WORKING AS A SCIENTIST
The type of job on offer to anyone wishing to follow a career in science will depend partly on the chosen field and also how that person wants to use their scientific knowledge and experience. However, it should be noted that in many organisations the opportunities to use science in the workplace often decrease as one rises within that organisation.
Very often to gain promotion within a particular organisation or company a scientist becomes more involved in the managerial side of the business resulting in doing less practical science.
The kinds of scientific jobs available will depend on whether you want to apply your scientific knowledge and training in a practical manner or use it in a theoretical way. Quite often some of the jobs described below overlap as scientists who become experts in their field are called upon to act as editors, advisor’s etc. Alternatively, there is always a demand for science teachers either in schools, colleges or universities. In many instances, working in academia allows a scientist to combine both teaching and research.
Probably the first step to choosing the right kind of job to suit you is to decide which branch of science you are most interested in. Some scientist jobs and careers are advertised on the Royal Society of Chemistry website. Often this decision is a gradual process which starts at a young age and is determined by the choices made during your educational career.
However, some people may come to a science career as a result of a conscious decision to do something different. Irrespective of why you choose a career in science, identifying the type of job you want to do is likely to be driven more by your interest in the subject and how you want to use your knowledge and experience rather than the rewards on offer. The following job sectors with give you a better understanding of the options available to you for working as a scientist.
Research – jobs in this area are often found in universities, large companies, central government or the health service and allied sectors. Research scientists may be employed on a permanent basis but, typically, their post will be dependent on funding for a particular project. Scientists who choose a career in research may begin their working life as a laboratory assistant or technician who tends to be responsible for carrying out much of the routine day to day work. However, depending on your experience and or levels of qualification scientists entering research may be in a position where they are more involved in the planning and managing of research projects.
The sorts of research projects that are commonly undertaken in industry include those looking at ways to improve existing products or develop new ones. Research in the health sector may be carried out by central government, universities or charitable organisations and often includes trying to find out the causes behind particular diseases and conditions as well as looking at cures for them. Other researchers may also be trying to develop new analytical methods which can be applied in other scientific areas.
Quality assurance – many industries will rely heavily on a quality assurance system of some description to ensure that the products that they are producing are of a consistently high quality and meet the legal requirements relative to that product. Quality assurance or control scientists are usually involved in the routine examination of ingredients and products involved in the manufacturing process. Two of the main areas where quality assurance is important are the food and pharmaceutical industries.
The food industry offers scientists such as chemists, food technologists and microbiologists a role in quality assurance / control while chemists and pharmacists are often employed in the pharmaceutical industry in this role. There will also be opportunities for people with a scientific background in the quality assurance of other manufacturing industries such as the automotive and chemical manufacturing industries.
Analysis – although many analytical techniques are involved in quality assurance, other scientists may use these techniques in a more investigative role. Many laboratories such as public analysts and some government departments carry out work looking at the composition of materials, whether products meet the requirements laid down in manufacturing and safety standards or if they meet other legal requirements. The types of scientist commonly employed in these roles include microbiologists, chemists, materials scientists and physicists.
Health care – the opportunities for scientists in the health care sector are many and varied. The most obvious ones are jobs in the various aspects of medicine such as oncology (study of cancer), paediatrics (study of childhood diseases) and cardiology (study of the heart and its disorders). However the diagnosis and treatment of disease is supported by a wide range of scientists including medical microbiologists, radiographers, chemists and pharmacists. There are also a large number of companies, many of them multinational organisations, which are involved in the manufacture of products used in the treatment of diseases.
Pharmaceutical companies making drugs are probably the ones that most obviously spring to mind. However the companies that produce the wide range of non-pharmaceutical products used in health care (ranging from simple products such as bandages, needles and catheters to complex equipment including CT scanners and x-ray machines) all employ scientists and engineers from a range of disciplines including microbiology, materials science, toxicology, physics and chemistry.
Teaching – science is taught in primary and secondary schools in the UK. However, science teaching at primary level is general and it is not until secondary education that science teachers are expected to specialise in a specific subject e.g. biology or chemistry. Universities and colleges employ scientists as lecturers who teach undergraduates and will also act as mentors for postgraduate students. As well as teaching, scientists working in universities often manage and carry out research projects. Science teachers and lecturers in universities may often go on to become recognised experts in a specific subject, particularly if they have carried out research in this area.
As a result and depending on what the subject matter is, there may be opportunities to present this information at national and international scientific meetings as well as requests to act in an advisory capacity.
Advisory / Consultancy – many scientists, once they have gained experience in their subject, may work as a freelance or self-employed consultant or advisor. Consultants are employed by organisations and companies to provide advice on specific issues where they do not have the knowledge and experience in-house. Usually consultants will have developed detailed knowledge of a fairly narrow field over many years. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of scientific advisers used by government departments and working in the House of Commons or Lords providing advice to specific committees.
There are likely to be many opportunities arising for consultants in areas related to the environment due to the increasing emphasis being placed on issues related to climate change and global warming.
Law – forensic scientists are the most obvious scientists working in the field of law. Forensic science is a specialised branch of science where scientists are looking for physical traces which might be useful in establishing or excluding a link between a suspect and the scene of the crime or victim. In recent years there has been increased interest in forensic science because of a higher profile in the media due to its involvement in television and films as well as several high profile cases reported in the news. However there are often opportunities for other scientists to be involved in the judicial process as they may also be called as expert witnesses by either the prosecution or defence during trials.
Publishing and Journalism – there are many science journals and magazines that employ writers with a scientific background. Often scientific journalists working for general science publications such as New Scientist will report on all scientific stories but will develop a specialist area e.g. medicine, over time. Many national newspapers and broadcasters such as the BBC will employ scientists as science correspondents. Currently there are probably thousands of specialised scientific journals that publish papers describing research in specific and often highly specialised areas.
Many of these journals will also include news items relating to their own topic. As a result they often employ scientists with a journalistic background or journalists with a scientific background to work as part of the editorial or production team. Many scientists involved in the publishing process work as writers, proofreaders and editors – often as freelancers rather than being employed by the company.
Business and Finance – financial institutions which provide advice to investors employ scientists to provide information on scientific advances and companies and how their performance is reflected in the stock market. There are often opportunities for scientists or people with a scientific background to work for large companies as members of a sales or promotion team, particularly if the products involved are quite technically complex. Many sales representatives in the health care and related sectors have a scientific background.