You love science, but the thought of working in a lab/research setting doesn't excite you. In fact, you look forward to never performing another ELISA assay or writing another lab report, and the vexing sound of a centrifuge is a sound you never. want. to. hear. again. Okay, maybe that part was a little extreme! But if this sounds like you, it may be time to consider alternative careers that let you apply your scientific knowledge and skills gained, and push new frontiers - outside of the lab of course!
Here are 7 alternative science careers you may have never considered:
1. Science Communications & Outreach
The field of Science communications involves presenting scientific information and data to non-experts in understandable and creative ways. This can incorporate the communication of Technology, Engineering and Math topics also and the range of audiences may include: the general public, politicians, medical professionals, educators etc. Science communications can take up different forms, such as publications, blog posts, newspaper articles etc.
Science communications may also permit you to be involved in public engagement and outreach activities, such as public lectures or workshops to increase the public understanding of science concepts. The rise in scientific misinformation, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, has highlighted the importance of accurate, clear and effective science communications. And who better to present such information than scientists like yourself?
Examples of roles within this field are:
Science writer or journalist - these individuals deliver news on science topics e.g. latest breakthroughs, via publications or media outlets.
Public relations - involves working for scientific organizations to help them communicate the impact of their work e.g. scientific advancements or innovations, to the broader audience.
Event manager - organizing events that are science-related for organizations, students or the public.
While some universities offer Master's degrees in Science communications, a great way to get into this field is by gaining experience and building industry contacts, which can be obtained through internships or graduate schemes. For example, Nature News offers paid internships to individuals with backgrounds in STEM subjects and candidates that can improve the diversity of their news coverage. The Royal Society of Chemistry also offers internships in scientific writing. Check out this page for more information on organisations offering internships in science communications: https://code.likeagirl.io/where-to-find-science-communication-internships-53d7edea471e
You may also take up volunteering positions to develop your writing skills. Fun fact! The BWIS network currently has volunteer positions for Blog writers open for applications. Feel free to apply and contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about these positions.
2. Science Publishing
Science publishing encompasses the production and distribution of scientific journals, books, textbooks or revision guides. This can be in both physical and online formats. Major academic (science) publishers include:
There are roles in:
Production - overseeing the printing, expenditure and delivery of books/journals (physical/digital formats)
Editorial - commissioning of books/journals and liaison with authors to ensure a high standard of accuracy in the content produced.
Design - the design of book covers or other materials e.g. illustrations
Having an undergraduate in a STEM subject is likely required to step into this field. However, due to the competitive nature of the publishing industry, it may help to have a postgraduate qualification in publishing. But other ways to stand out are to gain experience through e.g. writing university newsletters or starting a science-themed blog etc. Internships are also a good way to get your foot in the door and develop connections. The Royal Society of Chemistry provides internships and Graduate opportunities to provide insight into the complete editorial process.
3. Intellectual Property and Patent Law
If you have an interest in combining your love for science with law, a career in Intellectual Property (IP) and patent law may be for you! Patents provide legal protection to novel technical inventions and developments and patent lawyers help their clients to secure such protection, as well as provide advice on IP rights. Law firms that specialise in this field typically recruit STEM graduates as trainee patent attorneys where they undergo on-the-job training (4-5 years) to finally qualify as patent attorneys.
Gaining work experience within this field can be challenging however, some firms offer short summer vacation schemes. These include Boult Wade Tennant, Carpmaels & Ransford and Dehns. Networking and connecting with patent attorneys may be helpful in accessing work experience, they may also provide you with tips for job applications. Developing your communication (verbal and written), reasoning, attention to detail and analytical skills will also be helpful in applications, as these are vital skills to have in this field. Find out more information on careers in Patent law on Prospects and Oxford Careers.
4. Data Science
Data scientists use their expertise (e.g. in software engineering, artificial intelligence, machine learning or statistical tools) to analyse and interpret large amounts of data, which can influence decision-making, policy and strategy. Within scientific research, data scientists can help to draw patterns from available data, which may improve the accuracy of diagnoses and improve patient outcomes, among many other applications. The need for data scientists is on the rise as the volume of data we produce, and have the capacity to store, has increased over the years. We need skilled individuals that can draw useful interpretations out of such data.
Having a degree in computer science, mathematical or science-related courses are typically required to step into this field. However, if you do not have such degrees and are desiring to transition into this career path, you can obtain a postgraduate qualification in courses such as data analytics, data science, business analytics etc. You will also need to be proficient in programming languages, such as Python, R and Java.
5. Science policy
There are two arms to science policy: policy for science and science for policy. The first arm (policy for science) involves engaging with stakeholders e.g. The government, National Health Service (NHS), Universities etc. to convey the value of research and ensure that their policies are fostering the conduct of high-quality and effective research. This can include ensuring adequate science funding, infrastructure and representation of minority groups.
The second arm (science for policy) aims to equip the government and other organizations with accurate scientific information for quality policy decisions.
Policy officers can work for scientific bodies, such as the Institute of Physics, or public sector organizations, such as the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST). The work of a policy officer may involve the identification and analysis of policy issues, consultations with stakeholders and remaining updated on political, social and economic developments, among other responsibilities.
Policy officers typically have postgraduate qualifications in politics or policy studies. Vacancies can be quite scarce but you can check out the New Scientist, Times Higher Education and the Guardian for postings. The Wellcome Trust has a Graduate Development Programme with rotations in various sectors, including policy. POST also offers fellowship programmes for PhD students.
6. Science Funding and Administration
If you prefer a career outside of the lab, but would still like to be connected to the world of scientific research, the field of science funding and administration could be perfect for you. Scientific administrators oversee the awarding, spending and tracking of funding at grant, programme or policy levels. At the grant level, administrations award or manage funds allocated to individual researchers. At the programme-level, administrators oversee the funding of multi-investigator or multi-institution projects. At the policy-level, they can manage the funding for whole departments, institutions or university systems.
Major employers are research councils, such as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC); and funding bodies, such as the Wellcome Trust.
It is recommended to have research experience as this tends to be a requirement in science administrator roles. Partaking in graduate schemes, such as the Wellcome Trust Graduate Development Programme with rotations in research funding, would help to stand out in subsequent job applications and get your ‘foot in the door’.
Science (or STEM) teachers are in great demand, especially teachers from ethnic minority groups. According to an article by TeachFirst (a charity that provides the UK’s largest teacher training and leadership programme), the lack of diversity within the teaching workforce contributes to ‘success’ feeling unattainable to students from minority groups. In addition, there are also racial disparities within STEM subjects as only 6.2% of UK domicile students enrolled onto STEM-related subjects are Black.
If you want to contribute to closing the diversity gap within STEM fields, a teaching career that allows you to not only educate, but also inspire young people, may be right for you. Check out the Prospects page for details on transitioning into the teaching space across different age groups. Note that to train as a teacher at the secondary level, you will likely need a degree in, or related to, the subject you wish to teach.
I'd like to acknowledge the significant contribution of the Prospects and Oxford Careers' list of alternative science careers, to the development of this post. Check them out to learn about these careers in more detail and explore other ones not mentioned! I hope this has been an insightful read and I wish you the very best in whatever career path you choose. ❤
Until next time!
By Success Fabusoro, Blog Writer