Research scientist

What do you think of when we talk about being a research scientist? If you believe everything you see in the films, you probably think it’s all about having crazy hair, inventing time travelling machines and blowing up sheds.

But the reality is that a science job is a career where the academically minded can thrive and make a difference…



So, what will I actually be doing?

With a broad array of specialism’s that you can enter into, it’s certainly not an easy career choice to pick from, where you can work across the fields of biology, chemistry and maths.

If you hadn’t guessed from the job title, the role revolves around researching as well as conducting and analysing experiments for both academic and industrial reasons. This means you could work on anything, from developing new products for a company to working towards a scientific breakthrough in the health sector.

The daily grind will differ depending on your position and each individual project you’re working on, however you’ll probably find your day will include the following at some point:

  • Building research proposals
  • Creating and conducting experiments
  • Analysing results of the experiments
  • Working with other researchers to use and develop end product
  • Applying for grants to continue research

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The finer details... 

Don’t want a desk job? Then you’re in luck. As you’ve probably guessed, you’ll normally be based in laboratories, hospitals or universities, somewhere where your study and work can flourish.

From science, to health and biochemistry, you could help out on them all. Areas you could go into include:

  • Cancer studies
  • Plant sciences
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Stem cell research
  • Biotechnology
  • Medical science

And much, much more.

Working the typical 9-5 routine, you’ll be doing the usual 40 hour week. Depending on the job, you may have to do the odd bit of overtime or weekends, but that’s something many sectors have to do eventually.

When you aren’t in the lab experimenting, you’ll be visiting other people’s labs and offices, especially if you’re working on the same project, which can often happen if you’re crossing the line between academic and industrial research.

The work isn’t just restricted to the lab though; you’ll also be expected to attend conferences where other scientists will share their work. Not just an outside work activity to bail out on, this is part of your job, as the networking allows the scientific community to keep up to date with each other.

Money, money, money

The all important money question…well your salary will depend on your role in the science sector. But whether you’re working for academic purposes or creating something for the industries, you won’t have to scrimp and save in this job.

When you first start out, you’re taking home between £16,500- £22,000 (depending on employer and location), but by the time you move up to research assistant, you’re looking at bringing home around £26,000-£35,000.

Looking at progressing to something more senior in salary and role? Stay committed to the job for around 10-15 years, and the salary rises up to £57,000 for senior research fellow roles, especially if you go into the private sector where wages are slightly higher.

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The good points...

It's a stable job, as due to the nature of the work, you’ll often be on fixed-term contracts which can last for several years.

Plus there’s the knowledge you’ve created/discovered something ground-breaking, and if you go into the health side, even life-saving. How many jobs can say that?

...and the bad

If you’ve ever seen the movies, you’ll know that experiments can be dangerous to do; something that’s true in reality. This role could see you working with toxic or dangerous substances and even with animals.

Is there study involved?

You’re going to have to be a brainy box to become a research scientist, and having a science degree is desirable for this role, especially if you specialise in…

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Ecology
  • Biomedical science
  • Microbiology
  • Natural sciences

How much you need to study will depend on how high you want to go in this career. If you’re happy to stay at technician or research assistant level, then all you’ll need is an undergraduate/foundation degree, although any addition qualification is a bonus in this job.

For those wanting to work their way up to the top, there’s always the chance to study a higher qualification while you work. A PhD becomes pretty much essential when you get to the heights of senior roles.

As with any job though, previous experience can do wonders, both in terms of what you learn and the contacts you’ll make. So take on work placements wherever you can, focusing on getting both academic and industrial experience to wow any potential employers.

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OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?

You have to be incredibly academically minded and willing to dedicate your life to the pursuit of research. Can’t think of anything better than having your head in the books doing research? Then this is the job for you.

It’s also useful if you can tick off some of the following personality traits:

  • Analytical
  • A great problem solver (and we don’t mean of the crossword variety)
  • Good at time management
  • Organised
  • Initiative
  • Good communicator (you’ll have a lot of reports and presentations to do)
  • Work well in a team
  • Patient (experiments are all about trial and error)
  • Confident in networking 


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