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. 

Laboratory News is 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

Find professional bodies outside of the UK on GoinGlobal by selecting ‘Professional and Personal Networking’ on each of the individual country guides.

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: 

  • NCL Spark – our online mentoring platform, with graduates happy to give you advice about the kind of work they do
  • Newcastle alumni on LinkedIn – find out what they did after graduation and contact them for advice and inspiration
  • ResearchGATE - professional online network for researchers across scientific disciplines
  • NHS Research and Development Forum - for those managing and supporting research and development in health and social care 

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.

The Royal Society of Biology run an annual Bioscience Careers Day in October, with talks from experts working in a range of careers and a chance to meet with bioscience professionals and other students from across the UK. 

Nature, international journal of science, organises an annual Careers Live event in October aimed at science graduates and researchers. It's free to attend and features exhibitors from academic, life and clinical science organisations, plus talks and workshops. This year's event is on 3 October 2019 in London.

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 Sector-specific 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

Biotechnologist

Nanotechnologist

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, 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

In a recent analysis of the life science labour market in the North of England, companies were asked to list the employability skills they felt were lacking in science and technology applicants. Commercial awareness came top with over 30% highlighting it as a key issue, while work experience (28%), problem-solving skills (20%) and communication skills (19%) were also considered to be lacking in candidates.

The skills and qualities employers felt would be most valuable for applicants to develop in the coming years included empathy, drive, ability to see the bigger picture, communication skills, commercial awareness, work experience and IT skills (particularly in data analysis and artificial intelligence). 

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 experience through 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, Nutritional and Sport Sciences at Newcastle offers 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.

Funded schemes include the Harry Smith Vacation Studentship offered by The Society for General Microbiology. The Society also gives grants to members for specific purposes, including attending conferences. Deadlines vary depending on the 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 (students cannot apply directly to BBSRC).

The Royal Society of Biology also lists undergraduate studentships.

If you're interested in neuroscience, the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University offers a summer school scheme for current undergraduate students who want to learn more about research techniques. The summer school is unpaid, but the Institute lists organisations who may be able to provide financial support.   

See also Vacation Studentship Schemes 2019 (PDF: 215KB) for a comprehensive list of schemes. 

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

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 offers a funded 8 week 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. 

February deadlines

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

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.

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 summer vacation studentships for penultimate year undergraduates. Applications must be made by society members on your behalf.

The Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) offer a Student Placement Scholarship. 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.

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

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

Undergraduate summer studentships are available from the Medical Research Council's London Institute of Medical Sciences. 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

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.

Employers in the life science sector use a wide variety of methods to recruit staff. A recent analysis of the life science labour market in the North of England‌ found that:

  • 45% advertised their vacancies through recruitment agencies
  • 26% used university vacancy sites, such as My Career, to recruit graduates
  • 24% recruited from speculative applications

A further 17% of employers advertised on graduate vacancy sites, such as the ones listed below, and 7% used social media to recruit.

Several large employers, such as Unilever, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, offer structured graduate programmes, typically lasting 1- 2 years. Applications generally open almost a year ahead, around August or September, with closing dates as early as October and November. These tend to be advertised on university or graduate job sites.

Smaller companies often don’t advertise opportunities. It’s worth contacting them with a speculative approach - see the section Finding companies below to help you get started.

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

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

To find opportunities outside the UK, see GoinGlobal and International Jobs.

Specialist recruitment agencies

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

North East-based

(Though also advertise across the UK and overseas)

UK and overseas

Finding companies

Not all jobs are advertised. You could also approach organisations with a speculative approach 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/North

UK Science Park Association – includes Newcastle Helix, the Wilton Centre and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in the North East.

First For Pharma provides a list of companies involved with pharmaceuticals.

The North East Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC) has a members directory including chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. 

BioNOW lists biomedical and life science companies in the North of England in their member directory.

In the UK

You can also find organisations on My Career - click on ‘search organisations’ under the Vacancies tab.