Science Career Options

By Emma Markham

person thinking about career optionsWhen preparing to graduate from university, many students are confronted with the question ‘what now?’ This is often a hard question to answer if you plan on leaving academia, but don’t quite know what you do want to do or even what careers are available to scientists. It is all too easy to get tunnel vision when working towards a specific goal, and when you realise that your goal might not lead to a career you actually want, you can feel lost. Use this post to explore the wide range of careers available to scientists and open your eyes to the many opportunities available to those who are scientifically minded!

Listen to Biotech Founder Michael Koeris' Journey from Grad Student to Entrepreneur

Science careers divided by the most pertinent skills required

Research skills

The ability to think critically and carry out in-depth research is applicable to a wide range of industries and is a highly desirable quality sought after by employers. These skills show employers that you can fully investigate and solve a problem or complete a project, overcoming inevitable failures and setbacks. There are many roles that actively require these skills, including:

Science Reporter Scientific Sales Epidemiologist
Scientific Recruitment Meteorologist Research and Development
Healthcare Consulting Lab Manager Patent Lawyer
Science Market Research Statistician  

Attention to detail

Patience, accuracy and attention to detail are valuable skills acquired from a science degree that can be applied to many roles. These types of skills show that you fully explore the different options available and then decide on a course of action. Instead of rushing in, you take steps to make it more likely you’ll get your tasks done correctly the first time. These skills are very desirable to employers because they save time and money and make employees more productive. Careers where you’ll actively use these skills include:

Science Reporter Scientific Illustrator Research and Development
Scientific Advisor Lab Manager Patent Lawyer
Technical Writer Meteorologist Journal Editor
Textile Technologist/Designer    

Fieldwork and traveling

Many people are attracted to science because they enjoy spending time outdoors and with nature. Experience in the field or in a position that requires travel can show that you are self organised, reliable, and can work independently. Practical outdoor skills are needed in a variety of roles, including:

Livestock Breeder Scientific Illustrator Plant Breeder
Zoological Worker Conservationist Documentary Director
Parasitology Botanist Nature Photographer/Artist

Computer and writing skills

Writing a thesis or dissertation demonstrates that you have advanced writing and formatting skills, which are useful to many employers. Increasingly, computer skills are highly desired, as roles are becoming more reliant on technology, and good computer skills will give you an advantage. Strong writing, computer skills (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) or Programming skills (Python, R, SAS, HTML, Matlab etc) are highly desirable in a range of roles, including:

Science Reporter Technical Writer Statistician
Bioinformatician Science Writer Grant Writer
Journal Editor Science Marketer Software Developer

Learn Science Communication Skill from a Student Group Like Science in the News

Don't stumble into a career, do your research

Once you have identified possible careers, the next step is to research what each of these roles involves on a dad-to-day basis. Often, it is hard to know what a job title actually involves, other than what is portrayed in the media and in films, which can often be misleading. Key aspects to determine are working hours (9am-5pm Mon-Fri or overtime and weekends, part time or full time) and what life is like for someone who currently in the position. Questions you’ll want to find answers to include:

  • Will you be sitting at a desk all day or be on your feet constantly in a lab?
  • Will regular travel be required or will you stay in one location?
  • How long is the commute?
  • Will the job require public speaking?
  • Will you be leading a group or working as part of team?
  • Will you be coordinating projects?
  • Do you need computer programming skills?

Other things to consider are wage, opportunity to advance, and how many jobs are normally available (as sectors such as forensics currently have too many applicants compared to the number of available roles).

Make your resume stand out

Before you begin to apply for a job, it is useful to search online job websites to see what requirements or qualifications are needed for the role, as this will give you an idea of what additional training you might need to obtain. You'll also need to think of other aspects of yourself that make you stand out. For every role you need to show that you have the relevant skills and experience.You might not normally think about it, but hobbies and volunteer experiences, as well as work history can really show that you have some of the abilities listed above. Showing that you are willing to exercise these skills outside of a formal work environment also shows that you are passionate and capable. For example if the job involves traveling, showing that you are a highly organised and experienced traveler by citing specific examples, may help you get your foot in the door. Match the job's requirements to the content in your Resume and Cover Letter. Include any relevant job specific ‘buzz words’ to ensure recruitment agencies and employers put your resume forward for the role, because it ‘ticks all the boxes’.

Once you’ve assessed your skill set and done your research, it’s time to start sending out applications. Check out our other career posts for more specifics on some careers and to find advice on crafting the perfect application.

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Topics: Science Careers, Science Career Options

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