Careers Service Occupations

Life Science

Life Science

About

There are nearly 5,000 life sciences companies in the UK, employing an estimated 175,000 people.

The UK is a leading life sciences producer and exporter with a large number of world-class companies specialising in research and development and biotech products. Much of the research is healthcare-related, such as developing new treatments to extend life expectancy.

In the North East, life sciences is a key sector, with more than 140,000 people working in biotechnology, healthcare and life science companies, and the NHS. The region’s dominance in the biotechnology sector is particularly significant, with the number of biotech companies doubling in three years.

Careers advice

Industry news

New Scientist and The Lancet are leading publications for life sciences.

The Nature Publishing Group is also a good source of news. 

PMLiVE provides pharmaceutical industry news. 

UK Lifescience Industry magazine and Laboratory News are also very useful.

Professional bodies

These represent people working in the sector, providing training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates.

They also provide development for people already working in the sector. Follow them and sector skills bodies on LinkedIn, or visit their websites for news, contacts, work experience and vacancies. 

Research councils

Sector skills councils/industry associations

Making contacts

Talking to people working in the sector can give you an insight into roles and can be useful for networking and making speculative applications.

You could start with: 

Social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, can also be useful for making contacts, finding employers and opportunities. Find out more about how to use social media for your career and subscribe to our Science Twitter list

Events

Recruitment fairs, open-days, talks and events give insight and opportunities to make contacts. Regular events for this sector include Employer Presentations and Recruitment Fairs.

For more events for this sector see External Events.

Related sectors 

You may also be interested in Healthcare or Science careers outside the lab.

Or see our other occupational pages for more options.

Roles & Skills

There are lots of opportunities open to you with a degree in life sciences. These range from academic research and healthcare science, to research and development and product development.

A postgraduate qualification is not essential for some roles, though a Master’s in a clinical or medical subject can be useful. However, for other roles, such as in academic research, you may need either a research Master’s or PhD.

The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties and entry requirements.

Life science

Research scientist (life sciences)

Research Scientist (medical)

Microbiologist

Scientific laboratory technician

Clinical research associate

Pharmacologist

Product/process development scientist

Teaching laboratory technician

Forensic scientist

Toxicologist

Cosmetic scientist

Healthcare science

Biomedical scientist

Healthcare scientist, audiology

Healthcare scientist, clinical biochemistry

Healthcare scientist, clinical embryology

Healthcare scientist, genomics

Healthcare scientist, haematology

Healthcare scientist, histocompatibility and immunogenetics

Healthcare scientist, immunology

Healthcare scientist, medical physics

Healthcare scientist, physiology

Skills employers look for

Employers in this sector look for skills including:

  • good practical laboratory skills and manual dexterity
  • an analytical and investigative mind and the ability to organise and carry out research
  • the ability to prioritise tasks, meet deadlines and work with minimum supervision
  • flexibility and the ability to work collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams
  • strong written and oral communication skills and the ability to communicate scientific information to non-experts
  • attention to detail and a logical and methodical approach to problem solving

Gaining Experience

Getting into life and healthcare science is extremely competitive. Work experience can be invaluable in developing relevant skills and demonstrating your commitment to recruiters.

Finding work experience

Several large employers, such as Unilever, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and P&G, offer internships and industrial placements. Applications generally open around September, with closing dates as early as October and November. For advertised opportunities, see Internships, placements & shadowing.

Smaller companies often don’t advertise opportunities. You may need to contact them with a speculative approach. Do this early, as it can be very competitive.

Several academic institutions and research institutes offer summer research projects to students. See scholarships and awards for funded research opportunities. 

Professional bodies and research councils also advertise opportunities, including clinical research, funding and studentships. See About for a list of organisations.

Biomed and beyond from the Careers Service includes information on work experience opportunities, including opportunities on campus.

Internships

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies sometimes advertise placements and internships. They also have a wealth of industry knowledge. The following are all based in the North East:

Finding companies

Find organisations that interest you and get in touch - always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for.

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

You can also find lab-based work experiencethrough contacting university departments. Check School noticeboards and contact science departments. They may be looking for any support staff or assistants during vacations or term time. The School of Biomedical Sciences at Newcastle offer paid part-time lab assistant posts within research laboratories to stage 2 students. These run during term-time from October to the end of semester two. 

Hospitals sometimes offer lab-based placements. Try approaching the principal clinical scientist in your local NHS trust hospital. You may have to go through the HR department.

Public Health England has regional offices across the UK. It’s also worth contacting their laboratories directly. 

Other ways to gain experience

All work experience is valuable so if you can't find lab-based work experience, why not try some of these alternative ideas for gaining skills and experience:

For more advice on gaining experience in a non-lab based environment, see Science careers outside the lab.

Scholarships & Awards

A limited number of funds are available to support science students in gaining related experience. Bursaries and funding for lab-based work experience have strict and often very early deadlines.

If you’re interested in a summer research project, you’ll need to first find a potential supervisor. This is usually someone in a university or research institute.

You could start by talking to your tutor or to a member of academic staff whose research you find of interest. In most cases, the application is made by your potential supervisor and not by you.

Deadlines listed here were accurate at time of writing but are subject to change. Check websites for specific details and for eligibility criteria.

Funded schemes include The Society for General Microbiology, which gives grants to members for specific purposes, including attending conferences. Deadlines vary depending on type of grant applied for.

BBSRC Research Experience Placements (REP) provides support for undergraduate summer research placements. To apply for a REP, contact the institution where you want to take a placement (not the BBSRC).

See also Vacation Studentship Schemes 2017 (PDF: 623KB) for a comprehensive list of schemes.

December deadlines

Kupcinet-Getz Program is an eight-week international science summer school in Israel for outstanding science students. Students will become part of a research group, attached to a laboratory or theoretical research project under the supervision of an experienced scientist. Accommodation and a small weekly stipend is provided.

January deadlines

John Innes Research Centre is an international summer school. It provides UK and non-UK students with the unique opportunity to spend the summer on their research programme in plant, microbial and computational biology.

The Physiological Society offer vacation studentships. These give undergraduates the opportunity to undertake a research project on an area of physiology over their summer break.

February deadlines

The Wellcome Trust offer biomedical vacation scholarships. Applications can be made through individual schools.

Amgen Scholars provides undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in a hands-on summer research experience at some of the world's leading institutions.

The Francis Crick Institute offers summer placements for life sciences students in their penultimate year of study.

The Biochemical Society provides vacation studentships for penultimate year undergraduates. Applications must be made by society members on your behalf.

The Royal Society of Biology lists undergraduate studentships.

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare offer animal welfare student scholarships. These are open to students from a range of disciplines including agricultural, biological, psychological, veterinary or zoological sciences, interested in carrying out a project in animal welfare. 

March deadlines

Newcastle University Research Studentships are opportunities for undergraduates to gain research experience.

The British Pharmacological Society offer vacation studentships and a number of other study awards.

Undergraduate summer studentships are available from the Medical Research Council. Students in the middle years of their undergraduate degree are eligible to apply. Successful applicants are matched with a research group to work and study in for the duration of their studentship, gaining laboratory experience and contributing to the work of the lab.

The Genetics Society gives financial support for undergraduate students interested in gaining research experience in any area of genetics.

Financial help is also available from the British Society for Cell Biology for high-calibre undergraduate students to help gain research experience in cell biology during the summer vacation. Applications must be made by your prospective supervisor.

The Society for Reproduction and Fertility offer vacation scholarships to enable particularly promising students to work during the summer vacation in university departments or research institutes. This is to work on research projects related to reproduction, fertility and lactation in humans and other animals. 

April deadlines

The Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) offer a students into work grant. This enables full society members to apply for fully funded studentships on behalf of students. See their website for details of additional grants and awards.

Undergraduate student bursaries are available from the British Mycology Society to give experience of research in any branch of mycology. The application must be made by the person who will supervise the research and not by the student.

Finding Jobs

Use the following resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.

Professional bodies and research councils also advertise graduate positions. See About for a list of organisations.

For further sources of vacancies in universities and research institutions, see Research in Academia

Vacancy sites (general)

Careers Service

See the Careers Service's Vacancies Online and also Graduate jobs.

Social media

You can find jobs listed on the LinkedIn: Student Jobs Portal.

NHS

Publications

Job sites

Jobs.ac.uk display vacancies in higher education and research.

Specialist

Pharmaceuticals

Vacancy sites (life sciences)

Animal technologist

Agenda Resource Management and Animal and Plant Health Agency list vacancies for the role of animal technologist.

Clinical research associate/Clinical trials manager

Cosmetic scientist

Cosmeticsbusiness.com is a cosmetics industry recruitment portal while Cosmetics Business also list vacancies.

Forensic scientist

LGC Forensics and Cellmark Forensic Services list jobs in for this particular role.

Laboratory technician

The Institute of Science Technology (IST) and Laboratory News have dedicated sections on their websites for vacancies.

Pharmacologist

Check out the British Pharmacological Society and Find a PostDoc for pharmacology posts.

Research Scientist (medical)

Toxicologist

The British Toxicology Society (BTS) is the place to look for roles in toxicology.

Vacancy sites (healthcare sciences)

For further sources of vacancies in healthcare science, see Healthcare

Biomedical scientist

The Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS) and Careerscene list biomedical science vacancies.

Clinical cytogeneticist/Clinical molecular geneticist

Find vacancies in clinical genetics by visiting the Association for Clinical Genetic Science and British Society for Genetic Medicine websites.

Clinical scientist, histocompatibility and immunogenetics

The British Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics lists jobs in this sector.

Haematologist

Hospital pharmacist

The Pharmaceutical Journal lists opportunities for employment as a hospital pharmacist.

Immunologist

Immunology roles are listed on the National Blood Service (NBS) and Public Health England websites.

Microbiologist

The Society for Applied Microbiology (SFAM) and Society for General Microbiology (SGM) display vacancies in this field.

Physiological scientist

Prosthetist and Orthotist

NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP)

To work as a healthcare scientist in the NHS, you need to complete the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). This is a graduate-entry training programme that leads to more senior scientist roles in the NHS.

Trainee healthcare scientists are employed by NHS Trusts on a three-year programme. This includes study for an approved and accredited Master’s degree in your chosen science specialism.

Entry on to the STP is highly competitive and you will need a first or 2:1 degree, or a 2:2 with a relevant Master's or PhD. Relevant work experience is helpful, as is involvement with research projects.

You apply for the STP through the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS). Recruitment usually takes place in January, but check the NSHCS website regularly for details.

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies often advertise graduate and entry-level positions. They also have a wealth of industry knowledge.

These agencies have a base in the North East, though also advertise across the UK and overseas:

Finding companies

Not all jobs are advertised. You could also approach organisations or find work through networking in the industry.

Find companies that interest you and get in touch - always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for.

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

In the North East: 

First For Pharma provides a list of companies involved with pharmaceuticals. The North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) has members including chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. It has a member directory (PDF, see page 200 for index of companies by sector).

Careers Service: North East Graduate Directory allows you to search for graduate employers in the North East who accept speculative applications.