Do you want to work in or out of the lab? Things you need to know with a bio/life science degree – FAQs

Scientists working in a chemical lab.Just because you have a biological or life science related degree doesn’t mean you want to spend the rest of your life in a lab. Most people by mid degree have an idea how they feel about labs, love ’em hate ’em these are some options.

In this blog post we will look at:

  1. Getting work in a lab
  2. Love science, but hate labs? Including medical communications
  3. Job options out of the lab: For people who love data
  4. Job options out of the lab: For people who want to work with people
  5. Job options out of the lab: For people who would love to be a medic – including where that’s not an option

Getting work in a lab

What sort of lab jobs are available?

  • Look out for graduate roles, especially with the large pharmaceutical companies. However, don’t be restricted by that – many lab jobs won’t be called “graduate schemes”.
  • Technician roles are often entry-level positions. You’d need to be good at the practical aspects of lab work and will most likely be required to maintain the lab environment – good if you like organising and can work well with others.
  • You could be working in areas such as research, product development or quality assurance.

How can I find out about labs who might recruit grads?

Can I get a part-time lab job?

  • Part-time lab jobs while you are studying are rare, but it’s always worth looking!
  • You can sometimes find short term positions in labs (for summer vacations) through scientific recruitment companies (e.g. SRG) but you would usually need to have a reasonable amount of experience.
  • Think about making speculative applications for routine testing roles in industrial labs over the summer eg quality control labs in food, brewing, or other bioscience based industries.
  • Most students build their experience through summer placements and industrial experience placement years, plus, of course, a final year lab project.

Who would I write to for work experience?

  • If you have a contact name, ideally try the head of the lab; otherwise human resources (HR).

What experience do I need for my CV?

  • You need the practical lab skills you have developed during your degree and evidence of applying them.
  • Ability to work in a team and problem solving are also often needed, as is accuracy.
  • If you have non-lab experience this can be a way of demonstrating a commitment to customer service.
  • Apply for summer lab placements, details of funding can be found on the SBS intranet

Love science, but hate labs?

Can I use my science outside a lab?

  • Yes, yes, yes! There are many employers who will value your scientific knowledge, plus even more employers that are actively looking to employ scientists for their problem solving abilities and data handling skills.

What sort of things do people do?

  • Science communication (public engagement)
  • medical communication
  • clinical trials management
  • patent attorney
  • regulatory affairs
  • health informatics

How do I build my experience for this sort of job?

  • To build your experience you can volunteer, get a part-time job or take on a leadership role in a society or community group you belong to.
  • For more structured experience look to gain a summer placement and / or a placement year. As an undergraduate microbiologist I worked in Tesco each summer. This meant that when I went for a placement year interview with AstraZeneca I could explain why I enjoyed working for a large company and the benefits it gave me, plus how I worked under pressure!

How can I find out about job opportunities

Medical communications

Do you need a PhD?

  • For traditional (technical) medical writing roles, a PhD is often needed – experience of reading and writing journal papers is helpful.
  • For less technical roles with medical communications companies, ie closer to marketing than writing journal papers, undergrad opportunities are starting to emerge – see later.

What do medical writers do?

Where do they work?

  • Medical communications agencies, third sector, freelance, and pharmaceuticals

What sort of work experience do you need?

  • Writing, communication/engagement roles, commercial awareness.
  • A few companies are starting to offer traineeships and internships.

Where are jobs advertised?

Job options out of the lab: For people who love data

What sort of jobs could I do?

  • Health informatics within the NHS, medical communications companies (lots in the North West) or Pharmaceuticals.
  • Data Coordinator for clinical trials in a contract research organisation or Pharmaceutical / Biotech company.

What experience is valued?

  • The experience of handling data sets. The larger the data set the more impressive. Get this experience from lab projects.

How can I show I have the right experience?

  • Showcase the data you’ve analysed – this could be by providing examples on your CV or by adding a ‘project’ to your LinkedIn profile 
  • If the data has been used for a report or publication even better!

Who are the employers?

  • NHS
  • Medical Communications companies,
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Contract Research Companies

Where to find jobs?

Job options out of the lab: For people who want to work with people

What sort of jobs could I do?

Jobs with a scientific link, eg. carried out in a science based organisation:

  • Clinical trials
  • regulatory affairs
  • medical writing
  • editorial work
  • science communication
  • science curator
  • medical sales
  • business development
  • management
  • teaching

Jobs outside science:

  • Any job such as business development, sales or management which is open to “any degree discipline” – which includes science! Think outside your scientific discipline and the benefits of bringing your scientific approach to problem solving, along with your people skills, for a wide range or roles.

What experience is valued?

  • Experience that demonstrates your ability to persuade, negotiate, empathise, motivate and work with others.
  • This could come from a part-time job in a shop, or from a placement year in the sector you’re interested in.

How can I show I have the right experience?

  • In your written application and interview talk about what YOU did to make things work.
  • Consider when you’ve solved problems or adapted a way of doing things based on others’ feedback (lab classes could be a good source of material here!).

Who are the employers?

  • Look out for the general management schemes of the larger Pharma, also the NHS general management scheme.
  • Alternatively you may wish to look for business development roles in a Biotech or Medical Communications company.
  • If you’re looking to be really hands on then take a look at science communication vacancies on the blog www.scicommjobs.wordpress.com or museum vacancies www.nationalmuseums.org.uk/jobs
  • For jobs outside science – almost any employer!

Job options out of the lab: For people who would love to be a medic – including where that’s not an option

A second degree in medicine (or dentistry, nursing or even veterinary science) is a challenge but one which some of our graduates do take up each year.

But what if that’s not an option, or you’re looking for something a bit different? What sort of jobs could I do?

  • There are a number of allied healthcare professional roles, which as the NHS changes are increasingly part of the clinical care team. Download our guide.
  • NHS workforce planning anticipate an increased need for Physicians Associates. In this role you support the clinical team by taking patient histories and supporting frontline clinical staff. Career development is available by switching between clinical areas as there is no formal opportunity for promotion.

What experience is valued?

  • Experience of working (paid or unpaid) in a caring role, such as: healthcare assistant in a care home or hospital; volunteering with a disabled youth group or working under pressure such as in a busy bar or shop.
  • Short shadowing or work placements in a clinical setting (hospital or GP) can also help to demonstrate understanding of the work load and will help you to understand if this sort of work is for you.

How can I show I have the right experience?

  • By including on your application form the experience you have and talking openly about what you learnt about yourself, what it was like working in a clinical setting and why the experience was interesting to you (assuming it was!)

Who are the employers?

  • The NHS remain the main employer but there are also options in the private sector. www.jobs.nhs.uk

So, is that all?

No – you can do so many things from a life or bio science degree.

Like all science students, you have the best of all worlds:

  • jobs using your science directly
  • jobs where your scientific background would be useful though you no longer work in a lab
  • and all those jobs where being able to think like a scientist and use an evidence-based approach would be useful  – which covers most jobs you could think of!

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