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Science beyond the lab


As a science student, you might assume that your options for using your scientific knowledge on graduation either involve working in a laboratory or teaching.

You aren’t alone in that assumption but you couldn’t be more wrong! Here, we have chosen seven alternative careers for scientists, to give you a taster of what else is out there.

  • Science writing
  • Medical sales
  • Intellectual property including patent attorney work
  • Regulatory affairs
  • Medical writing
  • Bio and health informatics
  • Science policy

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PhD and masters students

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Spotlight On: Science Careers Beyond the Lab

We invited four professionals to talk to you about their roles outside the lab.

  • Lucy Aher (Neuroscience 2020), Sales Associate, ERT
  • Tom Harding (Applied Biomolecular Technology 2003), Patent Attorney, Potter Clarkson
  • Emma Mizen (Biochemistry 2019), Biology Teacher, Bourne Grammar School
  • Carolyn Simpson, Environmental Health Officer at Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead

Login to SharePoint to watch a recording of this event 

  • Alumni: Email us to gain access to the webinar

Icon of a video playing


Science writing – includes a short video on science communications

About the role

Science writers research, write and edit scientific news, articles and features in a range of different formats, including:

  • business, trade and professional publications
  • specialist scientific and technical journals
  • general media
  • promotional brochures
  • press releases
  • websites
  • podcasts and blogs
  • freelance writer 

As print media circulation falls, roles in traditional scientific journalism are reducing. However, there is a growing need for organisations to promote their research to the wider public (often a requirement of funders), so universities, NGOs, charities etc. are increasingly recruiting writers to produce blogs, write web articles and use social media.

Skills: Key skills include a flair for writing clear, compelling copy and the ability to find a good angle on a story. As an increasing number of writers are working on a freelance basis for a range of different employers, networking and business management skills are also important. 

Qualifications: Almost all science writers will have an undergraduate degree, but if you have the right skills, and substantial evidence of your talent (e.g. obtained through writing for the student media), a postgraduate qualification is not necessary.

However, an increasing number of entrants are undertaking a masters course in science journalism, writing or communication.

PhD students can acquire experience during their degree. Science blogging, outreach and public engagement activities offer opportunities to develop communication skills and experience.

Search the Prospects postgraduate courses database for relevant courses.


Spotlight On: Science Communication

Dr Tamela Maciel, Space Communications Manager at the National Space Centre, talks about her role and the skills and experience required for a career in science communication.


Typical employers

Employers include:

  • most major newspapers and news magazines
  • specialist publications with news sections e.g. Nature, Science
  • science, media and communications offices in universities, charities and other science-related organisations
  • science podcasts
  • broadcast media, including independent production companies

Vacancy sources

Much of the journalistic work in this field is undertaken on a freelance basis and is obtained through networking and speculative submissions.

However, there are also a number of relevant recruitment websites.

Gorkana Jobs - search for 'science' Association of British Science Writers - jobs (membership required) - media contacts for speculative applications Nature - search 'writer' New Scientist - search 'writer'


Medical sales – includes a short video about 'carrying the bag'

About the role

Medical sales representatives or ‘Reps’ are a key link between medical and pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals. They typically sell medicines, prescription drugs and medical equipment to GPs, hospital doctors, pharmacists and nurses, working to raise awareness and use of their company’s products.

Qualifications: Reps will usually specialise in a particular product or medical field and, while previous scientific knowledge is not always essential, degrees in subjects such as life sciences, pharmacy, medicine, nursing and dentistry can give you an advantage.

If a role requires very specific technical knowledge, it may be necessary to have a postgraduate qualification, but this is usually not a requirement.


Skills: In addition to your scientific knowledge, you will need to be an excellent communicator, with a persuasive manner, confidence and persistence. Flexibility and self-motivation, commercial and business awareness are also important. 


Spotlight On: Medical Sales Rep

Carwyn Jones, maths alumnus, talks about his first role as a medical sales rep, the training and progression routes. Carwyn is now a partner at Open Health, a healthcare communications group.




Patent attorney and intellectual property - includes UoN alumni video

About the role

Patent attorney

IP careers describe the the work of a patent attorney as drafting effective patents requires a unique combination of science, law and language. Working as a patent attorney requires a scientific background to understand new technologies and the ability to explain them to others. Intellectual property specialists Mewburn Ellis explain more about this interesting and rewarding profession.

A patent attorney is a member of a specialised legal profession who is qualified to advise clients about patents (and usually other intellectual property rights) and who assists them in obtaining patents granted by patent offices around the world. They may be employed ‘in-house’ by companies or work in private firms (just like solicitors).

If you work in a private firm, you will work for lots of different clients who might be individuals, universities, start-up companies, large corporations or overseas attorneys. A good patent attorney needs to be able to adapt to the different needs of a diverse client base and remain aware of new and emerging technologies.

You do not need a law degree – a degree in a science, engineering, technology or mathematics based subject is strongly preferred. A science/engineering background is required to enable you to understand a client’s invention. You will learn the necessary law on the job. This mix between science/engineering and law is one of the aspects that makes the role of the patent attorney such an interesting career. Training usually takes 4-5 years and you will be required to pass various professional exams to qualify as a Chartered Patent Attorney and a European Patent Attorney.

Intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) law is a growing practice area that protects creations of the human mind. These creations might include inventions that qualify for patent protection or literary and artistic works such as books, plays, music, and artwork. They can also include product names, slogans, logos, and packaging; symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce; and trade secrets.

What IP lawyers do:

  • Search domestic, European and international registers of patents, trademarks and registered designs to establish ownership of existing rights or the potential to register new rights.
  • Take all steps to protect clients’ interests by securing patents, trademarks and registered designs; appeal unfavourable decisions; attack decisions that benefit others but harm the lawyer’s own client.
  • Write letters to require that third parties desist from carrying out infringing activities or risk litigation for damages and an injunction.
  • Issue court proceedings and prepare cases for trial by taking witness statements, examining scientific or technical reports and commissioning experiments and tests. Junior lawyers may find themselves conducting consumer surveys and going on covert shopping expeditions.
  • Instruct and consult with barristers. Solicitor advocates can appear in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court; the advantages of having a specialist IP barrister for higher court hearings are obvious.
  • Draft commercial agreements between owners of IP rights and those who want to use the protected invention, design or artistic work. The most common documents will either transfer ownership or grant a licence for use.
  • Work as part of a multidisciplinary team on corporate transactions, verifying ownership of IP rights and drafting documents enabling their transfer.


Skills required for each role

Patent attorney

(Source: Prospects)

 Patent examiner

(Source: Prospects)

 IP analyst

(Source: Clearview IP)

An understanding of scientific and technological principles and processes The ability to apply scientific and technical knowledge to the concepts of patent law The ability to work alone, analysing and writing reports.
Excellent written and oral communication skills Excellent analytical and critical skills, and an eye of detail Comfortable with and curious about technical information across a range of technologies
Ability to express complex technical ideas clearly and concisely Ability to communicate convincing arguments, or justifying the granting or otherwise of a patent, in writing or orally Be clear thinking and rigorous in your analysis
An eye for detail and an analytical mind Negotiation skills Be organised and able to prioritise your caseload
Ability to structure a precise, coherent argument Flexibility of thought and ability to grasp unfamiliar concepts Discretion is a key skill
Ability to work with a wide variety of people Competence in IT, in order to search databases and check originality of inventions Self confidence to convey unwelcome advice to clients


Qualifications: To become a patent attorney you’ll need a degree (at least a 2.1) in a science, engineering, technical or maths-based subject. Degree requirements for a patent examiner will vary according to recruitment needs e.g. at the time of writing, the Intellectual Property Office was looking for a biotechnology graduate.

A postgraduate qualification is not required, although many patent attorneys have a PhD.

Spotlight On: Patent Attorney

Peter Mumford studied a PhD in Organic Chemistry and now works in a private practice specialising in pharmaceuticals. Peter talks about the routes into becoming a patent attorney and how your role develops into becoming a business adviser.

Also watch the video at the top of the page as Tom Harding is also a patent attorney.

Typical employers


Explore more...

Careers in Ideas - lots of resources on IP careers 

Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys – register of patent attorneys and jobs

Source Advisors - How to become an IP analyst

IP Inclusive - Making IP professions more diverse and accessible to everyone

IP Inclusive - Recording of a masterclass about applying to train as a patent or trademark attorney

Intellectual Property Office

Yellow Sheet blog - for student members of CIPA

Vacancy sources

Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys

Dawn Ellmore Employment - recruitment agency for patent, trade mark and legal roles

European Patent Office

Intellectual Property Office – recruitment pages

IP Careers - for advice and job vacancies

New Scientist – jobs

Sacco Mann - recruitment agency for legal and IP recruitment

World Intellectual Property Organization – careers pages


Regulatory affairs – includes a short video profile of a regulatory strategist

About the role

TOPRA (The Organisation for Professionals in Regulatory Affairs), defines regulatory affairs as

a comparatively new profession which developed from the desire of governments to protect public health by controlling the safety and efficacy of products in areas including pharmaceuticals, veterinary medicines, medical devices, pesticides, agrochemicals, cosmetics and complementary medicines.


It goes on to explain that ‘the regulatory professional’s job is to keep track of the ever-changing legislation in all the regions in which a pharmaceutical company wishes to distribute its products. They also advise on the legal and scientific restraints and requirements, and collect, collate and evaluate the scientific data their research and development colleagues are generating.’

Skills: As well as analytical skills, attention to detail and project management skills, you’ll need to be able to negotiate and arbitrate with a variety of people. You must also have an understanding of both legal and scientific matters and the ability to grasp new concepts quickly and to assimilate data from a range of scientific areas.

Qualifications: Relevant degrees include life, physical, mathematical, applied and medical sciences.

A postgraduate qualification is not essential but may be an advantage.



 Spotlight On: Regulatory Affairs

Emily De Lay, EU Regulatory Strategist, talks about her role and the skills you need to be successful. Emily, a Nottingham alumna, enjoys her job as she is able to combine her passion for science with a business mindset and an understanding of pharmaceutical law.

Typical employers


  • Pharmaceutical companies

The ABPI has developed a comprehensive list of pharmaceutical companies, their contact details and some of the areas they regularly recruit into. It is searchable by location, category, employment area and type of role e.g. internship, graduate training programme etc.

  • Large companies with training schemes

For example MSD and GSK run regulatory affairs graduate training schemes.

  • Large companies

Those that develop and manufacture other regulated products e.g. agrochemicals, medical devices, veterinary products etc.

  • Regulatory agencies

For example The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency



Medical writing

About the role

The European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) describes medical writing as ‘communicating clinical and scientific data and information to a range of audiences in a wide variety of different formats. Medical writers combine their knowledge of science and their research skills with an understanding of how to present information and pitch it at the right level for the intended audience.’

Depending on the employer, documents might include:

  • regulatory submissions i.e. protocols, clinical trial reports, clinical expert reports, patient information
  • preparation of manuscripts for publication in medical journals
  • training manuals and learning resources
  • promotional materials for websites
  • items for conferences i.e. posters, abstracts, slide presentations

Skills: A good understanding of anatomy and human physiology is important, and knowledge of diseases and their treatment is an advantage. As well as your scientific knowledge, you’ll need evidence of your excellent writing skills, ability to develop effective relationships with a wide range of individuals, and strong attention to detail. You must also be able to master complex ideas and translate them into the right language for your audience.

Qualifications: Most medical writers have a life sciences or health related degree qualification.

Many have a PhD, and some also have post-doctoral research experience, however this isn’t always a requirement.


Typical employers

  • Pharmaceutical companies

The ABPI has developed a comprehensive list of pharmaceutical companies, their contact details and some of the areas they regularly recruit into. It is searchable by location, category, employment area and type of role e.g. internship, graduate training programme etc.

  • Contract research organisations

These are service organisations that provide support to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries in the form of research services outsourced on a contract basis. The Clinical and Contract Research Association (CCRA) has a list of corporate profiles on its website

  • Medical communications or MedComms agencies

MedComms Networking provides a directory of MedComms companies

Vacancy sources

Speculative applications can certainly be effective in this sector.

Use your networking skills to identify possible opportunities.

There are also recruitment pages specialising in medical writing, which include:

NextMedComms MedComms Networking EMWA  New Scientist - search for ‘writer’


Bio and health informatics 

About the role

The European Bioinformatics Institute has an online course, ‘Bioinformatics for the terrified’, that defines bioinformatics as:

 the science of storing, retrieving and analysing large amounts of biological information. It is a highly interdisciplinary field involving many different types of specialists, including biologists, molecular life scientists, computer scientists and mathematicians


It goes on to define two further forms of informatics:

  • medical or health informatics – the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning
  • biomedical informatics – the interdisciplinary field that studies and pursues the effective uses of biomedical data, information, and knowledge for scientific enquiry, problem solving and decision making, motivated by efforts to improve human health.

A key difference is that bioinformatics deals with research data and uses it for research purposes, whereas medical informatics deals with data from individual patients for the purpose of clinical management. Biomedical informatics sits somewhere in the middle.

Typical roles fall into three broad categories, with some overlap:

  • Bioinformatics researcher/scientist – an individual who uses computational methods to advance scientific understanding of living systems.
  • Bioinformatics analyst – an individual who performs the analysis either for their own research or for other scientists.
  • Bioinformatics engineer – an individual who creates the novel computational methods needed.

Another possible job title in this field is bioinformatician.

Skills: Include strong statistical and computational skills; an imaginative interest in using IT and information; analytical and problem solving skills; meticulous attention to detail; the ability to work with others in multidisciplinary teams; the ability to present large amounts of information in a clear manner.


Most bioinformatics researchers and analysts will have a relevant masters qualification or PhD.


Search the Prospects postgraduate courses database for specialist courses. It is possible to enter the industry either with a computer science specialism combined with strong biological knowledge or a biological science specialism and strong computing skills.

More about the roles

As bioinformatics is still a developing industry in the UK, much of the existing online career advice and information is US based and comes from the surge in bioinformatics they experienced a few years ago.

However, the following resources will give you a more up-to-date overview of the sector:

Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics - what is bioinformatics? NHS - clinical bioinformatics NHS Scientist Training Programme - new health informatics specialism European Bioinformatics Institute -  industry news and jobs


Typical employers

  • Pharmaceutical companies, usually in R&D or IT departments, or within specific therapeutic areas.

The ABPI has developed a comprehensive list of pharmaceutical companies, their contact details and some of the areas they regularly recruit into. It is searchable by location, category, employment area and type of role e.g. internship, graduate training programme etc.

  • Biotech companies

For a list of biotech companies, searchable by sector, visit the UK Biotech database.

  • Software companies

Those that specialise in bioinformatics, for example, Partek, Qiagen, Illumina, Oxford Nanopore Technologies. Search Google to identify other relevant companies.

  • Universities

  • Research Institute

For example the Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute Wellcome Trust and Genomics England 

  • Medical research charities

Search the Association of Medical Research Charities member directory for a list of organisations.

Vacancy sources

Employers in this area are positive towards speculative applications from candidates with the right skills and experience.

Research the organisations you would like to work for and build your network of contacts – use them to investigate possible opportunities for employment. - academic jobs New Scientist Sanger Institute European Bioinformatics Nature


Science policy

Spotlight On: Science Policy

We invited three science policy professionals and UoN alumni to talk to you about their roles.

  • Alasdair Taylor, Head of Policy (Research Sustainability), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Dr Sam Gaines, Head - Companion Animal Science and Policy, RSPCA
  • Roya Ziaie, Policy Advisor (Covid-19 Vaccine), Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

Log into SharePoint to watch a recording of this event 

  • Alumni: Email us to gain access to the webinar

Icon of a video playing


About this area of work

Science policy involves communicating scientific knowledge to Government and the public, to inform and assist in policy formulation. Policy topics are diverse, ranging from vaccination campaigns to common agricultural policy or biodiversity.

Skills: To be successful in a science policy role, you must have an enthusiasm for science and its relevance to society combined with knowledge of business and politics. Key skills include the ability to work collaboratively and to explain complex scientific issues to a lay audience. Adaptability is also important as you may be involved with a wide variety of topics.

Qualifications: A relevant science degree is required. 

A postgraduate qualification is desirable. Successful applicants often have a PhD. The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) runs various fellowship schemes through which PhD students can undertake a three month placement.



Typical employers


  • Professional bodies

The Directory of the Professions produces a list of scientific professional bodies

  • Government departments and organisations

Find a full list of government organisations

  • Parliaments, for example, Westminster, EU

The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) runs various fellowship schemes through which PhD students can undertake a three month placement with them

  • Research Councils

For example, the Medical Research Council (MRC) offers studentships to postgraduate researchers

  • Charities

For example, the Association of Medical Research Charities has a member directory

Vacancy sources

Policy jobs are not regularly advertised, so there is significant value in making a speculative approach to organisations that interest you.

Build your network of contacts in those organisations and this will enhance your chances of hearing about possible opportunities and making successful applications.

Civil Service Science and Engineering Fast Stream Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology New Scientist – jobs Times Higher Education – jobs



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