Scientist Careers

How to become a Scientist

What does a Scientist do?

Scientists are involved in a number of science disciplines and in different kinds of science work, for example:

  • Research and development: scientists working in this field are involved in developing new products and industrial processes, improving efficiency, or scaling up a science laboratory procedure to full scale manufacture.
  • Scientific analysis and investigation: this area of work can include: diagnosing, monitoring or treating disease or illness; measuring levels of pollution or environmental damage; looking at ways to increase environmental protection; analysing samples as part of criminal investigations; predicting the weather or environmental disasters; discovering and extracting valuable natural resources such as oil or gas.
  • Education and the media: some scientists teach their subject in school, college or university; others are involved in designing educational materials for use in broadcasting, schools and colleges or museums. Scientific journalists and publishers write in everyday language about complex scientific concepts.
  • Administration: scientists work in government departments and non-governmental agencies, using their scientific understanding to inform and assist in formulating policies.
Scientists may also be involved in the biosciences and physical sciences. Work may involve handling hazardous substances, or micro-organisms which cause infectious diseases. Some of the samples studied may be unpleasant, and the equipment used may be complex and expensive.

Some scientists will also supervise the work of support staff and technicians, leading a team of scientists and other staff. There may be administrative tasks to carry out.

What's the working environment like working as a Scientist?

Scientists usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although evening and weekend work is often required if involved with ongoing projects. Shifts, nights, or on-call work may be necessary if the job involves providing a round-the-clock service to the public, as in the NHS.

Practical scientists mainly work in laboratories but many are involved in fieldwork, such as collecting samples, conservation work, monitoring environmental factors, or studying plants and animals in their natural habitat.

Much of the work in laboratories requires sterile conditions, and long periods could be spent sitting or standing at a bench or piece of equipment. Some form of protective clothing may be worn to protect themselves and prevent contamination of samples or equipment. Fieldwork may be physically demanding.

What does it take to become a Scientist?

To be a scientist, you should:

  • have an enquiring mind and be able to think clearly and logically
  • be good at problem solving, with a methodical approach to your work
  • be able to work accurately and pay great attention to detail
  • be able to work in, and lead, a team of professionals
  • have excellent verbal and written communication skills; be able to write reports and present your work
  • be able to keep up with advances in your field
  • understand statistics and relevant computer packages, and be willing to do fieldwork.

Scientist Career Opportunities

There are a large number of scientists working in the UK, although some jobs may be restricted to certain areas of the country or locations because of the nature of the work, for example environmental or conservation work.

Relocation may be necessary for career progression.

Scientists can work for a wide range of employers. Large companies outsource both specialist and routine scientific work, and there is an increase in the number of ‘spinout’ companies from universities. These trends have resulted in more scientists working for small or medium- sized companies and more opportunity to become self- employed or to start their own company.

Supervisory and management responsibilities may be available to more experienced scientists, and some scientists may become more involved in the commercial aspects of the work of a company.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Scientist that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

The Science Council
210 Euston Road
Tel: 020 7611 8754

SEMTA (Science Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance)
14 Upton Road
WD18 0JT
Tel: 0808 100 3682

Facts and Stats:

  • Dutch researchers have genetically altered plants so that bees produce foreign proteins in their nectar. They hope that the bees will create honey containing a variety of drugs or vaccines.

  • A Californian Company has just launched a motorised computer mouse that can give web surfers the sensation of texture - or other physical attributes - of items pictured on the internet.

  • A commercial satellite capable of distinguishing objects the size of a tea tray will soon be launched from the United States. The Ikonos-1 is the most powerful commercial imaging satellite yet built. Its parabolic lens will be able to resolve objects 80cm (32in) in length anywhere on Earth.

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