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Alternatives to R&D

Passionate about science but don’t want a career in a laboratory? There are many opportunities for scientists outside of the laboratory.

There are even Research & Development (R&D) jobs where it is possible that Oxford science graduates will lead projects, supervise technicians in the laboratory but spend little or no time in the laboratory themselves. These are in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector. Top destinations for Oxford graduates in FMCG are Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Diageo, PepsiCo, L’Oreal, Mars, RB, Danone, Mondelez International, Estee Lauder. Most of these companies recruit via their internship programmes between penultimate and final year, with applications at the beginning of penultimate year. Graduate schemes with applications opening at the start of final year are also available.

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.

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

Data Science can offer a research based career in industry or the public sector for people with strong analytical skills and a desire to solve interesting problems. As the volume of data and the quality of the tools have expanded, so the range of data scientist roles has grown rapidly and these are increasingly visible in every area of life from the central role they occupy at the world’s largest technology and social media firms right across sectors as diverse as healthcare and high finance; marketing and weather forecasting; and retail and advertising. Data Scientists use their expertise and knowledge to turn data into intelligence and to communicate their findings in order to influence decision making, policy and strategy. There is currently a severe shortage of people with right mix of business acumen and the technical skills and so there are great opportunities for people with the right skills (e.g. especially DPhil and MSc graduates in computer science, modelling, statistics, analytics and maths) or those with the potential and motivation to develop the skills needed.

Technology transfer

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

A source of vacancies for jobs in this field is Research Research 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.

Intellectual property & 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

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

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 & 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 & 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

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 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.


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 & 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 and jobs

Finding 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 – although there aren’t 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


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


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

  • New Scientist

Podcasts of past events

Leveraging your PhD or Postdoc for Policy Roles

This session is designed to delve deeper into the links between research skills and those needed to excel in a policy role. The aim is to help you identify what you already have in your bank of experience, as well as your technical and broader, ‘soft’ skill set, that is of value to policy-making organisations. We discuss how to build on these assets in your current roles at Oxford, and how to communicate their relevance to best effect through professional networking and job applications.

We are joined by several mid-career professionals whose experience spans academic research and policy roles, as follows:

Dr Ben Cowell, Director General of Historic Houses (2:58 – 13:10)

Following his PhD in history and geography at the Nottingham University, Ben has held various policy positions at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, English Heritage and has been a regional director for the National Trust. In his current role at Historic Houses he has led a major rebrand and policy repositioning. He is also Trustee to the Heritage Alliance, and Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

Dr Sarah Cheesbrough, Head of Policy at Kantar Public UK (13:20 – 22:13)

Speaking in a personal capacity, Sarah currently leads Kantar Public’s portfolio of UK policy research to deliver evidence and insight for our clients across Government and the public sector. She brings specialist expertise in housing and welfare research, as well as energy and environmental behaviours, plus family, education and pension policy. Formerly, Sarah has enjoyed policy roles in academic, government and commercial agency research. These included positions in the National Audit Office and IPSOS, following her MSc in Social Policy and Planning and PhD in Social Statistics.

Dr Lydia Harriss, Senior Adviser, Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (22:25 – 39:07)

Lydia studied physics as an undergraduate at the University of Bristol before her doctorate at Oxford. She then joined the Wellcome Trust as a graduate trainee, where she took on four very different roles that gave her experience of science writing, project and events management, and insight into the management of a £16bn investment portfolio. She now works in Parliament providing MPs and Peers with information and analysis on topics across the physical sciences and computing.

Dr Helen Bodmer, Head of Health Systems Partnerships, Medical Research Council/UKRI (39:28 – 52:15)

Following her DPhil in clinical medicine and 17 years’ immunology research at Oxford, Helen joined the civil service where she led the MRC, BBSRC and National Academies Team in the Science, Research and Innovation – Funding Unit in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. She moved to the MRC/UKRI in April 2018.

Heritage, Museums & Visual Arts

In this podcast, Lucy Shaw, Oxford University Museums Partnerships Manager and Verity Slater, Director of Communications and Development at Modern Art Oxford tell us more about their career path into the sector. They cover what their jobs entail (the best aspects, and the least good aspects too), as well as how they made their way from student to their current role. In the Q&A section we are joined by Holly Harris, Development Officer at the V&A.

Science and Technology Fair, Michaelmas 2018 – Science Policy and Communications

Keen to use your scientific experience to influence the agenda or get crucial messages out?
Listen to this podcast to learn from three people whose early careers span policy and communication roles in diverse private and public sector organisations. You will hear brief highlights of their working lives, and what helped them get into their current jobs.

  1. Alexandra Spencer, Membership Development Officer, Royal Society for Biology (00:00 – 11:34)
  2. Dr Catarina Vicente, Public Engagement and Communications Officer at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (11:55 – 21:30)
  3. George Bungey, Health Economist, DRG Abacus (21:40 – 31:09)

Science Communication

Listed to this podcast to get an idea of possible careers in this sector.

Science Alternatives, Michaelmas Term 2016

There are many options to use your science degree outside the lab. Find out more about the range of possibilities on offer by listening to a range of Oxford Science alumni who have continued to use their science in a non-technical role.

  1. Juliet Bedford, founder of Anthrologica; a research-based organisation specialising in formative and operational research across health sectors, focusing on the interface between the provision and uptake of health services, particularly in resource-scarce settings (completed Anthropology DPhil at Oxford in 2008) …time 0 – 11:28
  1. Ed O’Keefe, Director of Synergy Consulting, Oxford, managing the socio-economic impacts of large-scale development projects (including social impact assessments) and management systems, and building processes for effective stakeholder partnerships. (studied biology at Oxford then Masters at UEA, returned to Oxford for a course at Said Business School) ….time 11:30 – 22:39
  1. Peter Silcock, Patent Attorney, now a partner in J A Kemp, Oxford (completed DPhil Chemistry at Oxford then worked as R&D Chemist in a large company before training as an attorney) … time 23:10 – 36:36
  1. Greg Dickens, Innovation consultant and project manager, Innovia Technology with a background in veterinary sciences (Cambridge) …time 36:45 – 40:00

Start-Ups and Entrepreneurs, Michaelmas Term 2016

Launching your own company or social enterprise is a genuine alternative to joining working for someone else, and it is a reality for an ever growing number of Oxford graduates. The challenges can be great, but the rewards, excitement and satisfaction of building something new are also substantial. Hear from a panel of Oxford alumni who have chosen this path. Find out about how they got started and the kind of support they received. Understand the excitement of the ups, and the resilience and determination needed to overcome obstacles. And hear about the challenges that are currently exciting them, and their ideas or advice on what they wished they had known before embarking on the life of an entrepreneur.

Emerging Sciences – The next big thing, Michaelmas Term 2015

Listen to our panel of experts as they look ahead at how rapid technological change is likely to affect the business and employment landscape of the future. Which industries are expected to see the most rapid expansion? Who will be needed to fuel and drive that expansion? And what does this mean for current undergraduates and researchers, including ideas for how to prepare for these future opportunities?

External resources

General vacancies

Useful websites

This information was last updated on 11 September 2019.
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Recent blogs about Science Alternatives

Jobs for Mathematicians Fair 2019

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 25/09/2019.

WHEN: Tuesday 19 November. Exhibitors between 16:00-18:00
WHERE: Mathematical Institute, Oxford, OX2 6GG
👍 Add the event to your Facebook calendar

The Jobs for Mathematicians Fair is a joint initiative between the Careers Service and the Mathematical Institute. The event aims to connect employers to students looking for a career that involves the use of mathematics.

The fair is open to Oxford University undergraduate and postgraduate students (taught and research) from all disciplines.

Meet recruiters

Meet a wide range of recruiters at our fair dedicated to mathematicians. Full details of employers will be published in the fair booklet – coming soon.

Pre-fair talks

  • 15:00-15:30 | Engaging with Organisations as a Disabled Student. Book your place.
  • 15:00-16:00 | Researchers @ the Jobs for Mathematicians Fair. Book your place.
  • 15:00-16:00 | Alumni @ the Jobs for Mathematicians Fair. Book your place.
  • 15:30-16:00 | Working in FinTech.

Fair talk

  • 18:00-18:45 | Careers in Research for Mathematicians.

The Law Fair 2019

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 25/09/2019.

WHEN: Saturday 9 November, Exhibitors between 11:00-14:30
WHERE: Examination Schools, Oxford, OX1 4BG
👍 Add the event to your Facebook calendar

The Law Fair will have more than 70 organisations attending, including barristers’ chambers, solicitors’ practices, Law course providers, and many other organisations. An event not to be missed whether you are a law or non-law student, and whatever the stage of your legal career planning may be.

Meet over 70 recruiters

Meet solicitors, chambers, law schools and more. Full details of employers will be published in the fair booklet – coming soon.. We advise strongly that you read the programme entry for an organisation before you talk to its representatives.

Pre-fair talks

Don’t forget to bring your Bod card with you on the day! 

Internship Fair 2019

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 25/09/2019.

WHEN: Wednesday 6 November, Exhibitors between 14:30-17:30
WHERE: The Careers Service, 56 Banbury Road,OX2 6PA
👍 Add the event to your Facebook calendar

The Internship Fair is your chance to meet a diverse range of companies and get an insight into their work experience and internship opportunities. You will also have the chance to learn about the Oxford University Careers Service internship programmes.

Find work experience for summer 2020

Explore internships in a wide range of sectors. Full details of employers will be published in the fair booklet – coming soon.

Pre-fair talks

  • 13:30-14:15 | Disability @ the Internship Fair. Book your place.
  • 13:30-14:30 | Researchers @ the Internship Fair. Book your place.
  • 14:00-14:30 | Exploring Global Internships (UK and International).

Don’t forget to bring your Bod card with you on the day! 

Careers in Computing Fair 2019

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 25/09/2019.

WHEN: Tuesday 29 October, Exhibitors between 15:00-17:30
WHERE: Mathematical Institute, Oxford, OX2 6GG
👍 Add the event to your Facebook calendar

The Careers in Computing event is a joint initiative between the Careers Service and the Department of Computer Science. The fair aims to connect employers to students looking for a career that involves the use of Computer Science. The fair is open to both undergraduate and postgraduate students (taught and research) from all disciplines. A broad range of organisations will be attending, including those dealing in computer systems and hardware, cybersecurity firms, software houses, consultancies, research institutes and professional services organisations from a variety of sectors.

The fair for all tech-savvy students

  • Explore careers in IT.
  • Talk to more than 40 organisations about their graduate schemes and internships.For the full list of employers, read the fair booklet.
  • Students from any degree discipline are welcome to attend this fair.

Pre-fair talks

Don’t forget to bring your Bod card with you on the day! 

Management Consultancy Fair 2019

Blogged by Corina Lacurezeanu on 25/09/2019.

WHEN: Tuesday 22 October, Exhibitors between 14:30-17:30
WHERE: Oxford Town Hall, St Aldate’s, Oxford, OX1 1BX
👍 Add the event to your Facebook calendar

The Management Consultancy Fair is an opportunity for you to engage with a cross section of companies including strategy firms, generalist firms and specialist management consultancy firms, to find out about internships or full time roles. All students, including undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers are invited to attend.

Find your consulting career

Get your CV checked at our CV clinic

Get one-to-one feedback from visiting recruiters. Just bring your CV and turn up! Appointments are given on a first-come, first-served basis.

Pre-fair talks

  • 13:30-14:15 | Disability @ the Management Consultancy Fair. Book your place.
  • 13:30-14:30 | Researchers @ the Management Consultancy Fair. Book your place.
  • 13:30-14:30 | Alumni @ the Management Consultancy Fair. Book your place.
  • 14:00-14:30 | Routes into Consulting.

Don’t forget to bring your Bod card with you on the day! 

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