Science jobs – Are they all lab coats and Bunsen burners?

Katherine Mathieson is the Chief Executive of the British Science Association she offers advice and top tips to prospective scientists.

Is science one of your favourite subjects? Hopefully you’ve started thinking about a career in it, though sometimes it can be hard to see beyond lab coats and test tubes, which are not for everyone!

An incident in my first year at university quickly made me realise this. I’m very clumsy in everyday life, and it turns out this translates into the labs too…

I was in a practical skills exam which involved me having to pour a pint of pig’s blood into a long tube. I picked up this pig’s blood, and accidently tipped it all over myself. As it was an exam I wasn’t allowed to leave the room, so I couldn’t run outside and clean it off. I couldn’t even finish the experiment because I’d spilled it all. That half an hour, stood dripping in pig’s blood, made me realise that labs and I weren’t going to work out.

Even though I didn’t want a career in research, I was still captivated by the big ideas of science. It took hard work and some good luck to find my way into the world of science communication and to my current job as CEO of the British Science Association.  Over that time, I’ve learnt that science can set you on so many paths – way beyond the obvious.

A career in science can mean a career in communications, teaching, journalism, engineering – a whole host of things that don’t involve labs and research. The core science subjects help to provide so much more in terms of skills that can go onto prove useful in a wide range of careers, the possibilities are endless.

So here are my top tips for landing a career, whether that be in science or further afield:

1.     Be open to learning, whatever the situation

I’ve had part time jobs where I’ve thought “this is boring” and “dull”, but often I’ve learnt just as much from those jobs as I have from ones I’ve really enjoyed. It helped me to identify what I did like and what I was good at doing.

2.     Don’t box yourself in, be flexible

Most of the jobs that will be on offer in 20 or 30 years’ time don’t exist yet, so keep an open mind and keep learning. Be prepared to change, be flexible and be ready to learn new things.

3.     Value your skills, they can’t be done by robots

Increasingly, what we need in a workplace is creativity, emotional intelligence, communication – the skills that differentiate us from robots. These skills, like creative problem solving, can all be learnt in science, and transferred to whichever career path you choose.

The British Science Association runs lots of educational programmes designed to get people interested in science, including the British Science Festival in Brighton from 5-9th September.

CareersWeb editor