Scientific research and development involve using your technical subject-based skills, so good research/technical skills are essential. List specific lab skills and techniques on your CV, and highlight practical research experience, experimental design and data handling courses. Employers want to be confident you can apply these at workplace, demonstrating Good Laboratory Practice, an understanding of health and safety, and that you can work with precision and accuracy.
Every area of academic and applied science requires professional research and development scientists, from pharmaceuticals and physics to defence engineering and biotechnology. Private companies rely on the hard work of research and development scientists to keep them on the ball. Organisations must adapt their products and services in order to remain competitive. Otherwise, they will lose revenue and fall behind in the market. Similarly, public sector organisations, such as the NHS, rely on research and development scientists to make sure that they provide the very best services.
Scientific research and development take place in most large, research-intensive universities, in government or charity funded research centres and in industry. Government or charity-funded research centres employing research scientists
Industries employing research and development scientists include:
- Cancer Research UK (cancer biology)
- DSTL, the Defence Science and Technology Lab (a range of sciences).
- Large pharmaceuticals such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and GSK
- Specialty chemicals such as Akzo Nobel and BASF
- Technology companies such as Philips and Siemens
- Fast moving consumer goods companies such as Unilever, Coca Cola, RB, P&G and Nestle
- Defence, aerospace and security such as Qinetiq
- Contract research organisations, which undertake all or part of the scientific research process on behalf of a client, such as Quintiles, Covance, PAREXEL and LGC, who also host the function of ‘Government Chemist’
- Scientific start-up or spin-out companies. Increasingly, cutting edge science is being carried out in small high-tech companies typically based in science parks and “incubator” units (where new companies get extra support)
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Getting in and getting experience
- For scientific research roles a research degree is commonly required – a PhD, MRes or MPhil helps develop research skills. A PhD is expected for academic scientific research and also can be beneficial to progress into management roles in industry.
- For scientific development a research degree may be advantageous, but graduates may still progress with a good undergraduate degree and good lab/technical skills.
- For both industry and academia, gaining relevant work experience outside of your university course is vital. Undertaking a placement year as part of your degree and/or completing a summer internship or research studentship will make your application stand out – and provide you with valuable insight into the work itself.
It is also possible to enter scientific research and development as a technician, although in some research areas it can be difficult to move to more senior research-related roles without a higher degree. This also varies between different organisations so research possible employers to confirm their preference. Another entry point for new graduates is working in QC and QA – quality control and quality assurance.
- The ABPI Careers website lists different roles in R&D in pharmaceuticals, from Archiving to Genetics.
How to gain relevant technical/lab experience
- Undertaking an industrial placement year (valued highly by employers). Some organisations do not offer shorter, lab based work placements, preferring to recruit students for 9-12 months in research and development roles.
- Gaining industrial/research laboratory experience in vacation time – apply for advertised work experience but also make direct “speculative” approaches to organisations that interest you.
- A vacation studentship in a university laboratory or research institute, particularly if you are not doing a placement year (some of these come with funding, too).
- A good final year project can also convince an employer or postgraduate degree provider that you understand the nature of scientific work and have the ability to tackle scientific research or development.
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