Do you want to be the next Alexander Fleming (the man who discovered penicillin)? Well then, you need to get involved in medical research!
Medical research scientists engage in research and development work in the medical field, with the primary objective of finding cures and developing treatments for major diseases and other illnesses.
These scientific experts develop new medicines and improve existing drugs by reducing their side effects, or by producing new versions of the same product by using different organic and synthetic compounds. This profession may also involve conducting research experiments by using animal or human specimens for clinical testing.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be responsible for devising experiments, planning them meticulously, carrying them out and then recording your results. Then, it’s all about analysing your findings using specialist techniques and state-of-the-art software applications. Finally, you’ll be responsible for writing reports and presenting your findings to your colleagues and the rest of the scientific community.
Medical research scientists tend to be employed by pharmaceutical companies, medical science institutions, independent research and development labs and government organisations, such as the NHS.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries for candidates with a relevant BSc or MSc tend to be around £20,000 per annum, going up to around £25,000 to £35,000 for scientists with PhDs.
Medical scientists with more than five years’ experience, managerial responsibilities and specialist research expertise can earn up to £55,000 a year.
Research scientists often need to put in long hours, given the critical nature of their work in finding treatments for major health problems and diseases.
Market competition and profitability concerns for commercial establishments in this field may also mean that medical research scientists have to put in extra work – beyond the standard nine-to-five working schedule.
If you work in this area, you may also get the opportunity to travel from time to time, within the UK and abroad, for conferences, seminars, industry events and international projects, where direct collaboration is necessary.
A strong undergraduate degree (2:1 minimum) in a subject such as biology, chemistry, biochemistry, life sciences, pharmacology, genetic engineering, medicine, or microbiology, is generally the basic requirement for entry-level candidates.
However, obtaining a relevant MSc or PhD will give you an edge over other candidates and allow you to progress more quickly once you have started working.
Training & progression
In the academic world, your training will usually have been completed during your degree, before you’re hired for a full-time research position. However, if you secure a job with a private pharmaceutical company, you may receive structured training by gaining hands-on experience under the supervision of an accredited and experienced medical scientist.
Obtaining professional credentials and taking part in advanced learning programmes, which can be undertaken on a volunteer basis or occasionally under sponsorship from your employer, may often be necessary for further growth and progression within most companies’ organisational hierarchies.
Your success in this field will be determined by the success of your specific research projects. As you gain more experience, however, you may take on more of a supervisory or managerial role and take a step back from hands-on research activities.