Alternative Science Careers With a Purpose


Pursuing an academic career in scientific research is inherently purposeful. You are striving to discover, learn and educate others. But what are your other options if you want to know what science-based careers are out there with a purpose? What if you don’t want to work in lab but still want to make an impact in the world? You might want to make a different kind of impact, where you see the effects of your work on people, products or systems. You might want the work you do every day to have an even bigger purpose. Now there are many careers with a purpose, and many people can find purpose in the smallest of tasks. It means something different to everyone.

If you specifically want to apply your science background to a different industry plus have purpose in your work, consider some of the options below.

  1. Join the pharmaceutical industry

There are such a wide range of roles you can do in the pharmaceutical industry. If you want to remain close to research, you can find roles in drug development such as discovery and running clinical trials. You can do roles that support these processes and still require scientific knowledge including regulatory affairs and project management. Or, maybe commercial aspects of bringing a product to market excites you and therefore sales and marketing might be interesting. If you have an engineering background, perhaps manufacturing is for you.

With all of these options in an extremely diverse industry, how are they considered careers with a purpose? Every role here operates with the purpose of serving a patient. The impact you have in industry can make you feel close to patients benefitting from this research and development. This is true with whatever role you do, since all of the functions above contribute to the same end goal. Your work has the potential to have a global impact if you work in one of the larger organisations. Plus, your scientific background means that whatever role you do, you will have an advantage in understanding the context of your work. Knowledge of the scientific process means that even if you do a marketing role, you will be better equipped to communicate the science behind a product.

  1. Consider health-related charities

There are various roles within health-related charities where you can find purposeful work. In the UK there are organisations like Cancer Research UK or Macmillan. Here you could find roles related to disease-specific research if you want to directly apply scientific knowledge to a particular area. You could also find policy roles that relate to science but also to the wider economic and social context of the company’s work. There may also be opportunities in health education and campaigning, depending on the charity’s strategic goals.

The impact of your work in these areas are similar to the pharmaceutical industry in that you are ultimately doing work that has the potential to help patients with a specific illness. The difference in these charities is that you are working on one disease area, rather than a diverse range. Your impact is also often local or national rather than global (although there are global charities in this area). A number of these charities also support the wider family who care for the person with the illness, and therefore this is another form of impact you could have.

  1. Work in science education

If communication, events and engaging others sounds exciting to you, then the field of education is an area where you could have great impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean teaching, although it could. Rather, there are many alternative career areas you could pursue here which impact wider society. Working at a museum, scientific society or a science-based association can give you the opportunity to work in this field. They are all institutions which promote the engagement of science with the public. This can be through activities such as events, workshops, exhibitions or citizen science projects. They often tailor these to diverse audiences, such as young people, families, or adults.

Working in this field means you could apply your science background indirectly. You can use your scientific understanding and communication skills to help others understand scientific concepts in fun and engaging ways. Your work can impact many people at once through group events. You could even inspire others into scientific careers through your work.

  1. Explore roles in grants and funding

Maybe you would like to support other researchers without actually doing the research yourself? Perhaps a role in science funding is for you. Organisations such as the Wellcome Trust are philanthropy-driven and support researchers through grants and funding. Here, you could be working in roles related more to the overall research process, rather than on the research itself. You may do more management-related activities that require business skills alongside broad scientific knowledge. Here, you are impacting the world of science and research from a different angle. Your purpose is to support the research process. This then feeds into some of the other industries mentioned above. You might choose this path if you want to stay close to research but don’t want to be involved in the nuts and bolts of it.  

This list is not exhaustive and there are lots of options for finding careers with a purpose. You may also be able to carve out purpose in your existing role by getting involved in extra-curricular activities such as volunteering. Think about how you want to apply your scientific skills out there in the world, and who you want to serve. There is no harm in dreaming bigger with your science background!  

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, book a Beyond the Lab Breakthrough Session here.

1 comment


Great article! Lots of good ideas on here - thanks :)
Read more
Read less