Alternative Science Careers
19th September, 2019
Love your biology field trips but hate lab experiments? Enjoy writing about science but not solving chemical equations?
Science isn’t all about research and working in a lab, so if this applies to you, then don’t write off a science degree. Here are some alternative paths you can take after studying science at university.
Science Communication & Publishing
If you’re interested in science but also enjoy essay writing subjects, such as history or english, you can combine these skills in the science communication field. This is incredibly important for bridging the gap between those who collect data and carry out research, and the wider non-academic community. This might involve writing, editing or publishing popular science books, working in museum education, or writing report summaries for journalists and politicians.
If this appeals to you then it might be useful to know that at Oxford, all of the “bio” sciences involve writing essays. At Cambridge, Natural Sciences varies depending on which options you choose, but it’s also possible to specialise in subjects employing essay writing skills. Additionally, both universities offer the option of studying History and Philosophy of Science - a great intermediary.
If you’re serious about this career then doing some public engagement volunteering alongside your degree is a fantastic opportunity to gain some experience in the sector. This could involve volunteering in a museum, writing for a science publication or getting involved in outreach events in your department. After all of this you’ll emerge a well rounded graduate, able to apply your degree to making science accessible to audiences including the public and/or policy makers.
This might sound surprising, but scientists are often sought after by law firms to provide expertise in their field. This comes partly as a result of the increases in biotechnology and patent disputes: scientists are needed to ensure that inventions are unique - or not, depending on which side you are defending! However, other areas of importance include ethics issues in the genetics and medical fields, and of particular relevance is environmental law. This covers problems such as pollution, climate change and disaster management. This might involve working directly for big corporations and NGOs - or in the case of public law, for authorities such as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) or the Environment Agency.
Important qualities for this field will include attention to detail, strong reasoning and analytical skills, and a keen interest in the field. These can be developed through practicing debating skills and looking into work experience, such as shadowing a lawyer in your preferred area.
If practical work and travel is more up your street then conservation is a fantastic way to give back to the environment. It can involve expeditions to far flung places, such as the Amazon rainforest, tropical coral reefs or the Arctic circle. However, it’s also likely that there’s ways you can help conserve your local environment, by getting involved in local volunteering schemes. Conservationists from all areas of study are needed, as it’s a multidisciplinary sector.
Conservation usually requires a lot of work experience before paid positions become available, but if you’re really keen on becoming a conservationist then don’t let this put you off. Volunteering is often designed to be flexible enough to fit around your studies at university or paid work - even a couple of hours every weekend will quickly add up - and this shows any employer that you’re self-motivated and not afraid of commitment.
After graduating, scientists are often valuable in solving the problems that some businesses face, due to their scientific background and analytical skills. Consulting is a career for which a postgraduate degree (either a masters or PhD) may be needed. However, beyond this, consulting companies often provide training for entry-level recruits. This is a well-paid career path which provides travel opportunities, and you won’t have to worry about every day being the same. However, it does require long work hours - and recruitment is competitive.
Drawing up or advising on policy is a great career for those who want to use their scientific background to make a real difference. This could be through scientific bodies such as the Royal Society or the Institute of Physics - or you might want a public sector role, for example with the UK Civil Service. It will take a while to work up to a level where you’ll be directly influencing policy, but this can be accelerated through applying to the Graduate Fast Stream - many departments recruit fast-streamers, including DEFRA, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Defence Engineering and Science Group and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.