What Can I do With Science? Study and Career Options for Young Scientists

It can be hard to get the full picture when it comes to thinking about your options around studying and working in science. You might have thought about the three main areas of biology, chemistry and physics, or more obvious subjects like medicine, but have you come across biotechnology, marine environmental science or meteorology? Read on to take a quick look at some of the options out there if you’re enjoying science and would like to take it further.

Where Science Can Take You

Here, I’ve started with medicine (as the subject that lots of people think of when it comes to science options) and then moved out to look at wider areas of biology, environmental science, engineering, chemistry and physics. Remember that I’ve only covered a small selection of the possibilities out there, so take a look at university course lists and career websites to carry on your research.

An obvious route for science-interested students is medicine. This competitive field is almost guaranteed to lead to employment, but it’s a big time commitment: initial study takes five years, followed by a two-year foundation work programme and then extra training and study depending on your specific area of interest. This will be worth it if you’re enthusiastic about making a real difference to people’s lives and up to the challenge of working in difficult and high-pressure situations.

There are allied health professions you might want to consider, such as becoming a dietitian, physiotherapist or paramedic. For example, a speech and language therapy degree could lead to you working with children whose speech is delayed or people with swallowing difficulties.

Equally, you might consider something with similar work to being a doctor, such as nursing, which often involves more hands-on care, or a specific area like dentistry or ophthalmology. Alternatively, there’s lots of research in medicine, so a degree in a subject like biomedical sciences, neuroscience or pharmacology will introduce you to that area. Armed with this knowledge, you can follow up these degrees with postgraduate study allowing you to carry out research in the field and directly contribute to medical advances.

So there are lots of options when it comes to thinking about medicine and healthcare if a medical degree isn’t quite what you want. It’s possibly also worth considering the surprisingly similar field of veterinary science, although be warned that this is often even more competitive than medicine!

One of the main reasons people head for medicine is simply that they’re doing well in biology at school. Whilst this is a valid point, there are plenty of other options that will put your biology understanding to good use!

Ideas for Biologists

A great option is simply to head for a general biology degree, which will pick up where a Biology A-Level leaves off. This knowledge offers a wide range of options upon graduation, so you can specialise in further academia or head out into the world of work armed with a strong science background and loads of transferable skills. Careers could involve those relating to science, such as becoming an ecologist, lab technician, teacher or project officer for a science-related company or charity, or you might find that what you’ve learned in your degree opens up doors to you in lots of less-related areas.

Other biosciences like psychology, genetics or forensic sciences all involve biology, but allow you to narrow down your choice depending on specific areas of interest. You can also choose courses that overlap with different areas of science, such as biochemistry (which looks at the chemical processes that affect living organisms) or biotechnology (where scientists innovate new ways to improve human life). So if you already know which parts of biology appeal to you, you can choose to focus in on them right from the start. To get an idea of the possibilities, take a look at the courses listed under biological or life sciences at various universities.

If you want to focus on the environmental side of things, there are plenty of options. A zoology degree will focus on the areas of biology specifically relating to animals, such as taxonomy, behaviour and embryology, allowing you to go on to further study or work with animals and wildlife. If plants are more your thing, a degree in botany, plant science or plant biology will cover topics like plant taxonomy, the effects of pollution and the skills required for ecological consultancy work.

Alternatively, marine biology offers most of the general grounding you would find in a straight biology degree, but tends to have more environment-related study areas, such as coastal ecology, conservation and the impacts of climate change. Moving slightly further from strictly biosciences, a degree in environmental science or marine environmental science will allow you to study some of these biological topics whilst also covering areas of related physics, chemistry, geography, geology and oceanography.

A degree in environmental science or similar can lead to a variety of job options relating to the natural world. These could include continuing in academia to research climate, conservation or wildlife, but also roles like environmental consultancy, where, for example, you might end up assessing new building plans to gauge their environmental impact or checking for air, land and water contamination.

The ability to work with data, think logically, understand academic writing and work in a team make a science graduate very employable

One option relating to the environment is environmental engineering. This work might involve things like managing flood risks, dealing with pollutants or cleaning up damaged land. You can take an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering, but there are other routes such as broader environmental sciences or other engineering degrees. From your degree, you might decide to follow up with some postgraduate study, but there are also lots of relevant graduate schemes for environmental (and other) engineering work.

If the applied-science nature of engineering appeals, then there are lots of options you might want to consider. An engineering degree might be a good choice for you if you have strong maths and science skills, with IT knowledge also being a plus in many areas. As with other STEM subjects, you can take quite a broad degree or focus in on an area that interests you.

Mechanical engineering involves designing and constructing machines, whilst civil engineering looks at planning and infrastructure, covering the technical aspects of building houses and other structures. Then there are electrical engineering degrees, where you’ll be able to study things like computers, robotics and electronics. This knowledge and skill-set can be applicable in all sorts of areas, from entertainment to transport, and you could end up designing projects, managing technicians or carrying out inspections.

Chemical engineering tends to draw in other areas of science, including chemistry, physics and life sciences. Environmental engineering comes under this heading, but there’s also specialisations like agricultural, materials science and sustainability design engineering.

If the “chemistry and physics” part of chemical engineering is what really appeals to you, then you might want to consider taking one of those subjects at university and then specialising into the areas that interest you. For example, a chemistry degree could lead to a career in forensic science, in creating cosmetics or in finding sustainable solutions to global challenges.

Want to Head For the Stars?

With a physics degree, you could become a researcher, looking at astronomy and space, healthcare (in areas like radiology), energy and technology. You could also move towards geophysics and meteorology, looking at weather patterns, predicting natural disasters and studying climate change.

The skills you gain through degrees like these will put you in a great place when it comes to a wide range of careers – the ability to work with data, think logically, understand academic writing and work in a team make a science graduate very employable across the career spectrum. Additionally, there are many jobs in areas such as science education and communication where you will be able to pass on your own knowledge and love of science.

This article is just a small taste of the huge range of science options out there; this means that thinking about your next step is really exciting! Take your time finding out about all the courses you could take, have a look at what sort of careers people go into and think about what parts of science really interest you.