Research within life sciences covers a whole range of scientific disciplines including: neurosciences; plant sciences; physiology; pharmacology; cancer studies; microbiology; genomics; bioinformatics; biotechnology; stem cell research.
The work is close to the medical sciences but also crosses over into other areas such as biochemistry. Researchers within this field are primarily involved in planning and conducting experiments and analysing results, either with a definite end use (to develop new products, processes or commercial applications), or to broaden scientific understanding in general.
As a researcher, you will usually carry out your experiments and research on your own, but you will typically be part of a larger team and will share your findings and relevant information with professional colleagues. This is sometimes done at international conferences or through the publication of research papers. You can find employment in commercial or government laboratories, hospitals and higher education institutions.
Typical work activities
- Creating and conducting experiments.
- Processing and analyzing results and data.
- Communicating results to the scientific community via published papers.
- Collaborating with industry/academia to apply the results of research and develop new techniques, products or practices.
- Presenting ongoing work and findings to colleagues at academic conferences, and summarizing the nature of the research, methodology and results.
- Carrying out field work to inform research.
- Teaching, demonstrating to or supervising students (in academia) and training and supervising other members of staff.
- Devising or helping to draw up new research proposals and applying for funding and grants.
- Working in multidisciplinary teams, in different faculties or schools in academia, and in different functions of the business in industry.
- Peer reviews of written publications and presentations are needed to validate theories and inform research.
- It is also important to keep abreast of the work of other scientists both within the life sciences arena and in the wider scientific community.
- Attendance at academic conferences across the world is considered part of the job, rather than an additional activity.
- Reading journals is another important aspect of the work.
- Methodical approach, and the ability to analyse and process data.
- Problem-solving skills, and the ability to find and employ creative solutions.
- Good time management and organisational skills, and the ability to work with minimum supervision.
- Strong communication skills for writing papers, reports and bids and for giving presentations.
- Ability and desire to work collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams.
- Tenacity and patience, to see experiments through from design to completion.
- Networking skills, and the ability to build effective links with external organisations.
- Practical laboratory experience and knowledge of the range of techniques.
In academia, progression is reasonably well defined, with most researchers aiming towards the level of senior research fellow or professor, leading research teams. This progression is achieved through experience, successful research projects and publishing original, high-quality research. Senior roles are accompanied by increased responsibility (i.e. securing funding) and additional teaching, supervisory and administrative duties. Progression in research councils and institutes also relates to achieving senior scientist roles based on scientific merit, individual contributions and increased responsibility.
Researchers in industry may progress towards senior scientific research or management roles, which are also accompanied by additional responsibilities, such as supervising and managing projects. Alternatively it is possible to move into another area of the organisation, such as business development, production or a regulatory role.
Some researchers combine academic and industrial research posts by setting up spin-out companies. These usually start off as a research project within an academic institution until the results become significant enough for it to develop into a commercially-viable company. These companies tend to be supported initially by the university from which they originated, but may obtain financial support from external investors.
Life science researchers are also able to move into a media or communications role. Public understanding of science is a topical growth area with many new opportunities, and jobs for journalists with a scientific background are becoming more prevalent.
Another career path open to experienced researchers is consultancy, for example, becoming involved in the technical and commercial evaluation of new ideas, products and technologies and providing scientific expertise to projects.
Original content at prospects.ac.uk