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.
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.
Public Sector and Not-for-profit 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.
Although the Civil Service Faststream has been paused for 2023 entry there are many roles within government and related agencies that use science directly. Use the keyword "science" in the Civil Service Job Search to see examples.
Public sector and not for profit research institutes include:
- Government departments may recruit scientist into hands-on technical roles (for example in the Ministry of Defence group Defence Equipment and Support) or in an advisory role (for example in the Government Office for Science, part of the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy). Other Government groups that recruit scientists into technical roles include the Government Operational Research Service (GORS) and the Government Statistical Service (GSS).
- Government agencies
eg. Dstl (Defence Science & Technology Laboratory), Environment Agency, Public Health England, Government Operational Research, MetOffice and many more. Full list of government organisations.
- Institutions associated with charities, most commonly relating to healthcare
The Association of Medical Research Charities directory lists many healthcare charities. Examples include Cancer Research UK, Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation, Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
- Institutions funded by research councils
eg. Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, British Antarctic Survey, John Innes Centre.
Many large companies have their own in-house research and development departments. These are common in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, technology, FMCG and defence/aerospace which are dominated by large multinational corporations. 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 as part of established graduate training programmes. Have a look at the employers advertising on Gradcracker to get a sense of the opportunties for STEM students with large corporates.
Start-ups, spin-outs and SMEs
There are also opportunities in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in areas such as biotechnology, energy technology and AI. PhDs are viewed favourably by most, and may be a necessity for more specialist companies and roles. Most don't recruit in sufficient number to justify a formal graduate programme, and instead recruit as the need arises into specific roles. See our information on Energy, Sustainability and the Environment, Engineering, Technology, data, machine learning & AI, 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.
Contract Research Organisations
Many corporates and other organisations outsource some or all of their research and development function to specialist companies who undertake research on behalf of the client. CROs are particularly common in life, medical and clinical sciences and offer an alternative to working in research in a large pharmaceutical company. Work is usually project-based on behalf of a variety of clients. Examples include IQVIA, Quintiles, XenGesis and IxiaClinical.
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.