Alternative career choices with your science degree

What roles are available “outside the lab”?


A good starting point for those who are keen to use the knowledge they’ve gained during their degree but would prefer not to be working in a lab is The Science Council’s guide which outlines various scientific roles according to ten categories:

Science Council - ten types of scientistCRA

Explore your options

The level of subject knowledge and technical skills required will vary between jobs, but a familiarity with scientific terms and concepts is either required or will work to your advantage in these suggested career ideas:

Clinical research associate (CRA)

If you have strong observational and organisational skills with an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in life sciences or medical sciences, the increasingly popular role of a CRA could be for you. CRAs are responsible for running and coordinating clinical trials of existing or new drugs to test their benefits and risks to ensure they are safe prior to their release on the market. Typical employers are pharmaceutical companies, hospital academic departments or contract research organisations (CROs) which undertake preclinical research or clinical trials on behalf of pharma companies. This link gives an overview of the role:

Prospects - Clinical research associate job profile

Medical science liaison (MSL)

An MSL acts as the key link between a company’s stakeholders such as clinicians, researchers and the pharmaceutical industry. A major part of the role involves educating others about particular drugs or medical devices and helping them to make informed, unbiased decisions. Therefore, considerable experience in an associated area such as drug safety and medical sales is needed. A BSc in a life sciences subject is required and a postgraduate qualification can be advantageous. Further information is available in the following job profile:

Prospects - Medical science liaison job profile

Science policy

Enthusiasm for science and its broader relevance to society is vital. Many people become involved in science policy as they are keen to convey how discoveries in the lab can benefit everyone in society; saving lives, creating jobs and promoting education. Our webpage provides examples of science policy employers such as the Civil Service Fast Stream which recruits for their Science and Engineering pathway to work on science policy:

Policy and social research

Science communication

The related field of science communication generally refers to communicating science-related topics to non-experts. Opportunities exist in areas such as science journalism, science/medical communications, medical writing, public engagement and outreach. Discover what’s out there in more depth on our webpage which includes links to inspiring alumni blog posts on medical communications and medical writing:

Science communication

Quality assurance (QA)

QA is the process which ensures certain quality standards are met in sectors such as manufacturing, engineering and large service providers. For a fantastic insight into the world of QA, read this blog post from three alumnae working at Charles River, a CRO:

Inform.ed blog - From graduation to success in quality assurance: here's how

Data science

Data scientists utilise data to identify patterns and help solve problems in organisations such as universities, the NHS, government departments and research organisations. Visit our webpage to find out more about careers in data science:

Data science and statistics

Patent attorney

Patent attorneys assess whether inventions are new and eligible to be patented. The mix between STEM subjects and the law make the role of Patent Attorney an interesting career choice. You do not need a law degree to become a patent attorney but at least a 2:1 degree in a STEM subject is a pre-requisite. IP Careers is a comprehensive source of information on how to become a patent attorney. It also includes the qualifications required and areas of specialism:

IP Careers - Profession Overview

Watch this video to hear from several speakers (including Edinburgh alumni) who come from a range of scientific backgrounds and work at different patent organisations. Speakers share how they got into this technical area of work and talk about their roles:

Thinking of a career in patent work? (48 minutes, University of Edinburgh login required)

Scientific recruitment

Recruitment agencies who specialise in STEM recruitment and life sciences require staff to have a knowledge of the market and scientific language in order to understand client needs and communicate effectively between employers and potential candidates. This job profile from Prospects gives a good overview of the role of a recruitment consultant:

Prospects - Recruitment consultant job profile

Technical sales

For example, demand for the commercial role of technical sales engineer is increasing. Employers are keen to recruit science graduates who can share their knowledge and utilise their communication skills to provide support and advice on a range of products in many industry sectors including manufacturing, pharmaceutical and biomedical. Have a look at the following job profile for more details:

Prospects - Technical sales engineer job profile


Publishers operate in a range of specialist areas or sectors and a scientific background can be beneficial when working within scientific, technical and medical (STM) publishing. Check out our webpage for information on how to get into publishing:


If you want to find out more about alternative careers...

Don’t miss out on any employer or alumni related events which will provide insights on particular roles – check out what’s coming up on the events section of MyCareerHub:

MyCareerHub events