as health care.

What happens when a design firm gets a new project? Do they have any support staff inside of the firm to assist with project related research?

There are quite a few firms that employ design researchers. These individuals typically have a background/advanced degrees in the cognitive sciences or other related fields. It sounds like your graduate work would fit the profile, so why don’t you take a look at Getting a job is awful right now, but it seems like you have a unique background that could be of some value to a design organization.

I think ‘yes’ is the answer, but I can’t qualify that very well, because I’m not really exposed to those kinds of firms/jobs.

Microsoft Research would be one quick guess - employing designers, computer scientists, all kinds of other frizzy-headed crackpots. “Pure Research” as Kurt Vonnegut Jr might say.

I think the larger consulting firms might have scientists on-staff or in a rotating file for consulting projects. Continuum, IDEO.

Unless your artwork is pretty good or eccentric I’d suggest leaving it out, but using your creativity/design eye in a resume/website might be appropriate. Remember: two fonts max!

Well, I’ve made efforts recently to produce work that I think is inspired by my research, so it may be eccentric, although that is hard to say with art. As to whether its good enough, thats hard to say. I’m showing stuff at a local gallery and I’ve been getting invited back. My thinking is that it would show that I have a creative side, in addition to analytical skills. I’m not exactly sure how to present something like this, as a portfolio in addition to a resume? As just a few lines with some description under the “other interests” section?

You can take a look if you like and tell me if you think this sort of work would be worth including. I have a pretty wide range of stuff up here, most recent is on the top.

while not a design firm, Pixar only employs computer scientists that have a strong interest in art. You have to have an art portfolio for pretty much any position with them.

It sounds like you are off to a good start. I would follow the advice the others have listed.

We interviewed (and hired) an interaction guy who showed us some of his paintings at the end of his interview. It was a nice touch, helping us learn more about his interests outside of dry mobile phone architectures. There were only 2-3 works but it was a good humanizing moment, and again, we hired him.


A PhD Neuro Science Candidate wanting to become a designer, showing his paintings. :wink:
You know, what I thought first

Now, that I clicked through your portfolio I must admit, that your portfolio of art work is
pretty astonishing. I am positive, that you could have done a design diploma aswell.

But why start all over again, now that you are ready for the “real world”? If you are that much
of a feasible artist already, but were clever enough to avoid art school and pennilessness in the first
place, why change that.

You already got some good advice by the other guys.

I want to add that I did a project with neuro scientists within my studies [ID], which shows, that you
can approach the same thing from different academic backgrounds and I happen to know that the
big fish in Business Consulting also hire people with your experience.

If you are willing to put in crazy hours and are able to shy away from the bare bones industrial
design for the time being, you might find a good time and good money in Business Consulting

Look for McKinsey, Bain and BCG.

All the best

yours mo-i


There are some jobs around…

You could also check out technological innovation companies like this one:

Apologies that it may be in the wrong country - but similar companies/opportunities must exist

Maybe you could do an MA in ID?

Best of luck