There are R&D jobs in both the private and public sectors. Employers include the research arms of large industrial and multi-national firms, universities, and small to medium-sized 'hi-tech' and ‘biotech’ enterprises (SMEs). There are also opportunities to work for government departments, e.g. the Ministry of Defence or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or agencies, e.g. the Environment Agency or Food Standards Agency or for healthcare providers such as the NHS.
For career ideas using your particular subject the relevant professional body (for example Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry, Institute of Biology) can be a useful source of information and inspiration. The main ones are under external resources below. Think also about where your interests and strengths as a scientist lie. The article 10 Types of Scientist by Diana Graham provides a thought-provoking overview of the types of role that scientists take.
A research career in a university could offer the opportunity to pursue your own research, to work collaboratively and to teach. Progression is unlikely without a PhD, and the academic job market is characterised by short-term contracts for those early in their career, and intense competition for permanent positions. See our information on Academia and Higher Education for more details.
Research Institutes and Government agencies
A career in a research institute or government agency might give you the opportunity to pursue your research interests without the teaching and administrative load associated with academic posts. The availability of opportunities varies according to subject. They include:
Civil Service Faststream - Science AND Engineering
This option is open to people with degrees in science, engineering, mathematics, computing or other numerate disciplines. Science and Engineering Fast Streamers play an essential part in the government’s action on issues as diverse as climate change and nuclear non-proliferation. Note that this programme is not about operating as a bench scientist or a technical engineer: it is about applying systematic analysis and your confidence handling technical issues and knowledge to the development and operational application of policies. See our information on the Government & Public Services, and visit the main Science & Engineering Faststream website for the latest information.
Industrial research and development
An industrial research career could allow your scientific work to lead to commercial applications. Timescales can be much shorter than in academic institutions, and you may see a more immediate impact or use of your work. However, commercial considerations may lead to scientifically interesting projects being abandoned. Many large industrial companies recruit new graduates into science roles. There may also be opportunities in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in areas such as biotechnology. PhDs are viewed favourably by most, and may be a necessity for more specialist companies and roles. See our information on Energy, Sustainability and the Environment, Engineering, Computing and IT, and Pharmaceutical & Biotechnology for sector guides, and meet a wide range of employers at the Science, Engineering & Technology Fair held each Michaelmas Term.
For those interested in medical science, a hospital setting can also offer a rewarding career in scientific areas such as microbiology, clinical biochemistry, neuroscience, clinical engineering or medical physics. The NHS Scientist Training Programme provides three years of workplace-based training with an NHS Trust in England alongside a Masters degree in your chosen specialism. There are nine themed pathways: microbiology; blood sciences; cellular sciences; genetics; neurosensory sciences; cardiovascular, respiratory & sleep sciences; gastrointestinal physiology & urology; clinical engineering; and medical physics. Information is also available on the training opportunities for clinical scientists in Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Science R&D around Oxford
Oxfordshire is a hub for companies specialising in biotechnology and in space science in particular. Many science firms cluster around the Oxford Science Park on the southern edge of the city, at Begbroke Science Park to the north and on the Harwell Campus in south Oxfordshire. As well as a number of large companies, the county attracts many small and medium-sized science and technology firms, many of which are spin-outs from university research.