School of Life Sciences

Career prospects

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Setting you up to succeed

Life sciences degrees cover a broad area of the natural world and medical fields, from marine ecosystems and environmental biology to biomedical science, biochemistry and genetics. This means that a degree in a life sciences subject can lead to an exciting range of careers.

Graduates with life sciences degrees are in high demand across the world, a demand that has been significantly increased by the Covid-19 pandemic and the urgent need to tackle climate change.

The Life Sciences 2030 Skills Strategy predicts that the life sciences sector could expand by over 130,000 jobs between 2020 and 2030.

Depending on which subject you study you may find that you secure a career involving travel around the world to assess and protect marine environments, in a specialist lab using cutting-edge equipment to develop vaccines or treatments for cancer and other diseases, or meeting the challenges in the biotechnology sector for sustainable production of everyday commodities.

Any degree in our School will furnish you with a range of skills that have utility across all fields of work. You will become adept at explaining difficult concepts to novice audiences via report writing, data interpretation, and oral presentations. You will learn to think critically, approach problems logically, and work as a team on solutions. These are skills that any workplace would benefit from.


Explore our Undergraduate courses Explore our Masters courses
Two people, a blurry one in the foreground with the focus on someone in the background, looking down microscopes in a lab.
A biomedical or biochemistry degree can open doors to roles in private and public sector research laboratories...
A blue image with two people swimming underwater, with some coral on the bottom left corner of the blue.
...while a marine biology degree can lead to jobs with a focus on conserving precious marine habitats.
What jobs will suit me?
  • For those focusing on biomedical sciences and molecular sciences, such as biochemistry or genetics, there are major pharmaceutical companies such as Astra Zeneca and Pfizer as well as biotechnology companies such as Novozymes. If you want to work in the public sector, then an accredited biomedical sciences degree can lead to a job in an NHS laboratory at Grade 5.
  • Marine biology graduates could move into careers from government service, for example with major government bodies such as Defra, or with environmental campaign charities such as Greenpeace or Wildlife Trusts.
  • If you’re not sure what you want to specialise in then there are plenty of other options open to you, including science communication, environmental consultancy, teaching at secondary school level, or research support roles in technical and administrative teams.

Careers

Public sector jobs

Careers in the public sector are numerous and varied. Along with central government departments there are also governmental bodies and institutions that are publicly-funded but cover more specialist areas of interest.

Public sector roles suitable for our life sciences graduates include:

  • Biomedical Scientist for Public Health England - This can involve working in specialist labs focusing on areas ranging from water quality, environmental research, or rare pathogens. After several years in the lab and completion of a Masters degree graduates often move up to senior levels, with greater responsibility and oversight of labs and research. Biomedical and Biochemistry graduates also make excellent candidates for Research Scientist roles at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).
  • Science Communication at Royal Botanical Gardens Kew - Science communication is a great field for who want to combine their passion for sciences with public awareness campaigns and outreach. In roles like these you work to inform stakeholders and the public on project and research outcomes through channels such as social media, website content, and printed publications.
  • Marine Advisor with Natural England – The British Isles are home to dozens of complex and rich marine ecosystems that needs to be protected and conserved for future generations. Working for a body such as Natural England will involve projects on conservation and/or recovery of marine environments, often working partnership with local industries. Such work is varied, involving regular travel to sites to review and research project activities, outcomes and impacts. Similar roles can also be found in the Marine Management Organisation.

For some career paths progression may need you to carry out further education at postgraduate level, such as a Masters degree or a PhD. Postgraduate degrees can be an essential requirement for more senior and specialist roles as they require more specific demonstrable expertise in your field of interest. Senior roles can include:

  • Portfolio management in a research council - Senior Portfolio Managers support innovation in fields such as life sciences research by allocating budgets for research and development. This can include overview of funding rounds, budget management of on-going projects, and assessing impact to ensure value for public money. It requires significant in-depth understanding of the research process, and the potential impacts of investment in areas of future development.
  • Senior Specialist – These roles and similar ones can be found in bodies such as Natural England and Defra. As a Senior Specialist your role will involve providing expert advice on your area of specialisation, such as fisheries or freshwater. You may not need a postgraduate degree, but you will need to demonstrate extensive experience of working in the particular field you’re applying for.
  • Programme or project manager – These roles can differ greatly between departments in terms of responsibility and pay. You may find you are dealing with a smaller or short-term project, or managing a large team of policy makers to ensure deadlines are reached. You can find roles like this with departments such as Defra, the Medical Research Council, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), or the Food Standards Agency.

Civil Service Fast Stream

The Fast Stream is the UK Civil Service graduate development scheme. There are fifteen different streams available to graduates at varying levels, for example the Digital, Data, Technology & Cyber stream only requires an undergraduate degree, while the Science and Engineering stream requires a high undergraduate qualification as well as a postgraduate degree in one of the sciences.

Successful candidates will start on an annual salary around £26,000 to £28,000 a year. On completing your chosen scheme you’ll be eligible for roles around £45,000 to £55,000 a year. 

Private sector jobs

There are a host of private sector organisations that welcome employees who have a life sciences degree. While pharmaceutical companies may seem like the obvious choice, employment can also be found with publishers, aquariums, water companies, and food provision organisations. Roles include:

  • Clinical Trial Assistant – Medical research is dependent on clinical trials to test the effectiveness and safety of a new drug or treatment. These roles will involve working with staff and trial participants to arrange appointments, maintain databases, and ensure that documents relating to trials are maintained accurately and stored securely.
  • Editor – Large publishing companies have divisions or teams that focus on specific genres. This can include non-fiction science books, such as textbooks for students, or collections of academic papers. This type of specialised editing needs someone with a scientific background who can understand the research and easily identify errors. You may find some publishers look for life sciences graduates, while others may require a specific degree such as biomedical science.
  • Marine Ecologist – Private and public organisations often turn to consultancy companies to carry out specific projects. As a marine ecologist in a consultancy organisation you could work on projects relating to the impact of offshore windfarms on local marine life, or report on the effect a new housing estate will have on nearby marine and freshwater ecosystems. These roles can also involve international travel to support teams in other countries.

The private sector also contains many senior roles that are suitable for candidates with a Masters or research degree. In some cases, a postgraduate degree will be an essential requirement for the role. These jobs can include:

  • Senior Medical Writer – In this role you’ll work on scientific content on a range of medical issues, such as breakthroughs in cancer treatments or the development of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. You’ll need to be able to work independently and oversee the work of staff in your team.
  • Insights and Strategy – Large companies need to think ahead to stay competitive. This role can involve horizon-scanning to identify potential future issues in life sciences fields and to begin scoping responses and solutions. A postgraduate degree is essential as you will need an in-depth understanding of your field.
  • Associate Scientist – Roles such as this are based in laboratories within private research companies. Here, you will oversee a team working on specific areas such as cancer biology or antibiotic development. You’ll design and oversee research processes, manage the data collected, and write up results and present them to colleagues and academics. These roles often require a PhD due to the advanced research you need to carry out.

The Third sector - NGOs, charities, and community initiatives

The Third sector is a term used for organisations and bodies that fall outside the scope of public sector and private sector, such as NGOs, charities, and community initiatives.

The broad scope of the Third sector means that there are many interesting and varied roles available to those who have completed a life sciences degree. You may find that you can apply your knowledge of marine ecosystems to fundraising campaigns for environmental charities, or that your experiences with biomedical science make you ideally placed to manage projects for charities researching medical issues.

Some examples of roles you can find in the Third Sector are:

  • Events or Outreach Co-ordinator – Organisations such as the Royal Society of Biology or the Biochemical Society will hold a series of events throughout the year to promote their activities and encourage networking among their members. This could involve prestigious annual lectures or conferences, a collection of workshops around a specific theme, or talks for the public to raise awareness of issues. Co-ordinators will help build a calendar of events, identify and invite speakers, and attend on the day to ensure everything runs smoothly.
  • Communications Officer – Many charities, such as those focused on medical and conservation issues, will have a communications team whose job is to raise their profile through the media. As a life sciences graduate you will have the knowledge to be able to translate complex scientific ideas and issues into press releases for journalists or for public awareness campaigns.
  • Research Officer – Large charities, particularly medical ones, often maintain research budgets to fund work into their area of interest, such as cancer or diabetes. Research Officers manage the administrative side of this. Depending on the role you may be identifying areas where funding could be improved, managing award grants to ensure that the charity’s aims are being met, or recruiting researchers for specific projects. Life sciences degrees are often an essential requirement for these roles as you must understand the nature of the medical condition and know how research into it is carried out.

Medicine

For some biomedical science graduates their undergraduate study can open the door to a medical degree. Your biomedical degree gives you a grounding in human physiology, immunology, and virology that can help with your application and show your commitment to this field.

Our School supports your pursuit of a medical career through practice interviews, advice on how to apply, and how to tailor your degree to help give you the experience to progress into medicine. Our graduates have progressed to study medicine at institutions including King’s College London, and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Teaching

The future of life sciences depends on children gaining an excellent grounding in the subject through their GCSEs and A-Levels. If you like the idea of educating future generations about the life sciences then a career in teaching may be suitable for you.

Bursaries of up to £10,000 are available for those who want to train to teach biology at secondary school level. The amount offered for bursaries can change each year and you may need a specific degree classification (such as a 1st or a 2:1) to qualify.

Our graduates

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Spotlight on...an environmental consultant

In this blog post Essex graduate Amie Lenkowiec talks about her career in marine biology and her current work as an environmental consultant.

Read the blog