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Research scientist

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Research scientists plan and carry out experiments and investigations to broaden scientific knowledge.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £14,000 to £60,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 35 to 40 per week

1. Entry requirements

You'll usually need at least a 2:1 degree in a relevant science subject. Most research scientists also have a postgraduate qualification like an MSc, an MSci or MBiol. Many employers prefer you to have, or be working towards, a PhD.

There are several ways to get a postgraduate qualification, including:

Research Councils and industrial companies sometimes work together to offer CASE studentships (formerly Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering). This would allow you to work towards a PhD while getting practical research experience in industry.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), which gives you the opportunity to run a research project together with an industrial organisation and a university or research body.

Experience of working in a research environment could also help you find employment.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • research and analytical skills
  • excellent communication and presentation skills
  • teaching ability

3. What you'll do

As a research scientist you may work in industry research and development (R&D) for a university research department, in government labs or for defence companies. You'll work in one of the subject areas covered by scientific research, including:

  • life sciences (physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, plant sciences)
  • Earth sciences (geology, meteorology, oceanography)
  • medical research
  • physical sciences (chemistry, physics, mathematics, materials science, geoscience)
  • industrial science, like food and petrochemicals
  • research and development in the textiles industry

The nature of your work will depend on your specialism, but may include:

  • drawing up research proposals and applying for funding
  • planning and carrying out experiments
  • keeping accurate records of results
  • analysing results and data
  • presenting findings in scientific journals, books or at conferences
  • carrying out fieldwork (collecting samples and monitoring environmental factors)
  • developing new products or ways of applying new discoveries
  • improving manufacturing production methods
  • testing products or materials
  • teaching or lecturing

You'll usually work in a team with other scientists, technicians and support staff.

4. Salary

Starter: £14,000

Experienced: £23,000 to £42,000

Highly Experienced: £60,000 or more

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

In a university research department you'll normally work 35 hours a week, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. In industry you may need to fit in with shift patterns. This could include working in the evening, at the weekend or on public holidays.

You may be based in a laboratory or an industrial plant, with outdoor work collecting samples or doing fieldwork.

You may work with hazardous or toxic materials, or with animals and animal-based products. You would need to know health and safety regulations and may wear protective clothing and equipment.

6. Career path and progression

As a scientist with research councils and institutes or in industry, you could progress to a senior research or laboratory management position.

In an academic post, once you've gained experience and published original research, you could progress to senior research fellow or professor, leading your own team.

You could demonstrate your commitment to professional development and work towards professional recognition like Chartered Scientist status.

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Last updated: 13 September 2018