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Developing your career: Science

Science is about creativity, discovery and problem solving and offers the chance to improve our world’s future. Study science with the OU and you’ll enhance your understanding of the world and enrich your intellectual and personal development.

You’ll benefit from the highest quality teaching, fed by our active involvement in international research programmes ranging across the biological sciences; chemistry; earth sciences; environmental science; planetary and space sciences; and physics and astronomy.

Scientist working in laboratory

Skills you’ll develop

For science students the employability skills you will develop include the ability to:

  • compile, analyse and critically evaluate information
  • understand and make informed judgements about science-based issues
  • interpret, use and evaluate data
  • put together reasoned arguments and question assumptions
  • conduct practical and investigative work and be aware of risk assessment and health and safety regulations
  • be an effective communicator
  • work as part of a team and take on responsibility
  • manage time, learn independently and use ICT effectively.

At present, many employers of graduate scientists report difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified professionals, so opportunities do exist for those with the right range of skills.

Your science career

Careers in science might involve:

  • scientific research and investigation
  • product design and development
  • analysis, diagnostics and risk assessment
  • science information management and statistical modelling
  • exploration and extraction of natural resources
  • waste management, recycling and sustainability
  • environmental management, protection and conservation.
  • writing and editing
  • consulting
  • associated commercial careers (technology transfer, patent agent, data management, regulatory affairs)
  • administrative or development work
  • science communication.

Opportunities are also available as clinical scientists in hospital laboratories, environmental monitoring (e.g. food, water quality), clinical trials management and forensic science laboratories.

Most science careers require a specific degree and it is important to keep up to date with scientific developments. This is one reason why membership of professional bodies such as The Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics can help to build your professional network and make you more attractive to employers.

It is becoming increasingly common for scientists to take a second degree such as an MSc or PhD before entering employment and, unlike many other graduate careers, higher salaries are usually paid to those with such qualifications. Opportunities do exist for graduates who choose to start work after their BSc and many employers will encourage scientists to pursue additional study and professional qualifications throughout their working lives.

Careers in chemistry

Employment opportunities for those who wish to follow a career in chemistry can be found mainly within the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, which make a major contribution to the UK economy. Example job titles include:

  • development technologist
  • scientific officer
  • analyst.

Within the chemical industry, research chemists are involved in the development of new products e.g. drugs and coatings. Development chemists take these ideas and design pilot plants that lead eventually to large-scale production; analytical chemists play a crucial part in quality control.

Teaching science

Science is currently a shortage subject at secondary school level and extra funding and incentives are potentially available for those wishing to teach physics, chemistry or maths in England, Scotland and Wales. The Department for Education and the Institute of Physics (IOP) have run an IOP Teacher Training Scholarships programme to attract the best graduates to become physics teachers to help address a shortage of specialist teachers in this subject area. Details are on the IOP website. Teach First are also keen to recruit and train Science teachers through their graduate leadership programme.


Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) graduates have been drawn together into multidisciplinary teams by an industry that now employs 800,000 professionals. The National STEM Centre provides information on STEM in different regions in England. The Confederation of British Industry predicts growth areas requiring STEM skills to be:

  • environment, energy and sustainability
  • agricultural technology
  • biotechnology (especially seed development and plant breeding) and biomedical engineering
  • healthcare
  • telecommunications
  • pharmaceuticals
  • bioinformatics
  • technology transfer (transfer of scientific expertise to commercial products).

Women in science

Campaigns such as WISE (Women into Science, Engineering and Construction) have emerged to tackle the low rates of women in engineering and technology and the growing skills shortage in these disciplines. Several large companies and professional organisations also have mentoring schemes for women. The Women’s Engineering Society is another source of information and encouragement for women entering scientific careers.

How the OU can help

With our BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences, you can specialise in one of six branches of science:

  • Astronomy and planetary science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Earth sciences
  • Environmental science
  • Physics

Or you can pick and choose from across the science curriculum. We offer an even broader choice in our BSc (Hons) Combined STEM degree.

You can study health sciences at undergraduate level or postgraduate level with our BSc (Hons) Health Sciences and MSc in Mental Health Science.

Other postgraduate degrees in the sciences include our MSc in Science and MSc in Space Science and Technology.

Getting started

If you’re not quite ready for degree-level study, our Science, technology and maths Access module (Y033) could be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s designed to build your confidence and study skills while introducing subject knowledge in the disciplines of science, engineering and design, environment, mathematics, and computing and ICT. By the end of the module, you’ll be well prepared to begin your first full OU course.

More about Access courses

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