Research and development

Scientific Research and Development presents the opportunity to push forward scientific knowledge by applying your technical skills and subject knowledge to a specific problem. “Research” and “Development” each have a different focus:

  • Do you enjoy designing experiments, observing and analysing results, drawing conclusions and testing them out? This is scientific research.
  • Do you like taking knowledge gained from scientific research and applying it to improve or create new products, processes and services? This may also involve designing and running experiments, but your ultimate aim would be to design a better product, process or service, rather than uncover new scientific principles. This is scientific development.

Scientific research and development take place in most large, research-intensive universities, in government or charity funded research centres and in industry. Where you want to work will govern your next step, as the entry requirements and application processes for each differ. Consider what is important to you: what technologies are you interested in? Are you interested in academic research or industry? Is it a large organisation or a small specialist company?

Government or charity-funded research centres employing research scientists examples include:

  • The John Innes Centre (crop science)
  • Daresbury Laboratory (physics)
  • Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute (cancer biology)
  • DSTL, the Defence Science and Technology Lab (a range of sciences).

Some recruit graduates annually (e.g. DSTL) and others on a needs basis. Some support PhD students and recruit post docs; some institutes offer summer research studentships for undergraduate students.

Industries employing research and development scientists include:

  • Large pharmaceuticals such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and GSK
  • Specialty chemicals such as AkzoNobel and BASF
  • Technology companies such as Philips and Siemens
  • Fast moving consumer goods companies such as Unilever, Coca Cola, Reckitt, P&G and Nestle
  • Defence, aerospace and security such as Qinetiq
  • Contract research organisations, which undertake all or part of the scientific research process on behalf of a client, such as IQVIA, Covance and PAREXEL and LGC, who also host the function of ‘Government Chemist’
  • Scientific start-up or spin-out companies. Increasingly, cutting edge science is being carried out in small high-tech companies typically based in science parks and “incubator” units (where new companies get extra support)
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) link industry and academic research and development. KTP associates are employed by the university partner, but work with the industrial partner to apply the university's research.

Getting in and getting experience

  • For scientific research roles a research degree is commonly required – a PhD, MRes or MPhil helps develop research skills. A PhD is expected for academic scientific research and also can be beneficial to progress into management roles in industry.
  • For scientific development a research degree may be advantageous, but graduates may still progress with a good undergraduate degree and good lab/technical skills.
  • For both industry and academia, gaining relevant work experience outside of your university course confers a huge advantage. Undertaking a placement year as part of your degree and/or completing a summer internship or research studentship will make your application stand out – and provide you with valuable insight into the work itself.

It is also possible to enter scientific research and development as a technician, although in some research areas it can be difficult to move to more senior research-related roles without a higher degree. This also varies between different organisations so research possible employers to confirm their preference. Another entry point for new graduates is working in QC and QA – quality control and quality assurance.

  • The ABPI Careers website lists different roles in R&D in pharmaceuticals, from Archiving to Genetics.

Scientific research and development involve using your technical subject-based skills, so good research/technical skills are essential. List specific lab skills and techniques on your CV, and highlight practical research experience, experimental design and data handling courses. Employers want to be confident you can apply these at workplace, demonstrating Good Laboratory Practice, an understanding of health and safety, and that you can work with precision and accuracy.

How to gain relevant technical/lab experience

  • Undertaking an industrial placement year (valued highly by employers). Some organisations do not offer shorter, lab based work placements, preferring to recruit students for 9-12 months in research and development roles.
  • Gaining industrial/research laboratory experience in vacation time – apply for advertised work experience but also make direct “speculative” approaches to organisations that interest you.
  • A vacation studentship in a university laboratory or research institute, particularly if you are not doing a placement year (some of these come with funding, too).
  • A good final year project can also convince an employer or postgraduate degree provider that you understand the nature of scientific work and have the ability to tackle scientific research or development.

Across all sectors in the UK, over 90% of companies employ fewer than 250 people. This means that though some Manchester scientists will work for large companies, most won’t. Your job search strategy needs to take this into account, searching for companies doing the work that interests you – and seeing if they have any jobs – rather than just scanning graduate job sites. If you aspire to work for a large company, gaining work experience with them whilst a student (e.g. a 12-month placement or summer internship) can give you an edge.

In the North West

The North West region is an international leader in scientific research and development and many of the world's top pharmaceutical and chemical companies are located here. As elsewhere in the UK (and internationally), jobs for scientists exist in many types of organisation ranging from large multinational companies to small start-up and spin-out companies.

There are many large science parks and innovation centres in the Northwest which employ 1000s of scientist and engineers e.g. Alderley park and Manchester Science Park. You can find local science parks on the UKSPA website.

Major bioscience and pharmaceutical companies employing scientists in the North West include GSK, Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis and Sanofi. In addition, there are many small-to-medium sized businesses involved with drugs development and providing diagnostic and other services.

Biosciences in the North West

Chemicals in the North West

The Northwest is also the largest centre of chemicals manufacturing in the UK. Large global companies operating in the region include Shell, Unilever, Pilkington and PZ Cussons.

General job search and career websites for Research and Development