A Career in Science

The benefits of a career in science and the options for UK graduates


A career in science is rewarding and has many advantages. Your work enables you to contribute to society, exposes you to intellectually stimulating subject matter, and is often well-paid. Across academia and many different industries, scientists are investigating the world around us with the aim to drive progress and improve our quality of life. Working in science enables you to follow your passions and have exciting experiences.

Whether you want to participate in innovative research, study the oceans or design new medicines, your degree in science is the first step in your career path. A career in science is not just about working in a laboratory or out in the field - most scientists spend a lot of time managing teams, carrying out administrative duties and handling finances. Therefore key skills for scientists include strategic thinking, project management and people management.

Advantages and Benefits of a Career in Science

Scientists generally enjoy good working conditions compared to other professional workplaces. There is often a high degree of flexibility in your working hours so, as long as your work gets done, scientists can enjoy a healthy work-life balance. Many scientists have the opportunities to travel to conferences and workshops, and collaborate with fellow professionals around the world. Many science jobs allow you to work creatively and follow your instincts in terms of where your research is heading, enabling you to become an expert in your field. Overall, you are able to experience the satisfaction of being treated as a professional and are able to share your knowledge with your colleagues, those working in other disciplines, or even teach students.

Options for UK Graduates

Recent graduates have a wide range of options and routes into a career in science. You will need to decide what kind of further education you wish to embark on and whether you want to work in academia or industry.

Your choice will depend on what job you would like to do in the future, and which areas of science are growing and demanding more recruits. Areas of physics such as space technology, computer games industries and nuclear research are all predicted to grow over the next few years. The UK computer games industry is currently worth over £2bn a year and employs a large number physics graduates, whose skills are highly valued and are often paid more than their non-physics counterparts.

In addition the UK space sector is expected to grow to £14bn by 2020. Engineering graduates can look forward to exciting opportunities in growing areas such as alternative energy generation and storage, including solar and wind technologies. In the construction industry there is a growing demand for energy-efficient buildings, while oil and gas exploration has continued to grow, even in times of recession.

Careers in biology cover a huge range of fields from neuroscience to marine conservation. Major growth areas include drug development and sustainable food crops, as our understanding of the genetic code is changing the way we approach designing treatments for diseases and there are also implications for agricultural science. Many biology graduates also embark on careers in science communication and public engagement.

Chemistry graduates are increasingly finding work quickly in areas such as research and development, sustainability and quality control. The manufacturing and materials sectors are also growing with professional chemists needed to develop a wide range of products and chemicals.

Further education and postgraduate study: MSc, MRes or PhD?

Most professional careers in science require postgraduate study, such as MSc, MRes or PhD qualifications. You’ll need to research the particular requirements for the job you want to do. A good starting point is to speak to experienced academics already working in the field about the challenges that have emerged in recent years and what they think will be the big issues in the field in the future.

The type of postgraduate programme you choose depends on your objectives and can be the starting point of your academic or industrial research career. Masters-level courses allow you to delve deeper into a subject covered in your Bachelor’s degree or allow you to side step into a related field. If you choose to study for your Master’s full time, then this can generally be completed in a year and could either be taught (MSc) or achieved by carrying out research (MRes).

Following this you might decide to conduct independent scientific research and work towards a PhD. These usually take a minimum of three years and you’ll need to be sure that doing this fits in with your career ambitions. In any case you’ll need to consider how your postgraduate study will be funded.

Internships, industrial placements and graduate schemes

Internships, industrial placements and graduate schemes are some of the ways to stand out from the crowd and get your foot in the door of the company you are interested in. Many engineering courses require a year in industry, also known as an industrial placement. Internships are another option as most are at entry-level positions and often run during the summer months. In addition, many major employers operate graduate schemes, which can offer training and structured pay reviews.

Working in Academia

A job in academia rather can be a fulfilling career choice, where you will be teaching as well as conducting research. Some of the benefits include mentoring and influencing young people, collaborating with other faculty on interdisciplinary research, along with a relatively high degree of flexibility over your daily schedule. Tenure and stability are also attractive aspects of working in academia, along with the opportunity to contribute to your field and have a long-term impact.

Working in Industry

Working in industrial research means designing and carrying out experiments and analysing information from controlled trials. A major benefit of working in a research lab is that there is no requirement to raise funding yourself, because companies allocate funds accordingly. If you choose to work as an industrial researcher, then you will generally be able to concentrate on a single problem at a time and contribute to solutions which can ultimately result in your work having an immediate and tangible impact.

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