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Scientist looking at a red liquid in a conical flask

Overview of life science careers

Often when we think of a career in science, our thoughts are limited to what we’ve seen depicted on TV and this often seems to revolve around working in a laboratory.

This is certainly one major area that life scientists do go into and having worked in a laboratory myself for several years, I can assure you that life in the lab is never dull. There are two main types of laboratory – diagnostic and research. Diagnostic labs are often associated with the health services and can be biochemical, microbiology, genetics amongst others. The main focus is getting accurate and timely results to patients in order to enhance their care. Research labs on the other hand can be based in universities, in small biotechnology firms or in major pharmaceutical companies. In this type of lab work you would typically be working on specific projects, trying to devise and answer hypothesis. You would expect to present your findings to other scientists, often through writing up research papers for publication or by oral or poster presentation at conferences – these can be international and provide an excellent opportunity to travel.

However, life science careers can be as varied as the subject themselves and you could find yourself doing anything from monitoring the breeding habits of rats to performing experiments with school children in local science centres and everything in between. Sales, marketing, and product design careers are all possibilities especially within the buoyant life technology industries. Environmental monitoring and quality assurance and control, for example within the food industry are further types of employment that you might not even have considered.

Many graduates do go on to do further study, whether this is at masters or PhD level. Some even choose to do a second degree in a more directly vocational subject such as medicine or physiotherapy. A good proportion of graduates also enter teaching after having taken an appropriate post graduate qualification.

Where you end up working will partly be down to chance, but there are many steps you can take before and during your degree to ensure you don’t just drift into a career. Things like work experience, summer internships and short projects are all ways you can not only enhance your own CV but also get a taster for the type of career you might be interested in. We’ll look more at this in next weeks’ sessions but in the meantime we’ll talk to life-science graduates in a range of different careers. Throughout this section we will have lots of links to relevant websites but please do post any more that you find.

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This article is from the free online course:

So You Want to Study Life Science?

University of Glasgow

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