Science Alternatives

Main Information

Passionate about science but don’t want a career in a laboratory? Working in science is not all about Research and Development (R&D). In fact, there are many opportunities for scientists outside of the laboratory.

What are the alternatives to R&D?

Petri dish

Science Communication

The communication of science to public audiences, politicians, journalists, educators and so on, is a broad sector of employment. In recent years there has been an increase in scientific media coverage, and a push by the scientific community and policy-makers to involve more of the public through ‘Science and Society’ initiatives. These include the development of some new major science visitor attractions, alongside running focus groups, media campaigns and science festivals.

Job roles include science journalism, public relations, museum education, events organisation and project management. Some Masters courses in Science Communication are on offer, but the key to breaking into this sector is to gain some relevant communications experience and network extensively. Whilst at Oxford, there are opportunities to get involved in science outreach activities in some Departments, volunteer in museums, write for University publications, enter science writing competitions, etc. If you are serious about science communication, make sure you sign up to the psci-com mailing list – details are given in the websites list at the end of this briefing. Through this list and a variety of related Twitter feeds, you can quickly hear about jobs, internships and volunteering opportunities in the sector.

The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research & Innovation has produced a lengthy Guide to Science Journalism Training. The guide contains an inventory of the training courses in science journalism across 27 of the member states of the European Union, as well as exchange programmes, scholarships and other initiatives supporting science journalism. The PDF of the 2010 edition is available on the Europa website, will download upon opening.

Check out our other Career Briefings on Public Relations and Arts & Heritage for other hints and tips on this area of work.

Science Publishing

Science, Medical and Technical Publishing continues to thrive in the UK and despite the growth in online publishing (particularly of scientific journals), there are still opportunities in books and journals publishing, either involving production, or as a technical or commissioning editor. The main publishers tend to be based in Oxford, Cambridge, London and the south coast.

Scientific publishing companies tend to advertise in publications such as New Scientist. The Royal Society of Chemistry runs a one-year graduate training scheme for those with a chemistry-related degree and Future Science Group also take on recent graduates. It is possible to get into this type of publishing without any previous publishing experience, so you can apply directly for roles as they arise, or make speculative applications to publishers. Atwood Tate is a recruitment agency for the publishing industry which often advertises scientific and medical publishing roles. Having gained a number of years’ experience, it is possible to become freelance in this type of employment.

MEDICAL COMMUNICATIONS

Sometimes referred to as medical education, medical communications raises awareness of medicines via education and promotion to doctors, patients, nurses and hospital management.  Medical communications agencies provide consultancy to the pharmaceutical industry and can have many different focuses including advising on dissemination of clinical data and developing communications to help gain a drug more visibility, as well as advising on how to educate its stakeholders about benefits and risks of a drug or therapy using clinical data.  There are many different roles which someone working in medical communications may have: medical writer, medical editor, account manager, project manager.  Doctoral and postdoctoral experience is highly advantageous and skills in writing, research, statistics, excellent attention to detail and client focus will be essential for most roles.  While most medical writers start out working for an agency, many freelance or work flexibly from home for an agency after gaining some experience.

Science Policy

In this area scientists draw upon their knowledge and understanding of science to inform and assist in policy formulation. Typical employers would be scientific professional bodies, e.g. Royal Society, Institute of Physics, and public sector organisations, e.g. the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

Internationally, many of the issues coming before the European Parliament, for example, have a scientific or technological theme. They may be proposals directly relating to research or innovation policy, or measures concerning the many ways in which science and technology impact on society, the economy or the environment. Consult the Europa website for details of traineeships and links to the websites of individual institutions, bodies and agencies. Other websites such as Eurobrussels show a wide range of policy-related opportunities in Europe.

The few entry-level opportunities in this sector tend to be advertised in the New Scientist, Times Higher Education and the Guardian. CaSE: Campaign for Science and Engineering also publicise some opportunities via their website. Networking and speculative approaches to employers for work experience may also be helpful to get a foot in the door. POST offers some three-month fellowship schemes for PhD students.

DATA SCIENCE

Everyone is talking about big data and the people that deal with it: data scientists.  But what does this mean?  In every area of life from scientific research to online shopping and social networks, a huge amount of information is collected.  Data scientists are concerned with turning this data into intelligence through the application of advanced techniques in statistics and computer science.  A data scientist has a good background in computer science, modeling, statistics, analytics and maths, as well as a strong business acumen, and the ability to communicate findings so that they can influence how an organisation approaches business challenges.  There is currently a large global demand for the expertise required of data scientists, and as such, there is currently a major shortage of applicants for these roles.

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER

Microscope

Universities have become increasingly successful at setting up spin-out companies to exploit the commercial potential of academic research. In Oxford we have Isis Innovation. There are sometimes opportunities for science graduates and postgraduates to work in organisations that promote this kind of activity. The Wellcome Trust has an option in this area under its Graduate Development programme.

A source of vacancies for jobs in this field is www.researchresearch.com where jobs in research administration are advertised. It may be worth checking the members listing on the Association for Research and Industry Links (AURIL) website. The Institute of Knowledge Transfer also provides further information about this type of work.

Intellectual Property AND Patents

Intellectual property (IP) law is commonly divided into patents, trademarks, design rights, copyright, passing off, anti-counterfeiting and confidential information. Law firms that specialise in this area often recruit scientists to become trainee solicitors. Patent lawyers or agents help to secure effective protection for innovations and developments, and advise their clients on intellectual property rights. Scientists and engineers with an interest in the law may be interested in this area of work, which is covered in more detail in our information on Patent Work.

Roles in Manufacturing

Aside from R&D, scientists work in a range of other roles in manufacturing, including quality control and assurance, product preservation and formulation, packaging and operations and production roles.

Production management, also known as operations management, is the planning, co-ordination and control of industrial processes. Most manufacturing companies have a production manager, though the actual job title will vary.

The types of employers that recruit into this area include food companies, aerospace and defence, pharmaceuticals and electronics manufacturers. On top of the technical skills this kind of job requires, there can also be a considerable amount of staff management involved.

Quality Assurance (QA), is a function that exists in the manufacturing, engineering and service industry sector. QA is a part of quality management, which focuses on providing confidence that quality requirements will be fulfilled. Quality management involves co-ordinating activities required to direct and control an organisation with regard to quality. Essential skills include communication, problem-solving, organising and planning, good numerical skills and the ability to use statistics. Understanding other work disciplines, such as engineering and science, is essential to the job.

For details of manufacturing companies that offer graduate schemes, take a look at the General Management Career Briefing and general graduate career websites such as Prospects and TargetJobs

Technical Sales and Marketing

Manufacturing industries, including petrochemicals, instrumentation and speciality chemicals, employ scientists in customer-facing roles where they can use their skills to overcome technical problems and have a better understanding of customer needs. A particular example of this role is medical sales representatives, who provide a link between pharmaceutical companies and medical and healthcare professionals. They work with general practitioners, primary care trusts and hospitals, normally within a specific geographical area. As well as one-to-one visits, they may organise group events and make presentations to healthcare professionals. See our information on Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology for more details.

Science Consulting AND Market Research

There are opportunities in consulting for scientists to apply their scientific background and analytical skills to solving client problems. This may involve strategic consulting for an oil company or working in a specialist consulting firm that aims to improve the output/efficiency of a manufacturing process. Other firms undertake business-to-business research, write expert market reports about topics such as pharmaceutical pricing or provide market intelligence.

Market research operates in a similar way, as it depends on the collection and interpretation of reliable information to inform large organisations about marketing strategy, and help them to test products or develop policy. For further information about the types of roles available, see our information on Market Research .

Scientific Recruitment Consultancy AND Head-hunting

Science graduates and postgraduates may be employed in specialist recruitment roles, where, for example, they may be recruiting senior people into technical roles in industries such as the pharmaceutical industry. You will be liaising between employers and potential employees and an understanding of the technical aspects of some roles can be useful in understanding client needs. Our information on Human Resources will give you some leads about getting into this area of work.

Public Sector Roles for Scientists

Test tube
The UK Civil Service recruits scientists and engineers into the Science and Engineering stream of the Graduate Fast Stream. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) plays a vital role in promoting world-class science and innovation, supporting successful British businesses, ensuring fair and flexible markets and offering scientists and engineers a wide range of opportunities in business and policy areas. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) also recruits Fast Stream graduates, as well as the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Engineering and science graduates are also recruited into the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG).

The DESG is a community of 13,000 professional engineers and scientists working within the MOD Civil Service to equip and support UK Armed Forces with state-of-the-art technology. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is the centre of scientific excellence for the Ministry of Defence and also recruits science (including natural sciences) and engineering graduates and postgraduates.

Through the Analytical Fast Stream there are opportunities in the Operational Research Fast Stream. Operational Research Services are provided in most Government departments to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Operational Research is the application of scientific methods to management problems. Scientists are also employed in other Government departments and national agencies, such as the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and the Forestry Commission.

NHS

Opportunities for scientists in the NHS range from biomedical science roles to medical physicists to therapy specialists. For details of the wide range of opportunities in the NHS and entry requirements, visit the NHS Careers and NHS Jobs websites.

Science FUNDING AND Administration

The administration of scientific research can be a great way to keep in touch with the latest developments in science. This kind of role could involve administering grant applications, providing advice to potential applicants, organising the peer review of research grant applications and so on. Likely employers include the Research Councils, e.g. EPSRC, and major funding bodies like the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust has a 2-year Graduate Development Programme, with one of the options covering Funding and another Grants Management. This is also a growing field within universities themselves with opportunities to work both in the administration side and with researchers themselves as a research facilitator.  Research experience may be a requirement for some employers, especially for roles which involve developing and maintaining contacts with the research community, e.g. university departments.

GETTING EXPERIENCE

There are a limited number of formal internship or work experience opportunities in these areas so potential applicants should be proactive in identifying and approaching potential employers speculatively.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer as well as on the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

GETTING A JOB

Your job search strategy will obviously vary according to the role. Familiarise yourself with some of the major employers, and find out their usual patterns of recruitment or if they have a graduate scheme. However, there are not many graduate training schemes in many of these areas. In science communication and science policy, for example, your network of contacts and work experience will be the most useful. It is often worth making speculative applications.

EQUALITY & POSITIVE ACTION

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, as well as information on what you need to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

OUR RESOURCES

BOOKS

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

Planning a Scientific Career in Industry, Sanat Mohanty & Ranjana Ghosh

Physicians’ Pathways to Non-Traditional Careers and Leadership Opportunities, ed. Richard D. Urman et al

Marketing for Scientists, Marc. J. Kuchner

JOURNALS

We subscribe to the following journals in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

New Scientist

ONLINE INTERVIEW FEEDBACK

Interview Feedback Database contains hundreds of accounts of interviews, submitted by Oxford students and graduates. The database can be searched by sector and by organisation.

OXFORD CAREERS NETWORK (OCN)

The OCN on CareerConnect is a database of over 1000 Oxford alumni volunteer mentors who are willing to be contacted about their career.  Read their case studies for behind-the-scenes insights into an organisation or occupation, and contact them for more advice and information.

External Resources

GENERAL VACANCIES AND OCCUPATION INFORMATION

ADDITIONAL WEBSITES

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