What is a career in science and research like?
If you want to build, create or investigate something, chances are you will need the help of a scientist.
Whether you’re looking for the right materials, a plan of action or research to develop your ideas, scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians all use technical expertise and practiced methodologies to test out theories, build new things and discover more about the world around us.
Scientists develop new chemicals, foods, drugs and materials, investigate disease and the environmental impacts of pollution, develop software, help our buildings stay standing, explore the universe and even predict the weather. The list goes on…
For scientists, research and analysis is key. Their world is constantly changing; new things are discovered each day and theories that people thought were set in stone can be turned upside down by new evidence.
Look in almost all of our career zones and you are likely to find a host of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) based jobs. But we’ve developed a special section here to show you just how far a science career can take you.
If you're interested in a career in Science & Research, you should also check out our Medicine and Health Care careers advice pages.
What science and research careers can I do?
People with STEM skills are in serious demand. More than 7 out of 10 UK businesses rely on them, according to the CBI education and skills survey.
STEM jobs can be found in labs, factories, offices or in the great outdoors.
There are too many exciting and varied jobs to cover in one place, but here are some of the main areas you can work in with science based qualifications.
Researchers can be found in all the fields of science. Their work can involve testing theories and developing new products, chemicals and medicines. Researchers also work to study human behaviour, social and economic trends, public opinion and the spread of disease.
Engineers use their use their scientific, mathematical and design know-how to find practical ways to make our structures, technology and machines faster, stronger, safer and better looking. For more on these jobs see our engineering career zone.
Chemists experiment with materials and the elements to see how they work in different conditions and find out what they are made up of right down to the tiniest particle. The results can sometimes be explosive…
Chemists develop medicines, foods, fabrics and other materials, from neon lights to stainless steel. Find out more about chemistry careers here.
Physicists study how the universe works and find out the hidden rules that explain why all things exist and how they behave, like why we aren’t all floating about in the air right now. Physicists can specialise in lots of different areas from astronomy, which studies how planets and all the other phenomena in space behave, to nuclear physics, which studies how atoms interact.
Physicists can also work in: computer technology, robotics, space exploration and satellite technology, predicting the climate, engineering and finding new ways of capturing renewable energy.
Biologists and environmental scientists study life and all living things that move, breathe and reproduce. They use their knowledge to investigate the natural world, including nutrition, ecosystems, how disease spreads, how to improve and protect plants and crops and the impacts of environmental changes, like pollution or deforestation. As a biologist you can specialise in many different areas. For example, oceanographers study life under the sea and zoologists study how animals behave.
Other biology-based careers include:
Medics specialise in caring for people and animals and develop news ways to treat illness and injury. For more on these jobs see our medicine & healthcare career zone.
Forensic scientists investigate crime scenes for physical evidence to be used in court, including DNA testing, detecting chemicals, finding the source of a fire and testing people / places for drug use or contamination.
Geologists study the earth both outside and in. This includes rock, metals and all materials that naturally occur in the earth. Geologists look at how the earth behaves, including how earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. They can use their skills to hunt for resources like oil and gas. They also dig deep to discover clues about what the world was like in the past, to find out things like how our climate has changed.
Mathematicians provide the building blocks for most scientific work; right down to the numbers and logic we need to produce formulas and calculations. Mathematicians look for patterns and try to define and measure essential ideas like time, quantity, speed, change and distance.
Without these concepts, it would be difficult to conduct a practical experiment or explain a prediction. Many scientists are required to have studied maths to A-level or beyond and mathematicians can also work across the sciences, particularly in physics and engineering.
Other jobs for maths specialists include:
Statisticians work with the data gathered from experiments, surveys and reports to discover patterns, predict changes and try to discover the cause of things.
Economists study economies (the flow of goods, services and money in a network), from businesses to entire countries. They predict how economies will grow (or decline) and identify why this happens. They can also predict when people may lose their jobs or when average incomes will go up and develop theories to help boost an economy or avoid future problems.
Is a career in science and research for me?
If you’re prone to pulling things apart to see how they work, experimenting with the contents of your garden shed or creating spreadsheets to track the average rainfall in your area over time, you’re thinking like a scientist.
Scientists and mathematicians can spend a lot of time gathering evidence or testing out theories before they get a result, so you have to be patient and precise in your work.
Scientists are organised, analytical and logical, but it helps to be a good communicator too in order to help others understand the specialist work that you do.
How can I start a career in science and research?
Subjects: For both GCSE and A-level your core subjects are:
Maths, Biology, Physics, Chemistry and ICT
You can also add these to the mix: Design & Technology, Economics, Engineering and Further Maths.
Relevant BTEC and other NQF qualifications include: engineering, applied sciences, IT and environmental sustainability.
Studying a foreign language and or / an essay subject like English or History can help to boost your communication skills too.
Ways in to work:
Vocational: (GCSE or A-levels / level 3 qualifications and on the job training) There are intermediate or advanced apprenticeships / other work based training opportunities available for roles like lab technician, lab assistant, network engineer, electronics engineer, software tester, engineering technician, materials technician.
Graduate: (A science based degree) There are graduate roles available for roles like teacher, nurse, zoologist, engineer, biomedical scientist, economist, research assistant / officer. Some employers may ask for a postgraduate qualification, like a masters degree, for these roles too, or you may gain extra qualifications as you work.
Postgraduate: (A science degree and postgraduate qualification) e.g. Doctors, Vets and most specialist scientists. Many scientists who choose to work in a very specific area and conduct research will need postgraduate qualifications, as these allow you to develop those all important research skills.
If you're considering studying science at university, you should have a look at what the London School of Economics and Political Science have to offer. Or, if you're consider a career in science and research, you might be interested in the horticultural and science work experience opportunity that at our partner employer Kew Gardens is offering.
What science and research qualifications are available?
Yes indeed. Many scientists will work toward Masters degrees and funded PhDs through their careers. There are also plenty of opportunities to gain professional qualifications, like as a medical professional or chartered scientist. Apprentices can gain BTEC and other qualifications to move up the career ladder too.
Organisations, like the Institute of Science and Technology can provide training directly or through employers.
Did you know these science and research facts?
Sugru, that amazing, colourful rubbery stuff that sticks to anything, was invented by an art student with a great idea and a homemade lab. Read her amazing story here.
A full head of human hair can support 12 tons in weight. We wonder who worked that out…
Hawaai is moving towards Japan at a rate of 10cm per year because they are on two different tectonic plates, which are pushing together. If they kept moving together at the same rate, it would take over 60 million years before you would be able to hop from one to other on foot.
For more information on applying for jobs or general careers advice for students, check out the Work section of our Advice pages.