Uncertain what to do next? – Career Options for Life Science Graduates

Science and education iconsWondered what to do after completing a degree in the Life Sciences? Have you considered the variety of opportunities available for you after you graduate? Over the next weeks, we will showcase a range of career options open to graduates of different disciplines with guest posts from professionals in some of the sectors. However, as scientists, we will start with some of common and not-so-common career options available to life sciences graduates and in some cases to non–graduates interested in working in the life sciences.

Teaching – Teaching remains one of the oldest and long standing professions. Be it primary or secondary school teaching, we have come across many people who have commented on how exciting and rewarding teaching can be although like any other career, it comes with its challenges. To work as a teacher in either primary level or high school, you will need patience. If you do not like children, perhaps teaching may not be the best fit for you. There is always a need for teachers with a science background and with the declining number of people taking mathematics, there is a big gap to fill in the STEM subjects. To qualify for a job as a teacher, beyond your degree (2.2 or above), you will need to enrol on a teacher training program. Check out Routes into teaching (UK) for more information. If you would like to teach abroad, do some research on what teaching qualifications you will need.

Lecturing – To work as a University or College Lecturer on the other hand, the minimum requirement is a master’s degree qualification. A lot of Further Education institutions (colleges) accept Masters Degrees and in some cases, you can work as an Associate Lecturer at a University. In the Life Sciences, it can be difficult to get into lecturing in Higher Education without a PhD degree due to the high number of PhD graduates and Post-doctoral researchers in this area. If you feel lecturing is what you would like to do, consider doing a PhD first as you will need it to progress through the ranks. You will also have the opportunity to develop your research profile – which you will find important when supervising students projects and dissertations. If you are currently studying for your PhD and have no interest in postdoctoral research but would like to teach, consider undertaking a postgraduate teaching qualification at your University – usually for free! This qualification is usually called the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Completion of the teaching qualification leads to the professional recognition as Associate Fellow or Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the UK.

Research – For graduates interested in innovation, development and the technical side of the life sciences, research is a very appealing option. Remember that research is not limited to working in a University laboratory where you can work as a research intern, research assistant or technician. As a Life science graduate, you have a wide variety of options and location where you can be employed to conduct research. This could be in a drug development company, national health research centre such as National Institute of Health Research, NIH (USA), product development companies such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Medical Device companies or even SMEs. In these organisations, you can be employed as a Research Scientist and expected to conduct research in different areas. An advantage of a career in the sciences are the specificity of the technical skills and the array of transferable skills you have developed, which means you can work in similar organisations worldwide. For a career in research, a good degree qualification and the ability to demonstrate your laboratory and technical skills are the minimum requirements at entry level.

Sales – Are you a science student or graduate involved in charity events, soliciting donations from other students and academics (a tough crowd to get money from!!), or do you work as a sales person in a clothing store and not sure what to do after your degree? Well you are already developing skills in sales! With a good degree to belt, your communication skills, passion for selling and ability to convince difficult customers, you can embark on a career which could involve selling modern and hi tech diagnostic or scientific technologies to other companies and academic institutions. A career in sales can be very rewarding financially with many added benefits such as bonuses, car allowances etc. Remember that a role in sales will most likely involve travelling, but what’s not to love about travelling eh?

Transition to Medicine –  A life science degree or a background in the life sciences can be a route for those who retain interest in practicing as medical doctors. As an International educational activities adviser, I am often confronted by parents and young students who are particularly interested in a career in medicine but find it difficult securing places on medical degree courses due to limited places and competition. Achieving a first class or 2.1 degree in the life sciences presents another opportunity into medicine either though the standard route (UCAS) or via the four year accelerated graduate entry programme (GEP). Some of the Universities and medical schools in Australia, the UK and Ireland require that you pass the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) to be considered. Whilst GAMSAT is one of the main routes into GEPs in the UK, the MCAT test is the required test for entry into medicine in the USA. Keep in mind that graduate entry into medicine is not limited to the UK or the USA, although they are preferred options. If you are passionate about getting into Medicine, put your research skills to work and find out what option works best for you.

Business management and Entrepreneurship – Yes, you can! Don’t be alarmed! As a science graduate, one of your career options is definitely in the commercial sector. The analytical skills of science graduates appeals to both scientific and non-scientific organisations. Employers can provide training on aspects of business and business management which as a science graduate, you may not have. Do you have a great idea and want to start your own business? A number of Universities are now embedding entrepreneurial training in their science courses as well as providing support for students who want to transform their ideas into a business.

If this is an area you would like to develop whilst undertaking your degree or as a graduate, why not approach your careers department and ask for advice on what type of training programs or free workshops are available to help you develop business skills. You can also volunteer with business organisations, giving you an opportunity to see their operational challenges and how you can use skills you have developed from your science degree to solve them. To get into the business and commercial sector, you will still be expected to have a good degree (2.2 and above), good communication skills and be willing to take up the challenge of working under pressure in what is usually a fast paced environment!

Have you considered working as a Business Development Executive? in Project Management? as a Proposals Associate? These are opportunities open to science graduates and requires several skills such as excellent communication, initiative, attention to detail, flair for numbers and of course professionalism as well as the ability to work independently and in a team

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article and found it helpful. If so, please like, share and follow! In part II of this article, we will conclude on other career options and pathways for life science graduates, so be on look out. If you would need further advice on how to get into these sectors, do not hesitate to contact us via  email (info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com).

Watch this space for our career profiles, providing information on how to get into different career ‘spaces’ from people who have been successful at doing so. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us @AspProfHub.

CareerChat – Science careers; Thinking outside the lab coat!

MicroscopeFinal exams…check, dissertation and viva…check…graduation…loading! What’s your next step? For recent graduates and undergraduates, are you aware of the varied career options available to you? In today’s job market, it is important to know what employment ‘doors’ your degree can open for you. It isn’t always what you think though. In today’s article, Gabriele Butkute, discusses non-lab based career options for science graduates.

If you are a final year student, you will be familiar with the question “so, what are you doing after you graduate?” You are getting frustrated just by reading that, aren’t you? Some people have known what they want to do since their first day at University and have never changed their minds. However, most of us aren’t that lucky (?) – we have a vague idea of our future career, but as our studies progress we see the picture in our head change, often causing a fair bit of anxiety because you had it ‘all figured out’ and now you feel lost.

It has been almost a year since I graduated. I might not be totally sure of what I am supposed to be or who I am supposed to become (which are very different things). Currently I am working as a Marketing and Student Enterprise intern within a Science Faculty at a University. Prior to that, I worked as an Events Assistant at a Learned Society. Both jobs have been very interesting and I believe that is the direction I would like to further my career in.

Occasionally, when I tell somebody that I studied Biomedical Science but I don’t fancy working in the lab, they look at me like I am crazy, or worse, they pity me, thinking that I am a failure (I did get a first class degree though!). These preconceptions hurt your confidence and create self-doubt, but also might tempt you to try and get a job in a setting that you don’t like, just to “fit in your degree title”. Not everybody will understand. It’s ok. Just move on and do your thing. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should do – it something feels off, it probably is.

Universities often also (subconsciously) contribute to the prejudice by not talking openly about all career options for science students. Many, or maybe even most, people enter a science degree hoping to work in a research environment, particularly medical and biological sciences. However, what often gets left out is the fact that the skills you have developed at university can be used in more than just one discipline.

Image courtesy of Gabriele Butkute
Image courtesy of Gabriele Butkute

Not all of us are made for lab work and it doesn’t mean we love science any less. Some people simply want to explore other career options where scientific knowledge and skills are crucial or at least desired, but doesn’t involve directly working in a lab. Even if you do love the hours pouring agar, counting bacterial colonies or running gel electrophoresis, you might want to look a bit broader, just in case. The job market is tough, data collected and published by Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) makes this much clearer. The average science graduate unemployment in 2012/13 was 7.3%, which is higher than UK average, 6%. Biology graduates faced 9.4% unemployment, and 21.9% of those who did manage to get a job worked in retail, catering or as bar staff.

Thinking more broadly will stop you from limiting yourself and will help identify your true skills and strengths. How about a career in intellectual property law? This niche area of commercial law might be just right for people who want to pursue a science career in a more commercial, legal setting. Think of it as protecting creativity. All new biological inventions, such as therapies, assays or devices need patenting, licensing and commercialising and scientific knowledge comes into play.

For the ‘less commercial’ souls, it might be worth looking into teaching or science communication sector. Teachers themselves call it the best job in the world. It will surprise you how many educational charities there are that could use your enthusiasm alongside the knowledge of science. Science communication is such a broad field, that you can certainly find something that would make you want to get up in the morning and go to work: from outreach and policy to journalism and publishing (and many things in between).

You might be wondering how to get those jobs. From personal experience at an interview for an Events Assistant role at a Learned Society, they didn’t seem to concentrate on the grades I got (although I am sure if they had been bad, there would have been no interview to begin with). It’s the extra bits and pieces that count, now more than ever. Maybe you were a part of a student society, did some volunteering or wrote for a student newspaper. For example, in addition to my current job, I also started a blog for interns of my Faculty where I work. I love blogging. I get a kick out of checking out all the different layouts, colours and making it all look neat. I have also blogged about the Enterprise Educators UK conference I attended and they shared my blog posts on their webpage and social media. It’s great experience. And when I get asked about my writing and social media skills during an interview – here’s one more thing I can say.

The kind of competition that we have out there, just being good at your job and doing a nine-to-five probably won’t be enough. It’s just not the culture we have anymore. You are supposed to be passionate (just don’t use that word in a cover letter, huge cliché). Finding a job that is fulfilling, pays enough, has career prospects and ticks all other imaginary job requirement boxes might take a while. It probably won’t be your first, or second or even third job. But if you figure out what you want and systematically work towards it, it will come eventually (or at least that’s what I am telling myself).

You are a product and you need to sell your skills. One career pathway isn’t better than the other, it’s about finding what suits you and being open minded about changing your own preconceptions about yourself.

Gabriele B HeadshotAbout our writer – Gabriele graduated with a first class degree in Biomedical Science from London Metropolitan University. She previously worked as an Events Assistant for the Society of Biology. She currently works as a Marketing and Student Enterprise intern within the Faculty of Life Sciences, London Metropolitan University. She writes at gabrielebutkute.com.

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#CareerChat – New to networking? Start with these baby steps

9. NetworkingAre you one of those people that can walk into a busy room and leave an hour later, having spoken to people you’ve never met before and made new valuable contacts? To you, our old pros at networking, we say well done and feel free to look away at this point and check out our other articles. To many aspiring professionals we have encountered, networking can often be a painful, daunting and scary experience and tends to be something they’d rather avoid doing. 

In today’s connected world, networking, be it face to face or online has become hugely important. Whilst many ideas or definitions of networking exist, we have identified one which is perfect for networking beginners

‘Networking is the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.’

Merriam-Webster dictionary

You might be a recent graduate looking for a job, an early career scientist looking for a solution to an experiment you have been struggling with or a budding poet or writer looking to get your work published or you might simply be in a new city and need to interact with like-minded people. If so and for so many other reasons, then you will benefit from networking. Honestly in our opinion, every aspiring professional benefits from networking.

In this article, we will focus on five baby steps into the world of networking and in the follow up article (Part II) we will provide tips to make your networking experience more effective and even enjoyable.

So, where to begin????

Location, location, location – Realising where to network can ensure you recognise opportunities to network that are not seemingly obvious. Conferences and meetings are very good venues for networking but they are by no means the only places where you can network. Networking is about cultivating relationships. In your current place of employment, how many productive relationships have you developed in the last week…month…year?

Think about networking events as a marketplace. People rarely go to the market empty handed, its all about exchange – give and take. 

There is no perfect place to network. For students, interacting with other students at college or university, engaging with tutors,  joining societies or doing a sport can be good places to start. For researchers, businesses or other professionals; attending networking events, themed seminars, workshops, exhibitions, trade shows and conferences are key areas for developing and building networks. For students and professionals alike, creating profiles on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, ResearchGate, Mendeley and Facebook provides limitless opportunities for networking on a global scale. Social networking can also support advertising for your goods and services if you run a business.

If you will be going to a networking event or a conference sometime in the near future, why not task yourself to make at least one new meaningful professional contact? Come on, you can do it!

Be Prepared – In most cases, a list of names and organisation represented or the people/delegates who will attend the event is published beforehand and included in your delegate pack/meeting information. Take a few minutes and look at the list and identify any individuals of interest, who cultivating a relationship with may be beneficial to you in whatever capacity. It always looks good when you approach someone and you know something about them, things like, where they are from or what they do as it serves as an ice-breaker for conversation. It is also important that you see the relationship you would like to develop as a symbiotic one, where both parties benefit. Networking is about what you can do for someone else as much as what they can do for you.

Think about networking events as a marketplace. People rarely go to the market empty handed, its all about exchange – give and take. 

Start small – If you consider yourself a beginner or newbie to networking then it is best to start small i.e. grow into it as it is not about the number of people you speak to or make contact with but whether the contact translates into a positive outcome. Networking is not a competition or a ‘notice me’ venture. If you are able to make one useful contact from a meeting with a 1,000 delegates, still count it as success. We get better by doing, so set yourself a goal before you set out!

But I am not a natural – Some of us have laid back, reserved or quiet personalities which makes us hesitant in approaching people to speak to them at events. Whilst as a long term objective we would advise to look for ways to grow in confidence in speaking to people and speaking publicly, as a starting point, it also helps to ask someone you already know to introduce you to the person you would like to speak to.  If you do not know anyone else at the event, perhaps speak to the event organisers and ask if they can connect you with the lady or gentleman you want to network with and more often than not, they’ll be happy to do so! We would recommend the book, ‘The fine art of small talk‘ by Debra Fine to start working on developing your confidence. In our experience, most people are usually happy to talk at events so why not take a plunge. What’s the worst that could happen?

Gone in 30 Seconds – Once you get the chance to interact with your contact or the person(s) you have identified, remember, they do not have all the time in the world to speak to you.  Be clear, concise, friendly and engaging. Offer them a firm handshake, make eye contact and remember the first few seconds do really matter. We call it Gone in 30 seconds because first impressions do matter and failure to make the right impression would ensure your contact leaves you flat footed in their wake.

Therefore, use the first few seconds wisely but before you approach your contact, “think about what you want from the contact AND also what you have to offer

Get started with building your online professional profile, think about your skills and abilities and look for events and conferences where you can find like-minded people. In the follow up article, we will offer tips to ensure you have an enjoyable and worthwhile networking experience.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! If you have an article you would like to share with our readers, please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

#UniAdvice – 5 Things you never get told about graduate employment!

5-job-applicationA common theme that arises in our conversations with ‘soon to graduate’ students is that of employment. Whilst graduation is undoubtedly something worth celebrating, that thought of ‘what happens next’ can evoke a range of emotions from excitement to panic! Things are beginning to look up after the global recession in 2008, however, a large proportion of graduates ‘churned’ out every year are now finding that the hardest job for a recent graduate is actually getting that first job. One of the many reasons we started this blog was to empower graduates with knowledge to navigate the often murky waters of graduate employment.

This article is for all graduates, regardless of level of education (A Levels, BTECs, Bachelors, Masters and PhD). In our experience, the more advanced your education, the more challenging it could be when job hunting. This is because while you are becoming more specialist in your knowledge base, you tend to be focusing in one particular area. It’s not all doom and gloom though, before you think of throwing in the towel, we hope this article will be able to provide some advice to help in your job search. These are things while seemingly obvious, we wish someone had told us at some point while studying.

Start early! – While you don’t need to start job hunting in Fresher’s week, how many of us actually thought about how our CV needed to look at graduation whilst undertaking our degree? How many opportunities to enhance our CVs do we miss because it seems like too much work at the time. Activities such as volunteering, being a student representative, starting or running a student society, joining a Learned Society, undertaking an internship, learning a new language, being a peer mentor, writing a blog or research article etc. Begin to stand out from the crowd!

Graduating is only the beginning! – Achieving your degree should be the beginning of your journey as an aspiring professional. As a friend got told after completing his doctoral studies ‘Well done, now it is time to go prove yourself’. I bet many who have gone through this stage would echo the same sentiments following their experiences. So, if you are coming to the end of your bachelors degree, masters, or even PhD, remember this is only just the beginning. So you’ve got a degree? Welcome to a club that includes millions of others…start thinking about what your unique selling points (USP) are!

How hard can it be? – Well, don’t get me wrong, some new graduates succeed in their first attempt at applying for a graduate job. This is not the norm though as most people apply for an incredible number of jobs before they get a reply or are considered for interview.  A point to mention here is that application for and seeking graduate job opportunities is very time consuming. This is something that takes many by surprise. To get a good job, you’ll have to invest a great amount of time and pay a great deal of attention to the job specification and requirements. Future posts will cover techniques to approach job applications such as filling in forms, preparing personal statements and conquering the interview.

But I don’t have a 2:1! – To many graduates, the degree classification is the end point. Well, sorry to burst your bubble. Some graduates believe their chances of a job are limited because they lack the ‘first class’ degrees or ‘distinctions’ at postgraduate level. We’ll do a post (so many things to write…) on ‘Success after a third class degree.’  Whilst educational qualifications are very important; depending on your discipline; they may not be the most important thing.  As a graduate, it is important you identify your unique selling point (USP) as this will determine how you approach prospective employers and job opportunities. Employers are looking for skills, not just what you know but what you can do. This is why getting experience in your field whilst studying is one of the best things that can boost your chances of getting a job when you finish.

 Your inability to articulate your ability can make you a liability

The scatter-gun approach to job application – For anyone reading this article, you might recognise this as your style of job hunting. If you are confused by what we mean by the scatter-gun approach then I’ll explain. Many graduates get frustrated applying for jobs and make the mistake of sending the same CV and covering letter to every job under the sun. It’s like chatting up every guy or girl at a bar using the same chat-up line. You wouldn’t do that would you?  If that is your approach, well, its 2015 so it’s a new year and we won’t judge you this time! On a serious note, it is lazy practice to use the scattergun approach hence the key advice here is to be innovative and adapt your CV, covering letter and profile to suit the specific job(s) you are applying for.

Yes, yes, it’s tough out there and we won’t attempt to suggest otherwise. However, not knowing what one is able to do is more limiting than the paucity of the job market. For example, a lot of biological or medical science graduates generally assume the only jobs available to them are laboratory or hospital based roles, teaching or lecturing or if fortunate within the scientific or pharmaceutical industry. As we addressed in our last article, the skills you have developed are key to your success in the job market and “your job market is only as big as the skills you possess” thus, as a science graduate, you could work in several environments such as media, financial institutions, politics, communications and so on (we will address these specific core areas in subsequent articles). When you identify your transferable skills, you realise that the world can really be your oyster.

It is important that whatever your field of employment, that you start making good contacts as early as possible and Networking. We’ve found that many opportunities come through recommendations, individual and group networks so whatever your current situation, start connecting with others using various media such as LinkedIn, Twitter to develop your professional network.

The time to plan your career is NOW. It is important that you always think about what you can offer rather than what can be offered to you

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