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Careers Centre

Science alternatives to research and development

Sector Overview / Roles

If you don’t want a lab based or technical role, then consider the following career options where you can use your scientific knowledge and skills in areas such as education, intellectual property, policy-making and communication. Many of these careers have their own page in our Careers A-Z section which provides much more detail including how to get work experience.

The following books can also be borrowed from the Careers Centre:

Civil Service, Policy and Government

Most opportunities are in the Ministry Of Defence and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Roles are extremely varied and examples include policy development, regulation and procurement. Website.

Parliamentary and policy internships with the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) have been offered in the past by a number of UK Research Councils and scientific societies for the benefit of their members (including the IoP, RSC, NERC and more. These can be a great opportunity to introduce more science into UK government, where it is sorely needed. Postgraduate researchers are considered prime candidates, though all are welcome to apply. Read the Civil Service page.


Teach your subject and general science in secondary schools or colleges. You will need to arrange work experience in schools and getting involved in clubs/charities etc. with young people is recommended. Teaching page.

The scientific learned bodies are very keen to support teacher training in their subjects, and offer large bursaries to those who secure postgraduate teacher training studentships in Chemistry, Computing, Maths or Physics.

Intellectual Property (IP)

IP includes patents, trademarks, designs and copyright. Many graduates in this sector work in private practice as patent attorneys and some work for the UK Intellectual Property Office as patent examiners. Note that these are two separate careers. Key attributes for those wishing to work in this area are a passion for understanding how things work, excellent writing skills and attention to detail. More detailed information can be found on the Patents and trademarks page.

Scientific Journalism and Publishing

Scientific publishing companies tend to advertise in publications such as New Scientist. The Royal Society of Chemistry offers a one-year Graduate Development Programme in publishing for those with a chemistry-related degree. The RSC also occasionally advertises summer placements in scientific publishing and science writing. New Scientist runs a six month Editorial Trainee Scheme. Future Science Group has advertised graduate opportunities in the past. Publishing houses for scientific journals including Springer, Wiley and Elsevier offer internships and traineeships. More information and links can also be found on the Prospects Science Writer section.

Professional Bodies e.g. Institute of Physics, Society of Biology

They do not tend to have ‘graduate schemes’ but there may still be opportunities if the right role is being advertised. The Royal Society of Chemistry offers a graduate development programme (1 year) to allow you to promote your subject at a national or international level, while the Institute of Physics offers graduate editing positions.

Science Centres and Museums

In addition to science museums, the development of Science Centres offers additional possibilities for science graduates to work in science communication and education. There are few advertised posts but The UK Association for Science & Discovery Centres has a ‘Job Bank’ and list of science centres across the UK with links to their websites. It also has a list of science festivals (with links) in its events section. There are some Masters courses in Science Communication but relevant work experience (which may be unpaid) and networking are also key strategies for trying to break into this sector. Curatorial/Research posts in national museums such as the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum may require a relevant PhD and experience. See the Museums and galleries page for more information on careers and postgraduate qualifications for this sector.

Research Councils e.g. EPSRC, BBSRC

The funding councils publish all vacancies through a central website. As these organisations disseminate government funding to Universities, a PhD can be helpful in providing relevant contextual experience. Be aware that you may initially be asked to work on a research area other than your specialism, to avoid any conflict of interest in allocating funds.

The Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is unusual in that it offers a graduate scheme, as well as work experience and internship options through their website.

Scientific Charities e.g. Wellcome Trust, Leverhulme Trust, Cancer Research

The Wellcome Trust offers a graduate development programme, in their words “helping to shape the future of science-related research.” Others may not tend to have ‘graduate schemes’ as such, but still present opportunities to apply your scientific knowledge in supporting others’ research. You may need to apply through advertised vacancies, but do not rule out getting in touch with a speculative application.

Medical sales

Medical sales representatives 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. Visit the Prospects website for more details on this area of work.

Consider also: marketing, sales, project management and production management in companies where your scientific knowledge is relevant to their products, services or production processes eg pharmaceuticals, food, energy.

Non-scientific career options

Many graduate opportunities are open to students studying ‘any degree subject’. Scientists are particularly valued for their numerate and analytical mindsets. Some examples are listed below where most employers do not require a related degree but are keen to recruit graduates and provide the training required for the role. This is not an exhaustive list and more ideas and information can be found on our Careers A-Z section and on the Prospects website.


Science alternatives to R&D attributes profile

 Key attributes needed for the role  Where you could develop these skills or attributes
Good problem solving skills

Through academic studies and relevant work experience.

CEED offer maths support for particular problems or even if you just wish to build your confidence in your maths Skills.

Practical problem solving skills are particularly valued for example taking on the role of treasurer for a society.
Strong teamwork

Through academic studies and involvement in clubs and societies.

CEED offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum. Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice
Ability to handle and analyse data

Depending on your modules, this may be demonstrated through your academic studies.

Using the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel. CEED offer maths and stats support for particular problems or even if you just wish to build your confidence in your maths Skills.
Excellent technical reporting and presentation skills

Through academic studies and relevant work experience.



Networks - why and how to use them

Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.

Relevant Postgraduate Study

Alternative science careers such as those above present difficult choices on whether to pursue further study. Most have no formal requirement of a science PhD, though many of the routes above are popular with PhD holders wishing to leave academia behind. The PhD process can also provide you with greater credibility as a scientist, and a raft of research and presentation skills which may be useful.

Master’s study can also be difficult to gauge. While specialised Master’s courses exist for many of the routes above, only Teaching requires you to have a postgraduate qualification. Here it is worth sounding out those in the profession on whether further study is a good use of your time (see the Networking section above for details).

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