Careers in science, research and development are all about pushing forward the frontiers of science and technology and applying scientific skills and expertise for social and commercial benefits. Science employers cover a broad range of fields and jobs for graduates can be found in a wide range of places, depending on what science degree you have studied. You can work in industry, research, healthcare or education. You could spend your days in a high-tech laboratory, an office, a field, a classroom or even a TV studio.
The skills and competencies you will need
Science recruiters are many and varied. The degree qualifications they require obviously depend on the vacancies and positions available and on which area of science the organisation operates in. If you are applying for a job that is related to your degree you will certainly need laboratory or technical skills related to the area of work. In today’s multidisciplinary employment market, expertise is not enough: you also need transferable skills, which include:
- logical thinking
- problem solving
- analytical skills
- objective thinking
- numerical skills.
Employers also value scientists with other core skills and competences, such as:
- communication – both written and verbal
- commercial awareness
- interpersonal skills
- planning and organisation
- enthusiasm and motivation.
Do you postgrad?
A postgraduate degrees is essential for some research and development careers but it’s important to go into further study with you need to know from the outset why you want to do it and what it could lead to.
A Masters may build on your graduate knowledge of a particular subject and give you the edge when applying for graduate jobs, while a doctorate gives you a chance to choose your specialism before you start working. Many scientific research councils provide information on postgraduate study – but be aware that applications for funding must be made through your university.
What life is like in science, research and development
Entry-level salaries depend on the position and the employer, but there seems to have been a recent increase in earnings across the board. Chemical and pharmaceutical employers offer an average starting salary of £23,000, whereas research and development and other science jobs are more likely to offer around £21,000.
In some roles you may have the opportunity to continue your studies, either through a career break or part-time study. Many healthcare science training-grade roles involve studying part time for a masters degree while working.
The main scientific professional bodies and institutions offer professional development and routes to chartered status, an internationally recognised mark of excellence. Review the continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities offered through the main scientific professional bodies at their websites (see selection at the bottom of this article).
What's the application process for science jobs?
The majority of larger science employers expect graduates to apply for jobs through their online application systems. For smaller, specialist science employers (for example, a small biotech firm) submitting a CV and covering letter via e-mail is more typical. The selection process then typically involves tests (eg numerical, personality and verbal reasoning), interviews (general and technical), and/or an assessment centre.
Some scientific sectors will be more competitive than others – most chemists know who the main pharmaceutical employers are, so those organisations will be bombarded with applications from aspiring researchers. If you are targeting a competitive area of science, make sure that your application stands out for the right reasons. Do your research so that you know what they are looking for, and make sure you’re a good match.
Check employers’ application schedules carefully: there may be specific times of the year when jobs are posted and a set date for applications, particularly for training-grade positions in healthcare science. If you are a life science student looking at the large pharmaceutical employers, make sure you are on the ball and checking out internship opportunities with them before your final year.