Research outside higher education

Information and advice on pursuing a career in research outside academia, in public sector, third sector, or industry.

Research is carried out in many organisations outside of academia, and if you’re keen to continue as a researcher the possibilities in these areas could be just what you’re looking for. Think about: 

  • working for a non-academic organisation that conducts research in your subject area 

  • using your research skills but applying them to a different subject 

You should take time to find out how research in other organisations differs from academic research. This will obviously vary depending on the type of research and the organisation, but some questions you could ask yourself include: 

  • how much freedom would you like to pursue your own research interests? 

  • would you enjoy working in a research team towards a common business goal? 

  • would you like your research to influence government policy? 

  • would you enjoy planning and managing research projects rather than conducting the research yourself? 

There are a few examples below of specific organisations where research is carried out to help you get started – but carry out your own investigation to generate ideas specific to your interests, and to help you answer some of the questions above. 

Private sector 

Researchers can be found working in private sector organisations across a wide range of industries. Some examples include: 

  • science and engineering research and development in pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing firms, IT companies, engineering companies and, often small, biotechnology companies 

  • social research in market research organisations and commercial social research companies 

  • other varied research and analysis opportunities including in financial services (e.g. for investment management companies), for business information providers (such as Bloomberg), and management consultancies 

Public sector 

Public sector employers such as the Civil Service, local government, National Health Service, and many other publicly-funded organisations employ researchers across all subject disciplines. This can be to conduct research directly, or to manage research projects contracted to external organisations. Examples include: 

  • Civil Service departments: 

    • Government Social Research Service 

    • Government Economic Service 

    • Forestry Commission 

    • Ministry of Defence 

    • Marine Scotland Science 

  • Publicly-funded bodies:

    • British Museum 

    • British Antarctic Survey 

    • Historic Environment Scotland 

    • Scottish Environment Protection Agency 

    • BBC 

Third sector 

Third sector organisations employ researchers for a variety of reasons; to gather evidence to help them to influence government policy, to define their strategic aims, to assess or evaluate effectiveness of their work, or to address the aims of the organisation. Examples of employers include: 

  • medical research charities such as Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation and the Wellcome Trust which either employ or provide funding for medical researchers and often social researchers too

  • think tanks such as Chatham House, Institute for Public Policy Research and Reform

  • social justice charities such as Shelter, Oxfam and Children 1st