Medical Research Scientist

Medical research scientists devise and conduct experiments in order to increase the body of scientific knowledge on topics related to medicine. They also develop new, or improve existing, drugs, treatments or other medically related products. Medical research takes place in higher education institutions, research institutes, hospitals and industry. The level of research may be basic and involve investigating the underlying basis of health or disease or it may be more applied and include conducting clinical research, investigating methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disorders. Research may be at the molecular level, carried out using appropriate cell and animal models, or human volunteers may be used to study the clinical effects of various factors.

Typical work activities

  • Planning and conducting experiments and analysing or interpreting the results.
  • Keeping accurate records of work undertaken.
  • Using specialist computer software to analyse data and to produce diagrammatic representation of results.
  • Teaching and supervising students (in higher education).
  • Writing and submitting applications and progress reports to funding bodies that support medical research (outside industry).
  • Discussing research progress with other departments, e.g. production and marketing (in industry).
  • Constantly considering the profit/loss potential of research products (in industry).
  • Collaborating with industry, research institutes, hospitals and academia.
  • Sharing the results of research with colleagues through presentations or discussions at team meetings.
  • Preparing presentations and delivering these at national and international scientific conferences.
  • Writing original papers for publication in peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals.
  • Reading relevant scientific literature and journals.
  • Attending scientific meetings and conferences in order to hear presentations from other researchers and participate in informal discussions with scientists from other parts of the world.

Technical Skills

  • Technical, scientific and numerical skills.
  • Good written and oral communication skills.
  • Genuine enjoyment of the research subject.
  • Methodical approach to work.
  • Tenacity and patience.
  • Ability to work well in teams and to network and forge links with collaborators.
  • Problem-solving skills and analytical thinking.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Laboratory experience and knowledge of the range of techniques used.

Career Development

Career structures vary between sectors. In academia, after a PhD, most medical research scientists enter employment in postdoctoral positions. These are normally short-term contracts of up to three years. Research scientists can also work abroad for a time, often in the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia or Europe to experience different laboratory set-ups and widen their network of international contacts.
In academia, career progression is usually related to the success of your research project(s) and the quality and quantity of original papers you publish. With experience, you may progress to senior research fellow or professor and could manage your own team. Many scientists undertake three or more short-term contracts before they have a chance of securing a highly sought-after permanent position in academic science. There are often teaching duties attached to these positions.
Career development tends to be more structured in industry, hospitals or research institutes and usually involves taking on increased responsibilities, such as supervising and managing projects. With experience and a successful track record, you could move into senior research and management roles. It may also be possible in some industrial companies to move into other functions, such as production, quality assurance, HR or marketing.

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