A rare species of scientist, immunologists occupy a small, specialised niche and present a new way of looking at disease. For immunologists, terms like cytokines and lymphocyte receptors make absolute sense. These boffins can tell their immunodeficiency from their hypersensitivity, their vasculitis from their connective tissue disorders.
To put it very simply, an immunologist researches and investigates the immune system. Immunologists use and spearhead the latest scientific research to develop treatments, products and new therapies for diseases and illnesses.
They might be employed by the NHS, universities or in the pharmaceutical and biotechnical industry.
Immunologists are specialists in using complex molecular techniques to treat diseases and seek to understand inappropriate simulation which might affect conditions like allergies, transplant rejection and immunodeficiencies.
Of course, their day to day responsibilities will depend on the area in which they work, with industrial immunologists focusing on product development, clinical immunologists dealing directly with patients and academic immunologists concentrating on the research side.
Salary & benefits
Immunologists working for the NHS will command starting salaries of £25,000, ranging up to £97,000 depending on career progression and experience.
Those not working for the NHS might be looking at starting salaries of between £20,000 and £30,000, rising to between £27,000 and £37,000 with more experience.
Senior immunologists might expect to earn between £40,000 and £60,000+.
Along with job responsibilities and salaries, working hours will very much depend on the sector. Longer and unsocial hours might be expected in some sectors, with academia offering the most flexible working hours.
To become a clinical immunologist, the clinical scientist route is open to top-notch graduates. The NHS Scientist Training Scheme offers 200 posts in physics, life sciences and engineering and physiological sciences.
Those wishing to enter immunology can apply to the blood sciences and cellular sciences pathway of the scheme and, if accepted, will be placed on a three year training programme and study for a Master’s degree.
It’s extremely competitive to get onto the training scheme, even with a life sciences or biomedical degree. Strong academic results and relevant work experience will really help your application. Some gain an MSc or a PhD in a relevant subject to try and improve their chances.
Otherwise, a good biomedical degree accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Scientists is the basic qualification that a trainee biomedical scientist will need, or a life science degree complemented with biomedical modules. Most trainee immunologists will have undertook a postgraduate qualification, such as an MSc or PhD, particularly if they aim to work in the HE sector.
Really, there isn’t a non-university route into immunology. It is possible for people to secure a technician position, but they’ll still need to study for relevant qualifications if they want to become an immunologist.
Training & progression
As immunology is positioned right at the cutting edge of medical research, immunologists will never really stop training. They’ll constantly be learning to keep abreast of new research and developments in the field.
In the NHS, there is a clear set career path for clinical immunologists with most aiming to becoming consultants.
Industry immunologists might progress to more managerial roles, whilst academic immunologists might seek lectureships and may eventually ascend to the professorial level.