Types of jobs:

University Research (Academia)

An academic career can offer the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of knowledge in an area in which you are passionately interested. It can be a career that gives you a high degree of flexibility and autonomy, whilst working in an intellectually stimulating environment. On the flipside, a career in academia can mean the insecurity of a succession of fixed-term contracts in search of a permanent research post or lectureship. In addition to this, a heavy administration load and the constant drive to get work published and attract funding are commonly cited as downsides of an academic’s workload.

Many academics choose to spend at least part of their academic career overseas.  Depending on the field of research, moving to a university in a different country from where one previously worked or studied can strengthen an academic CV and provide more opportunities.  

In more scientific subjects the route towards an academic career might be as follows: PhD; postdoctoral research post/s (typically 4-6 years); lectureship (combining leading a research group with teaching). A PhD is a virtually essential prerequisite for an academic career.

Postdoc: typically fixed-term contracts of 1-3 years. Postdocs pursue their research, usually closely related to their PhD topic and build their expertise and reputation through publications and attending conferences. Many researchers are focused on their research activities, but if you want to succeed in an academic career, you also need to build a portfolio of teaching experience.

Postdocs are likely to become involved in grant applications as their career progresses and may be responsible for one or more PhD students.

Fellowships: once you have spent some time as a postdoc, it is possible to apply for fellowship grants which will fund you to complete research in your field of expertise.  These are very competitive, but if successful, can allow you to spend 3-5 years pursuing your own research and can significantly enhance your chances of obtaining a lectureship.

Principle Investigator (PI): Some researchers continue to apply for and secure their own funding, eventually recruiting other researchers themselves and leading their own research group.  This role is often attractive as it may not include teaching responsibilities, but many PIs can have the same instability as post docs, constantly seeking funding to secure their own, and others’, salaries.

Lectureship:  A lectureship is usually a research-focused post, with responsibility for leading a research group and attracting funding, combined with teaching responsibilities. A senior lecturer and reader are likely to have established an international reputation in their area of specialism in order to achieve this promotion. The top title for an academic is that of professor – professors are leaders in their field, and likely to have significant managerial responsibility within their department and possibly the wider university. Only a tiny percentage of PhDs make it to the professor stage in an academic career.

Successful academics require the following skills and characteristics:

•Capacity for original research.

•Expertise and passion for their subject area.

•Ability to inspire interest in their area of specialist research.

•Excellent analytical skills.

•Excellent communication skills – written, verbal, persuading, negotiating, networking.

•Proactive and self-motivated.

•Ability to organise workload to meet competing demands.

•Evidence of published research and participation at conferences and seminars.

•A successful track record of attracting funding via grant-proposals and external collaboration.

•Proven teaching experience.


PhD students and Research Staff contemplating an academic career should aim to take every opportunity to:

•Attend conferences and seminars.

•Publish their doctoral work.

•Visit/collaborate with other research groups.

•Get involved in teaching.

•Get involved in funding proposals or reviewing journal articles. 

•Talk to academics! In many subject areas the key academics are a fairly small group of people. Make contacts wherever you can and get your name known. 


Research institutes and government agencies

A career in a research institute or government agency might give you the opportunity to pursue your research interests without the teaching and administrative load associated with academic posts. The availability of opportunities varies according to subject, and may be found in government departments, government agencies or in institutions associated with charities, often medical.


Industrial research and development

An industrial research career could allow your scientific work to lead to commercial applications. Timescales can be much shorter than in academic institutions, and you may see a more immediate impact or use of your work. However, commercial considerations may lead to scientifically interesting projects being abandoned. Many large industrial companies recruit new graduates into science roles. There may also be opportunities in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in areas such as biotechnology. In many organisations and industries it can prove very difficult to progress within R&D to junior management positions without a doctorate. This is particularly the case in the major pharmaceutical companies. However you do not necessarily need a PhD to work in R&D. 

The usual path is moving from university to an R&D post, whether in manufacturing industry or government labs. In many pharmaceutical research laboratories PhDs are recruited with the intention that they should spend the major part of their career in research, often acquiring increasing responsibility for project management over the years.

Working in R&D involves research and problem-solving skills, painstaking analysis, technical ability and teamwork. The ability to think innovatively and good communication skills are also important. Often progress is slow, so patience, self-motivation and resilience are also key attributes.


Hospitals and Diagnostic Laboratories

For those interested in medical science, a hospital setting or a diagnostic laboratory can also offer a rewarding career in scientific areas such as microbiology, clinical biochemistry, neuroscience, clinical cytogenetics, clinical molecular genetics, etc.

Clinical laboratory personnel are responsible for testing patient samples and interpreting the results for medical staff. In hospitals, they work as part of a medical team that is responsible for investigating and diagnosing patient illnesses.

The role involves spending most of the time in the laboratory analysing specimens of blood, tissues or urine via computer-aided and automated testing procedures, molecular biology techniques, cultures, etc.


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