I Want To Work In … Scientific Research and Development


Although you can get a job as a trainee research scientist in industry with a good first degree, for those wanting a long term career in research it may be advisable to study for a doctorate as promotion within research may be hindered without one - you may encounter "glass ceilings". A vacation placement or sandwich year in a research environment will enhance your chances of entry.

PROFILE: Research & Development Scientist

INVOLVES: designing & conducting experiments. Interpreting data. Teaching & supervising. Project management. Writing reports & scientific papers. Keeping up to date with new developments. Working in a small group of scientists, developing products.
EMPLOYERS: Research & development departments are found in many organisations e.g.

  • manufacturing companies
  • water companies
  • cosmetic companies
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • defence companies (e.g. BAe Systems, GSK)
  • universities
  • Government laboratories
  • Research Council laboratories. e.g. the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) sponsored institutes . See www.rcuk.ac.uk for further information on these.

RELATED JOBS: clinical scientist – hospitals, analytical scientist, computer programmer, systems analyst, university lecturer, and health & safety officer.
SATISFACTIONS: Seeing an idea through to becoming a product. Intellectual challenges in solving complex problems, creativity, autonomy.
NEGATIVES: Experiments may need to be repeated, so work at times may be routine & frustrating. It may take a long time for results to show so patience is required.
SKILLS: written communication (report writing), analysing and investigating, problem solving, logical thinking, numeracy, persistence, ability to make presentations, project management, computer skills.
ADVANCEMENT: As with most R & D a graduate trains at the bench. As a team leader they gain (and are encouraged to train) management experience - eventually manage a technical aspect of the company.
DEGREE: Good Honours science or engineering degree usually required.
POSTGRADUATE STUDY: PhD is frequently required in the chemical & pharmaceutical industries but less often required in physics/electronics related research in industry. PhD followed by several years as a contract researcher essential for University posts before first permanent job.
VACANCY SOURCES: New Scientist, Nature (Bioscience jobs), Times Higher Education Supplement for University Research.
TIPS: Consider doing a PhD or MSc. Be persistent. 'Find out the names of the Head of Research & copy all CV/letters to them as well as the Human Resources department.'

Typical academic career path


Here is a list compiled by one major pharmaceutical company:
"Multi-tasking and time management skills are essential for a research scientist. Communication and presentation skills are also very important. You also need to be able to write well. For post-docs the process of making application for funding can be stressful but is an essential part of the job."
Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing.

Wernher Von Braun

A scientist is someone who learns more and more about less and less, and ultimately knows everything about nothing

A Philosopher is someone who learns less and less about more and more, and ultimately knows nothing about everything.



You can move from Research into many other careers. Many junior research staff use research as a stepping stone to other functions within pharmaceutical companies, such as:

For further information see also


PROFILE: Scientific Consultant

INVOLVES: Applying scientific techniques & methodologies to basically non-scientific industries - solving operational problems as they arise - normally short term work as part of a multi-disciplinary team - the other disciplines being non-scientific.
EMPLOYERS: Increasingly consultants - most in-house scientific services are now seen as non-core & therefore are being dispensed with. But the problems don't go away!
RELATED JOBS: Similar work goes under many names - but still essentially a scientific service.
SATISFACTIONS: Something different every day - often high profile, more usually mundane
NEGATIVES: Often do not see the end of a job since your input, although essential, is concerned with only one aspect of a larger project (or operation)
SKILLS: written communication, analysing, investigating, numeracy.
ADVANCEMENT: Based on experience, increasingly job-hopping to broaden the knowledge base, can lead to management, senior consultancy, regulatory authority etc.
DEGREE: Any science degree. Need to be adaptable. Chemists particularly suited. Professional qualifications often gained on the job.
VACANCY SOURCES: Chemistry in Britain; New Scientist
TIPS: A broad general knowledge rather than a narrow specialisation - scientific services impinges on everything (from floor polish to the Channel Tunnel)


Last fully updated June 2013