A guide to a career in life sciences
By: Matthew Pitcher 21st December 2016

A Career in Life Sciences – Things to Know

If you’ve always had an affinity with life sciences, you may have decided to pursue a career in the industry, but what next?

Life sciences are numerous, and the jobs within them even more so, so picking a career path can be daunting. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to a career in life sciences, including the key things to know, steps to take, and how to get to where you want to be.

Choose the Right Path

As we mentioned before, the sheer number of different life science careers available can be overwhelming. In order to choose the right path for you, you’ll have to think about what you want from a career; do you want a job that will allow you to travel, work in a team or alone, spend time with loved ones, take home a good salary, but work long hours?

Think about the different skills you excel at; a career in life sciences doesn’t just mean research or teaching. If you love to write too, you could enjoy a career as a journalist or journal editor – there are hundreds of options available that can utilise all manner of skills.

While all of these are important things to consider, the most important aspect is finding a job you enjoy. No high salary or amount of recognition will make up for it if you’re stuck doing a job you hate.

Know Your Options

By no means an exhaustive list, this is a general guide to the huge variety of life science careers open to you:

Research

One of the most obvious choices for those seeking a career in the life sciences, academic research is the path for those who love to learn and want to keep learning throughout their career.

Research can cover anything from studying the basic building blocks of life to finding a cure for a terminal illness – either way it’s likely you’ll be having an impact on human life as we know it.

However, it’s important to note that these things don’t happen overnight; research can often take years of long hours and hard work with whole careers dedicated to one small breakthrough. Whether you choose to follow a career in basic research, clinical research, or population-based research, this is the career for those who excel in an academic setting, and whose curiosity for their chosen topic is insatiable.

Career options: research scientist, administrator, faculty member, technician

Medicine

Another of the more popular choices for those passionate about life sciences, a role in medicine is one of the most rewarding careers you can choose in terms of having a direct impact on people’s lives and getting to see first-hand the difference you’re making.

While most careers in life sciences require a high level of (and ongoing) education, medical training is one of the most intense in terms of hours, information you will be required to learn, and responsibility. While salaries are often high, once you start working the hours can be punishing and the work both physically and emotionally demanding.

However, most medical professionals will tell you that the benefits far outweigh the downsides; being able to directly help people and see them improve and recover because of the work you’ve done often makes up for everything else.

Career options: doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, surgeon, anaesthetist, psychiatrist – with so many different specialities, the list is endless!

Education

If you love the idea of shaping the next great scientific minds of the future, then a career in life sciences education might be for you.

While syllabuses are often laid out for teachers, you won’t necessarily be teaching the same thing over and over again; teachers are required to keep up-to-date with new findings and information that can then be worked into a curriculum, especially if you’re working in higher education, so keeping yourself educated is also key.

Working in education can be highly rewarding and new ways of thinking and teaching are leading to a much more interactive way of learning, so don’t be put off by the idea of giving long and boring lectures. If you work at undergraduate or postgraduate level, there is also, more often than not, a chance to combine both research and teaching – perfect if you’re interested by both.

Career options: primary or secondary school teacher, college tutor, university lecturer, lab technician

Journalism, Technical Writing & Editing

People often don’t consider that something as technical as a career in life sciences can go hand-in-hand with something as creative as writing, but that’s just what’s on offer if you choose a career in life sciences journalism or working for a journal.

Try to decide what it is you most love writing about. If you love the idea of keeping abreast of the latest research and documenting it for other life sciences professionals then a career at a journal or trade magazine might be for you. If you love the idea of getting the public interested in science then science journalism for a news outlet or other source might be a better fit.

Bear in mind the different skills required for each of these; journalists writing for the general public will have to be adept at making often complex theories and research understandable to those who have no prior knowledge of the topic, while technical writing can be more, well, technical!

If you find yourself to be very persuasive on paper and able to understand new ideas quickly, you could also lend your skills to a career as a fundraiser or proposal writer.

Career options: Journal editor, journalist, educational content creator, fundraiser, technical writer

Private Industry

Rather than working for an educational institution or charity, a career in the biotechnology industry means working for a private company.

There are many pros and cons to this sort of career and each is worth contemplating. For example, as a researcher or scientist employed by a company you will be working towards projects that need to be productive or profitable for that company. This means that the work can often be much more fast-paced and exciting than working in a research institute, but also that you may be put under much higher pressure or find that your project will be terminated if the company deems it to be unproductive.

It’s also important to consider that any work you do will be with the goal of making profit for the company, so many companies require measures to be taken to protect their intellectual property before allowing you to publish your research.

On the other hand, projects are often better funded and more collaborative than working elsewhere, which can lead to faster and bigger breakthroughs, as well as offering the chance to work with great teams for better rates of pay.

Career options: biotechnologist, researcher, medical science liaison, clinician

Get Experience and Understanding

Once you’ve decided what matters most to you and what career you’d most like to pursue, the next step is finding out as much about your chosen career as possible. Research, meet scientists or others working in your chosen field, or try internships and work experience to get as much hands-on understanding as you can get before making your final choice.

Remember, no matter which position you choose, you’ll likely be faced with a lot of hard work and years of education, so make sure you’re happy with your choice before you embark on your new career.

That’s not to say you can’t change your mind, but the earlier you start the better – best wishes and good luck!