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Alternatives to R&D

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.

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

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. 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

Science Communication

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

External resources

General vacancies

Useful websites

This information was last updated on 27 February 2018.
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Recent blogs about Science Alternatives

What other jobs could you do? Conference for Researchers on 17 March

Blogged by Rachel Bray on January 25, 2018.

Are you a DPhil or postdoc unsure about whether you want to stay in academia but feeling a bit clueless about what else you could do? Do you want to keep using your research skills in interesting ways, while expanding your horizons beyond strictly academic research?

Booking is now open for the annual Careers Conference for Researchers – your chance to learn more about the many realms in which your academic skills and credentials will be valued.

  • When: Saturday 17 March, 10:00-16:00
  • Where: Examination Schools
  • Book: via CareerConnect

The conference will feature:

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The panel sessions will help you understand how to make an effective professional transition from academia into sectors including commercial science; entrepreneurship; finance; government and policy; higher-education funding and support; publishing; specialist consulting; and tech/AI.

The skills sessions will include negotiation skills and professional development; having a family as well as a career; creativity in a commercial setting; and how to make humanities and social-sciences training marketable.

Whether you’re on your third postdoc and know you want something different, on the verge of submitting your thesis and torn between academic and other paths, or would simply like to shake up your preconceptions about what your experience really equips you for, this Careers Conference may be just what you need. Places are being snapped up fast, so visit the events page on CareerConnect to book yours.

International Careers Day – Saturday 20th January 2018

Blogged by Damilola Odimayo on January 15, 2018.

International Careers Day 2018 is almost here!!

Taking place on Saturday 20 January at the Blavatnik School of Government from 11:00 -15:00, this is a unique opportunity to meet and speak with key speakers and exhibitors in the fields of International Development, Government, International Law, Policy, Natural Resources and the Environment, International Academia and International Internships.

The World Bank Group will be giving a pre-fair presentation from 10:30-11:30 – so if you would like to learn more about the cutting edge work the institution is doing around the globe and about the application process, don’t miss this event!

For more information please see our Careers Fairs webpage.

  • When: Saturday 20 January, 11.00-15.00
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Oxford Brookes Law Fair & GDL Event

Blogged by Juliet Tomlinson on November 21, 2017.

The Oxford Brookes Law Fair is open to all law and non law students from the University of Oxford.  It is taking place in the Forum at the John Henry Brookes Building, Oxford Brookes on Tuesday 28 November at 17.30-19.00. As in previous years, a range of regional law firms and barristers’ chambers have been invited. Firms attending include Blake Morgan, Brethertons, BrookStreet des Roches, Knights Professional Services and Royds Withy King.

Those interested in attending should register as soon as possible at Oxford Brookes Law Fair 2017.

GDL Open Evening, Tuesday 28 November, 16.30-19.30

The Oxford Brookes’  GDL Open Evening is running alongside the Law Fair. Those who are interested in attending the GDL Open Evening should register separately at GDL Open Evening.

Jobs for Mathematicians 2017

Blogged by John Gilbert on November 1, 2017.
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  • Where: Maths Institute

Meet over 30 recruiters from a range of sectors at this boutique fair – all looking for students with numerate degrees! Full details can be found in the fair booklet – now available to download.

Attend our talks

Career Options for Mathematicians
15:15 – 16:00

Erica Tyson from the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications will outline the breadth of career options that opens up for people with outstanding skills in mathematics, whether with a first degree or research training. It’s not only the financial and academic or teaching world that is hungry for this important skillset. Increasingly, commercial, government and not-for-profit sector players of all kinds are keen to employ highly numerate, analytical and creative thinkers to understand and predict trends, plan and develop strategy and deliver smarter and more efficient solutions..

Alumni, DPhils and research staff are also welcome. Dr Rachel Bray, Careers Adviser, will be available for half an hour after the event to discuss any questions that arise from Erica’s talk.

Careers in Research for Mathematicians
18:00 – 18:45

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You do not need to book a place at these events, but please bear in mind that spaces will be allocated on a first-come, first served basis and popular events may fill early so arrive in good time.


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The Law Fair 2017

Blogged by John Gilbert on October 25, 2017.
  • When: Saturday 4 November, Exhibitors from 11.00-15.00
  • Where: Exam Schools

Full details are in the fair booklet – now available to download.

A fair for law and non-law students

Meet solicitors, chambers, law schools and more!

Get advice at our talks

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Meet 90 recruiters

Full details of all recruiters can be found in the fair booklet – now available to download.


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