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Alternative careers for science graduates

Tony Hadlow

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room - the title of this article presupposes that there is a set career path for science graduates, which, in many cases, clearly isn’t true. Scientists can be found in a range of careers, from the more predictable ones, such as pharmaceutical research, to some you mightn’t have considered, such as visual effects consulting.

In this article, we’ll look at jobs outside of the lab (but still within the science sector) and jobs that will put your analytical skills to use in some surprising settings. As you read, it could be encouraging to bear in mind that almost half of all graduate jobs in Australia are open to students with any degree. So, even as the most specialised scientist, your options are wider than you might think.

Out of the lab, but still in the science sector

Whether you studied minerals or microbiology, the chances are that you’ve endured your fair share of three hour labs. Some students thrive on the intensely focused atmosphere of laboratory research, while others, quite understandably, find it stifling, understimulating or dull.

The good news for graduates in the latter category is that some of the most important and exciting science takes place outside of lab. From Darwin to Goodal, the history of science is full of meaningful contributions made in the field. So - while it might be too late for you to take credit for the theory of evolution - there are still a host of careers you can pursue without first putting on a white lab coat. Before brainstorming, think about how you might leverage what you’ve learned within your specific field. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Field research scientist
  • Quality control technician
  • Dietician
  • Civil service administrator
  • Technical sales executive
  • Academic
  • Forensic scientist
  • Conservation officer
  • Meteorologist
  • Hydrologist
  • Data analyst
  • Pharmaceutical research
  • Audiologist
  • Diver
  • Sonographer
  • IT systems analyst
  • Microbiologist
  • Bioinformatician
  • Ecologist

Careers where a knowledge of science is advantageous

We now turn to jobs outside of the science sector, but in which your knowledge of science will be advantageous.

Here, one of the most popular career choices is that of the scientific journalist or writer. The world has great need of people who are able to communicate the findings of science in a way that lay audiences can appreciate and understand. So if you’re a talented writer or presenter, you might considering positioning yourself to share the exciting developments of your field and, in doing so, advance the cause of science outside of the (often insular) scientific community.

Alternatively, you might consider completing a postgraduate degree or diploma so that you can apply your scientific knowledge in non-scientific disciplines. For example, with appropriate training, you might become a patent attorney and use your technical know-how to help clients assert or defend their intellectual property. Other possible careers include:

  • Science teacher
  • Law (you may choose to specialise in a field that builds on your scientific training, such as environmental law, medical law or product liability law)
  • Human Resources (for a scientific organisation)
  • Sales and marketing (in a scientific or pharmaceutical organisation)
  • Visual effects artist in film or TV

Careers which use your generic skills

With its emphasis on patient problem solving, creative experimentation and data analysis, the scientific mindset is well-suited to a range of careers which mightn’t necessarily draw on your scientific expertise.

For example, consulting is a career in which you can apply your critical and creative thinking skills to a range of business problems, helping client organisations to minimise inefficiency while maximising profitability and performance. Science graduates are particularly valued in consultancy firms because they’ve been trained to approach complex challenges with an openness to novel solutions.

Bear in mind that, if prospective employers aren’t investing in the specifics of your scientific training, they’re likely to place more emphasis on your academic results as evidence that you’ve developed generic graduate skills. In an interview situation, you should be ready to relate these skills to the target job description, and, by doing so, convince recruiters that your background is relevant and valuable to their organisation.

Of course, before applying for non-scientific jobs or attending interviews for them, it’s helpful to revise what exactly your ‘generic skills’ are. Different institutions will have different criteria, and you should check your course description to see what it identifies as its target outcomes. For example, University of Sydney graduates are expected to have developed the following generic skills by the end of their science degrees:

  • Research and inquiry: analysing information, thinking critically, solving problems, disseminating (communicating) what you have found out
  • Communication and interpersonal: oral, written and non-verbal; teamwork, leadership and networking
  • Information literacy: knowing when there is a need for information, being able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use and cite the information; ability to use IT
  • Personal and intellectual autonomy: self-management, learning independently and setting goals
  • Ethical, social and professional understanding: knowing your role as a professional scientist, your personal identity and ethics

Clearly, there are a variety of jobs in which these skills would be highly valued. While it would be impossible to provide an exhaustive list in this article, we hope the following ideas help you get started:

  • Business analyst
  • Market research
  • Public relations manager
  • Public servant
  • Consultant
  • Curator
  • Urban planner
  • Pilot
  • Logistician
  • Filmmaker
  • Librarian
  • Set designer
  • NGO advocate
  • Police officer
  • Customs official
  • Counsellor
  • Advertising creative
  • Nursery worker