Guest blog: Three non-obvious careers for science graduates

So, you’ve decided that research isn’t for you? That’s okay – there’s life beyond the lab! Here are three alternatives that will allow you to put your undergraduate and/or postgraduate science degree(s) to good use.

Patent attorney

If you’re interested in the law as well as science, you might want to think about becoming a patent attorney – an intellectual property law expert who helps clients (from individual inventors to big companies) obtain and maintain patents for their inventions.

In broad terms, patent attorneys:  

  • assess whether an invention meets the legal criteria for patentability
  • apply for patents from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the European Patent Office (EPO)
  • draft patent specifications, i.e. a detailed written description of the invention and the scope of the protections sought, submitted as part of the patent application process
  • defend or enforce the rights conferred by patents (alongside solicitors and barristers) once they have been granted

If that sounds like your cup of tea, you should start browsing the many training programmes offered by law firms. An undergraduate science degree is the only qualification you really need to be a candidate for one of these. According to allaboutlaw.com, around 40% of patent attorney trainees do not have an MSc, and around 70% don’t hold a PhD. So while a postgraduate degree certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s not necessary.

When you’ve secured a training contract, don’t expect to get your patent attorney wings for another 4-6 years. That’s typically how long it takes to satisfy the criteria for acceptance on to the Register of Patent Attorneys. While training is mostly on-the-job, it does involve external courses and examinations:

To get a flavour of the life of a trainee patent attorney, have a look at Stephanie Stevenson-Smit’s guest post earlier this year.

Science communication

Don’t know what to do with your science degree? Tell me about it…

Or instead, tell the world. Science communication is all about bringing science to non-scientists. It’s a burgeoning field: universities are increasingly keen to spread the word about their scientists’ work; governments are more and more looking to science when developing policy; and the general public’s appetite for learning about the latest scientific research and breakthroughs only looks set to grow.

The world at large is looking to science to solve some of the emerging problems faced by the human race – climate change, anti-microbial resistance, the ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence, to name some of the big ones. Working in the science communication sector, you would be a bridge between those tackling the big questions and the inquiring minds who want to hear about their work. 

The sector has myriad roles: science journalist, editor or author; multimedia producer; museum educator; event organiser; project manager; and many more. While some universities run MScs in science communication, holding one of these isn’t a prerequisite for a career in the field. Formal communication science qualifications were held by only 23% of respondents to the British Science Association (BSA) survey “A Changing Sector: where is science communication now”, published in 2016. However, it should be noted that almost half (49%) held a Master’s degree, and a third (34%) had a doctorate. Once again, a postgraduate degree isn’t a requirement, but it’s not a bad thing either.

For more on the skills and experience you’ll need to get started in science communication, see Careers Consultant Maya’s post on the subject.

Cartographer

Love maps? Why not become a cartographer? Cartographers compile, design and edit maps (eg road atlases, geological maps, climate maps, maritime charts, political maps), using a geographic information system (GIS) – a computer system for analysing and presenting spatial data. In the digital age, we’re able to view the geography of our world in exciting new ways, opening up further opportunities for cartographers – 3D imagery, fly-throughs and SatNav systems are all in daily use, meaning that the map-maker’s work now extends far beyond print.

Both public organisations (eg the Ordnance Survey [OS], the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office [UKHO]) and commercial companies need cartographers. There are also opportunities for cartographers in the British army and Royal Air Force (RAF). In order to get your foot in the door, you’ll first need to have a degree in a related subject. A degree in a spatial science, eg earth sciences or geography, is particularly advantageous. Training then occurs on the job.

For a wealth of information on cartography careers, have a look at the British Cartography Society’s website.

These are only a few of many options. Your science degree can take you to all sorts of places. It’s time to find yours.

Rosemary Proctor writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs, including digital jobs.

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