The appliance of science

Both in and out of the laboratory the career prospects are great, says Lord Robert May of Oxford
Click to follow
The Independent Online

"I wake up on a Monday morning and think, 'Great! It's Monday!' I use my brain at work, as opposed to other people telling me what to do. I can't think of a better job." This is how Martin Welch describes being a microbiologist working on why certain harmless bacteria turn into deadly killers, and on anti-bacterial treatments. His passion reflects that felt by many who have chosen scientific research as their career.

In and out of the laboratory, careers in science, engineering and technology offer many rewards in terms of intellectual stimulation, commercial success, and a sense of helping to improve the quality of people's lives. They can be just as creative as any within the arts or humanities, from producing a life-saving drug to designing an engine for a Formula One racing car or discovering a new star. Such is the range of jobs on offer, with breakthroughs constantly opening up new areas of endeavour, that careers can be hugely diverse.

Studying science can open doors to a range of jobs across different areas of the economy. Many jobs in science, engineering and technology are offered by companies whose primary business is not in such a technical field. These jobs can be found in many different types of commercial organisations, including small consultancies, large multinationals and City firms. The United Kingdom has an international reputation for science and offers opportunities with some of the world's leading companies in science, engineering and technology, including pharmaceuticals, software engineering and biotechnology.

Universities offer public-sector jobs in research or teaching, and government departments and agencies have opportunities. Engineers are employed by the Department for International Development, vets are hired by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and biochemists are needed by the NHS. There are also charities that offer jobs in science. The Wellcome Trust - the world's largest biomedical charity - funds many postdoctoral researchers in UK universities.

Becoming a science teacher to inspire the next generation of scientists, technologists and engineers can offer a rewarding career. The numbers of students studying the sciences - particularly chemistry and physics - at A-level and higher education have been in decline. While we are all more likely to choose to study subjects that we are interested in and good at, it is important to realise that even if you don't know what career you want to pursue, studying the sciences keeps at least as many options open as studying arts and humanities.

According to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics, over a working lifetime graduates in engineering, physics and chemistry will earn, on average, more than those with degrees in other subjects. The UK Government has put science at the heart of economic progress, setting a target to increase the amount spent on scientific research and development. Furthermore, the European Union aims for Europe to become the most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world. These aspirations have implications for future UK and European workforces. The demand from businesses for individuals with good mathematical and reasoning skills remains strong, making it an excellent time to consider science as an exciting career.

Lord Robert May of Oxford holds a Professorship jointly in the Department of Zoology, Oxford University and at Imperial College, London. He was appointed president of the Royal Society from 2000 to 2005

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Everyone's heard of the holy trinity of sciences: biology, physics and chemistry. But take a look at some of the less well-known areas of science you could study...

Food science

You can learn about the chemical and physical properties of food as well as large-scale food preparation (think school dinners) and the laws in the catering sector. Unfortunately it doesn't mean you get any freebies from the supermarket.

Marine biology

The study of ocean life, including animals and plants; you'll be analysing and classifying anything from plankton to algae.

Neuroscience

Your chance to navigate the nervous system and discover the amazing complexity of the human brain, though you're not allowed to swap yours for someone else's.

Nuclear astrophysics

Unravelling the cosmos; explore the knowledge we currently have about the sun and the planets and lock horns with the likes of Albert Einstein.

Geochemistry

Get your rocks off with this study of the Earth's crust and what changes have occured and will continue to do so over time - could mean getting your hands dirty.

If you like the sound of any of these courses then get yourself on to the UCAS website, www.ucas.com and use their course search facility to find out which institutions offer them, what the entry requirements are and to get a more in-depth look at what they are all about

Comments