Research scientists that specialise in life sciences are employed by higher education institutions, government departments and commercial enterprises in the medical, pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetics, food and beverage industries.
These scientific research experts tend to specialise in one area of life sciences, such as botany, zoology, biology, microbiology, biochemistry, physiology and biomedical sciences.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be responsible for collecting scientific data through fieldwork, setting up experiments and conducting scientific investigations in controlled environments and natural settings.
Furthermore, you’ll be recording observations and correlating data, preparing detailed research reports for publication and collaborating with fellow researchers.
In order to thrive in this profession, you’ll need to keep up to date on the latest developments in your specialist area of life sciences. Some life sciences research scientists also work as lecturers in higher education institutions.
Salary & benefits
Life scientists that work in entry-level technician positions can earn salaries ranging between £15,000 and £25,000.
Research assistants with postgraduate qualifications can earn around £25,000 to £30,000 per annum, while senior research associates can earn up to £35,000 a year.
Experienced research scientists in senior academic positions can even earn as much as £65,000.
Working hours are fairly standard, with most people doing around 35-40 hours a week.
However, extra hours during weekends and national holidays are common in medical research facilities and pharmaceutical companies.
While an undergraduate honours degree in a relevant scientific discipline is acceptable, it is preferable to obtain a postgraduate qualification (MSc or PhD) in your chosen area of specialism, especially if you’re interested in a rapid climb up the promotional ladder.
It’s also advisable to gain a decent amount of practical work experience in academic settings or private research facilities before applying for entry-level positions.
Training & progression
Training and development is largely self-initiated, although some commercial employers may provide formal, structured training programmes.
If you haven’t obtained a postgraduate degree before entering this line of work, it may be advisable to study part-time whilst you gain ‘on-the-job’ experience. Obtaining advanced professional credentials can be critical for career progression.
The next step for most research scientists is to specialise in a particular area of life sciences. As your career progresses, you may move into team leader and management positions. It’s common for research scientists to specialise in commercial research and development or academic research activities.