No longer confined to laboratories, scientists have a hand in almost every aspect of our lives: be it providing access to clean water, developing vaccines to target viruses or tackling climate change.
Pursuing a career in science and research will see you pushing boundaries, making discoveries and developing new technologies - all in aid of improving lives. It’s a fascinating and highly rewarding line of work.
But to break into the industry and get that competitive advantage over your peers, you’ll need to equip yourself with first-hand experience in the workplace. The best way to do this is through acquiring science and research internships or placements.
Not sure where to start? Science is a galactic industry that reaches far and wide. So, we’ve divvied up this guide into nice bite-sized sections to help you navigate your way around:
Top Placements, Internships and Graduate Jobs in Science & Research
How do I get work experience in science?
It’s all very well being an expert on gene cloning or molecular orbital theory, but if you don’t have the technical skills to back this knowledge up, you’re not going to get very far in the workplace.
So, it’s absolutely crucial that you take on a science internship or placement whilst you’re still at university. Employers flip out over students who have made the effort to get this sort of experience. In fact, they increasingly use this work experience as a talent-spotting exercise for their graduate schemes.
If you stand out during your science internship, your employer might even offer you a graduate role at the end (or at least fast-track your application) - which would be a huge weight off your mind during your final year of university.
So let’s take a look at your options...
The majority of science internships take place in the summer months, lasting anywhere from one to four months. If you really want to get ahead, you may even be able to squeeze more than one internship into your long summer break.
Not only is this a genius way of occupying those long university holidays, but the more you do, the better idea you’ll have of where you want to take your career.
What does a science intern do?
Science interns tend to work in data analytics. They spend their days investigating a wide range of data and presenting their findings to the rest of the team.
Occasionally, they’ll be asked to carry out computer science or mathematical tasks as well, such as researching new algorithms or approaches to machine learning.
Whatever you end up doing, science internships allow you to apply the knowledge you’ve gained at university to real-world problems - which could help you attain those top grades when you return to your studies...
"The tasks are tailored to my university degree and personal development to make sure I get the most from the experience. I focused on tablet manufacturing as I knew it would be in my curriculum for the next year of university and I came out with 99.2% due to my knowledge from the placement." Summer Intern at GSK
Funding for science internships
It’s worth bearing in mind that science internships are often unpaid, although most positions are funded through research grants, departmental projects and research scholarships.
The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Undergraduate Research Bursary, for instance, supports students carrying out research internships by covering their wages for 35 hours per week at the UK National Living Wage (£10.42 per hour from April 2023) - for up to eight weeks.
A number of organisations give out bursaries to help interns cover their costs. Make sure you do your research thoroughly as the requirements and application process vary greatly. Head over to British Neuroscience Association’s website for a comprehensive list of funding bodies.Apply For Science Internships
Placements are essentially the same as internships - only they last longer. You’ll spend up to a whole year working full-time for an employer.
A science placement is your chance to show initiative, make a good impression and start building an invaluable network of industry contacts.
You’ll also get an insight into how the company operates and what your specific role entails - all while advancing your own technical skills and academic knowledge - like this placement student at Pfizer.Apply For Science Placements
"My placement year was an extremely valuable experience that enabled me to gain an insight into the industry, expand my professional network and develop skills that will help me in my future career. This has opened my eyes to the range of career opportunities available in the industry." Undergraduate Community and STEM Project Manager at Pfizer
Internships in Research
Naturally curious? Want to be at the forefront of scientific development? As a research scientist, you’ll be responsible for designing, conducting and analysing the results of cutting-edge experiments.
However, research and development (R&D) is a tough field to get into. Employers look for bright candidates with inquisitive minds, and postgraduate qualifications - such as a Master’s degree or PhD - are often a requirement.
Not to worry, there are plenty of research internship opportunities in the UK that can give you the experience you need to go far in this career.
A research internship won’t see you staring into Petri dishes all day long. Instead, it is a chance to work alongside leading scientists on actual research projects.
What does a research intern do?
As a research intern, you’ll have a wide range of roles and responsibilities. One minute you might be compiling data, and the next implementing ideas or helping your team write papers.
In general, you’ll be expected to carry out the following tasks:
Managing client enquiries and concerns
Sharing strategies and recommendations on research methods
Recruiting test subjects
Preparing product samples for testing.
How do you get a research internship?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting a research internship, though networking can really open doors for your career. The best place to start would be to attend seminars, workshops and symposiums.
Here you’ll meet people with similar interests as you, who’ll be able to point you in the right direction and help you connect with professors in your field.
Here are THREE of the finest companies in the land offering research internships:
Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK runs a 12-week cancer research internship three times a year in January, July and September. As well as paying the National Living Wage, this programme offers the chance to develop key business skills whilst playing your part in the fight against cancer.
This fast-moving consumer goods company runs both a 12-month industrial placement programme and a 12-week summer research internship. Top performing students at Unilever can earn themselves a place on their Future Leaders Programme for graduates.
British American Tobacco
Making significant investments in R&D to develop potentially less risky alternatives to cigarettes, British American Tobacco offers 12-month research placements to undergraduates. As an R&D intern, you’ll play a part in discovering, developing and deploying their innovative products.Apply For Research Internships
Biomedical Science Placements and Internships
From providing doctors with vital scientific research to investigating causes of infection, biomedical scientists play a pivotal role in our society. In fact, biomedical science, AKA ‘the science at the heart of healthcare’, underpins much of modern medicine.
DID YOU KNOW?
70% of all medical diagnoses are attributed to the work of biomedical scientists
They make up 5% of the NHS workforce
150 million samples are handled by laboratory services every year.
To kickstart a career in biomedical science, it’s crucial you gain as much experience as you possibly can before you graduate.
As well as a biomedical science placement or internship, to gain your first role you’ll need a strong foundation of scientific knowledge in the form of relevant GCSEs, A-Levels and a degree that’s been accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS).
Most IBMS-accredited university courses have an integrated placement year. If that’s not the case, you’ll find plenty of short-term internships, including...
The National Health Service (NHS)
The NHS offers biomedical science placements, internships and assistant roles all year round.
"It has set me up with the skills for life! Following the completion of my degree and my placement, I got a full-time job as a fully qualified biomedical scientist at another hospital who were very impressed with my knowledge and skill sets gained through my placement." Biomedical Science Trainee at the NHS
This global research charity runs an eight-week summer internship based in their London office. The programme pays the London Living Wage of £13.15 an hour, and is an opportunity to work with fellow interns and experienced staff alike in the area that most interests you.
Many run their own biomedical science internships in the summer, giving students the chance to work on research projects being carried out by in-house academic teams. Speak to your head of department or tutor to explore what your university has to offer.
Is biomedical science in demand?
The more new drugs and treatments are developed, the greater the demand for biomedical scientists. Their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the crucial role they play in saving lives and improving our health outcomes.
A team of biomedical scientists at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, for example, carried out more than 100,000 PCR tests in just 12 months.
Medical biology is a broad sector, so your career options will be seemingly vast when choosing this profession. Operating theatres, A&E and other hospital departments simply wouldn’t function without biomedical scientists.
So whether your speciality is in disease diagnosis or researching new medicines, this profession is increasingly important and constantly evolving to meet societal needs.
What job can you do with biomedical science?
Biomedical scientists investigate all sorts of medical conditions; from cancer to diabetes, blood disorders and AIDS. The work is practical, analytical and highly varied.
As such, there are plenty of jobs you can do with a degree in Biomedical Science or Healthcare Science, including:
Clinical research associate
Clinical scientist, biochemistry
Clinical scientist, hematology
Clinical scientist, immunology
Research scientist (life sciences)
Research scientist (medical)
Scientific laboratory technician
Touching millions of lives every day, this industry develops, tests and manufactures lifesaving drugs to combat everything from HIV and AIDS to high blood pressure.
Over 65,000 people in the UK work for pharmaceutical companies; including research scientists, pharmacists, lawyers, engineers and marketeers. Depending on your skill set, you could end up doing anything from running clinical trials to selling pharmaceutical drugs.
A pharmaceutical internship or placement involves working on projects alongside some of the world’s top experts in their field. This is an excellent opportunity to develop essential soft skills and technical knowledge; something that will both complement your studies and boost your CV.
Pharma companies usually ask that you are on track to achieve a 2:1 or above in a relevant degree discipline. For instance, if you want to work in drug research & development, you’ll need a degree in Chemistry, Biology or Pharmacology.
Want to find out more? Head over to our guide to Pharmaceutical Placements for expert advice, employer case studies and a few mind-blowing facts.
buApply For Pharmaceutical Internships
What is a science graduate job?
Science graduate jobs are your first step on the permanent career ladder once you finish university and get your Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. You’ll work for a company where:
You’ll build new skills
Collaborate with like-minded people from your area of discipline
Take up responsibility right from the start.
A science internship or placement can boost your chances of getting a science graduate job and make the transition into the working world smoother. If you haven’t got work experience, you can always bring transferable skills from your degree to the role.
Are science graduate jobs paid?
You’ll be pleased to know that science graduate jobs are paid. The national average salary for a science graduate is £25,000 a year. But this depends on your role, employer and location.
The more experience you gain though, the more you’ll earn through raises and promotions.
As a senior biomedical scientist, you could take home £53,000 a year!
How long do science graduate jobs last?
There’s no limit to science graduate jobs. If you love your role and feel genuinely invested in the company, you might stay on and progress to a senior position. If not, you’ll move onto something else that’s more aligned with your values and interests.
What’s the difference between a science graduate job and a science graduate scheme?
Graduate jobs and graduate schemes sound pretty similar. For a start, both have the word ‘graduate’. Both share ‘relations’ (of some sort). However, they do have their differences.
Permanent VS temporary
Temporary (one to three years)
Can become permanent after completion.
Permanent roles from day one
Length of employment is up to you.
Experience different parts of the business
Work in areas including research and development or supply chain management.
Standard training (enough to familiarise you with the role)
Work in one role and team.
Longer application process
Need for aptitude tests.
Shorter application process
Graduate CV, cover letter and interview.
Applications open between September and November
Interviews and assessment centres take place in January.
Go live as and when a role is needed.
Best Student Employers in Science
If you decide to embark on a career in science, you could be hired by a global corporation, research centre, charity, start-up, engineering firm or even a newspaper! Just like the multiverse, there are infinite possibilities.
To help you cut through the noise, we’ve compiled a list of the best companies to work for as an undergraduate or graduate in the science industry.
Each of these ranked in our Best Student Employers, based on thousands of student-written reviews submitted to RateMyPlacement.co.uk. This means they are the crème de la crème when it comes to company culture, work-life balance, employee perks and more.
Science Placement Reviews
There are so many opportunities for students looking to get first-hand experience in science and research that it can be tricky to find the right role for you.
Here at RateMyPlacement.co.uk, we’re dedicated to helping young people make informed decisions about their futures. Which is why we host thousands of reviews of science internships and placements. Nearly 3,000 of them in fact.
All of these have been left by students who have carried out some form of work experience in science and research. The reviews are their chance to shout about their time with an employer; be it positively or negatively!
Still figuring out what you want to do? It may be that you’re not sure you want to stick with science, or perhaps you’re torn between working for a global corporation or an SME. Whatever your concern, nothing beats hearing the truth straight from the horse’s mouth.