Career Options - Bioscience

  • Career Options - Bioscience

Biological Sciences - Graduate Destinations

A survey of our Queen’s Biological Science graduates 6 months after graduation typically reveals that graduates from our School work in areas including:

 -        various lab-based roles within the pharmaceutical, life science, biotechnology and food science industries e.g. Graduate Scientist, Laboratory Technician,  Medical Laboratory Assistant (NHS), Analytical Scientist Health Promotion Assistant, Regulatory Affairs Associate  Trainee Manager,  Bioinformatician,  Temporary Level 3 Technician,  Medical Scientist,  Quality Control Analyst, Biotoxins Research Assistant, Research Assistant

 -        scientific but non-lab-based roles e.g. Regulatory Affairs Assistant, Clinical trials, project management, sales related

-        various roles which demonstrate their transferable skills e.g.  Trainee Manager, Business Analyst, Management Intern , Manager (National Retail Chain), Support Worker (National Charity), Accounts assistant, Graduate consultant (business)


Some have gone into further study in areas such as:

-          PhD study (various Bioscience  areas), Software development, Medicine, Computational Biology, Teaching, Animation, Management, Aquaculture


As with all programmes at all universities, some graduates have gone into non-graduate level work. Recent roles have included: Shop Assistant, Call Centre Operative and Bar staff. 

 There can be many reasons to explain this including saving for further study, wanting to take some time-out, but often it is due to a lack of career planning prior to graduating. 

Final year can get busy very quickly for final year students, please give this process some time.  Remember Biology students have to look for jobs and roles in different places than other graduating students if they are interested in working within the broad area of Science.

Support is available from Mark Gallagher and the Queen's Career service by:

  • Keeping an eye on vacancies via the MyFuture system
  • Getting registered with suggested websites and job boards in your area of interest
  • The Queen’s School of Biological Science Careers website  is a good information source to get you started. 
  • Individual appointments and Mark can meet students in small groups (similar interests ideally) - Mark is available throughout the year
  • Familiarise yourself with the Queen’s Careers service – attend events throughout the year, workshops on applications, interview skills and assessment centres

Some Typical Roles

General Graduate Options

Approximately 50% of graduate vacancies are open graduates of any subject. Some may require some additional, specialist, post-graduate training but some do not. The list is extensive but includes fields as diverse as accountancy, IT, recruitment consultancy, financial services etc. 

Queen’s MyFuture job board will advertise many programmes requesting applications for such opportunities and the key national graduate websites are Prospects, Targetjobs and Gradireland.

Key information on areas y linked to Science can be found at Prospects and in particular the Prospects sectors of interest  which include Science, Environment, Agriculture and Healthcare. The growth areas such as IT, Finance, Business and Consulting recruit many Science graduates.

Pharmaceuticals and Biotech Industries

The science and pharmaceuticals sector is one of the largest and most important in the UK - with approximately 380 pharmaceutical companies, employing around 70,000 people.  The British and Irish pharma industries have a strong reputation for research and development (R&D) of the very highest quality and there are major clusters of pharmaceutical companies in the north-east, north-west, south-east and east of England, Scotland and the ROI where many key multinationals operate. 

The newer and growing biotechnology sector involves the application of biological systems to solve problems, improve processes, and develop and manufacture products.  Biotech companies exist in a number of industrial sectors, which include: biomedical, food and agriculture, and environmental. The UK leads Europe in the industrial development of biotechnology and during the past decade there has been rapid and sustained growth in the number of specialist biotechnology R&D-based companies.  Roles in these companies range from Research and Development, Statistics, Quality Control, Method development. Find employers working in this area.  A sector overview can be found on

Areas of employment include:

  • research and development - chemists and biologists work to discover new molecules to cure diseases or develop products before release;
  • manufacturing and supply – scientists, engineers and quality control professionals are hired to ensure the efficiency and quality of products;
  • commercial - many science graduates work in a variety of roles 

Product / Process Development Scientist

Companies which manufacture products typically need development scientists who understand and control the processes used to make the final product. Development scientists work across the manufacturing industry, on products as diverse as foods, medicines, cosmetics and paints. 

Analytical Testing Laboratories - Lab Assistants

Scientific laboratory Assistants are involved in a variety of laboratory-based investigations within biological, chemical, physical and life science areas. They may carry out sampling, testing, measuring, recording and analysing of results as part of a scientific team. Technicians provide all the required technical support to enable the laboratory to function effectively whilst adhering to correct procedures and health and safety guidelines.  Employers include Food, Environment and water testing labs.  Labs should be UKAS accredited which provides those using their services with a level of quality assurance.  Companies locally who carry out such testing include Biosearch, Chemtest, Beechwood and the AFBI labs amongst others, a fuller list of UK labs is available on the UKAS website.

Healthcare Science

The NHS careers website gives an overview of the variety of healthcare science roles that they have available.  Roles including Genetics Technologist and Tissue Bank Practitioner do not require an accredited degree.

The NHS Scientist Training Programme is a graduate entry programme for Healthcare Scientists into the NHS, through which, in addition to working, candidates undertake further study in their specialism.  This is a very competitive programme to get into.  As part of the application process you will be required to demonstrate what you have done to find out about the programme, the work involved and the NHS, so interested students are recommended to:

-  Undertake the Professional studies work placement options as part of your degree in the School of Biological Sciences

-  Volunteer within the NHS.  The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has a volunteering section. Even if you can’t find an opportunity to volunteer within a lab, any opportunity within the NHS gives you the chance to understand the organisation better and to network with potentially useful contacts.

-  Apply early – the programme generally opens for applications in January/February

 Graduate jobs will be advertised via  HSC Recruit (Health & Social Care jobs in Northern Ireland.

Fast Moving Consumer Goods industries (FMCG)

Many commercial organisations employ Biological Science students - e.g. Food industry (Kerry Group, Kraft, GSK (Food), Nestle), brewing (Marston’s), utilities (Severn Trent) and personal care (Boots, Unilever, Reckitt Benkiser, Procter and Gamble, BASF, Kimberly Clarke etc).   Scientists work in a range of areas including R & D.  More information on this area can be found on Targetjobs.

Clinical Trials

A clinical research associate (CRA) runs clinical trials to test drugs for their effectiveness, risks and benefits to ensure they are safe to allow on to the market. They may work on new as well as existing drugs and are usually employed by either a pharmaceutical company or a contract research organisation (CRO) which works on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.  More information at can be found on Prospects

It is possible to take a postgraduate course in clinical research and this could give you valuable experience in clinical trials and an advantage against competition when applying for jobs.   There are a number of websites such as jobs4dd and Clinical Research Associated which have good job seeking and career information on working in this area.   

Before becoming a clinical research associate (CRA), you may begin at a lower level such as a clinical trial administrator or junior CRA.

Once you have progressed to the CRA role there are several different levels you can work at which include:

  • CRA level I - working on pre-trial procedures, setting up and organising clinical trial sites (with some supervision), archiving documents and correspondence.
  • CRA level II - selecting investigators, coordinating ethics committee and regulatory authority applications, supervising trial supplies and attending investigator meetings.
  • CRA level III/Senior CRA - any of the above tasks plus supervising, training and mentoring junior staff, project management of whole trials possibly on an international scale, protocol development and design of case report forms (CRFs).

The International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use (ICH)  is unique in bringing together the regulatory authorities and pharmaceutical industry to discuss scientific and technical aspects of drug registration, their site contains guidelines and information on the management and co-ordination of clinical trials.

Regulatory affairs

Regulatory affairs officers ensure the appropriate licensing, marketing and legal compliance of pharmaceutical and medical products in order to control the safety and efficacy of products. They combine their knowledge of scientific, legal and business issues to ensure products, which are developed, manufactured or distributed by a wide range of companies, meet the required legislation.  A professional qualification is valued by employers. The Organisation for Professionals in Regulatory Affairs (TOPRA) offers an MSc in Regulatory Affairs. Approximately half of TOPRA members hold a postgraduate qualification.

 More information available via Prospects on entry to this area where Science students are typically non bench based but applying knowledge and understanding from their degree programmes. 

Computational Biology / Bioinformatics

This is a growth area which involves the application of computing, statistics and mathematics to biological information. Job opportunities arise within research groups, academia and the Pharmaceutical industry. A Masters qualification in Bioinformatics, Computing or Statistics is often required and a PhD may be preferred. There are some articles on the Biohealthmatics website and Queen’s offers an MSc programme in Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics.

Food Industry / Food Research and Development

The UK food and drink manufacturing industry is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, with a turnover of £92bn and Gross Value Added (GVA) of £24bn, accounting for 18% of the total manufacturing sector by turnover.  R & D and innovation are key to the development of the Food sector.  Research is conducted in Universities such as Queen’s Institute for Global Food security, Research Institutes such as AFBI and the Ashtown Food centre. Organisations such as Camden and Leatherhead Food research carry out applied research which aids industry to improve products and process.  Some large Food companies such as Nestle, Unilever and Mondelez will also carry out their own internal research.  The FSA have a list of official feed and food control laboratories in the UK.

Government and Defence

Government departments hire science graduates into a variety of both scientific and non-scientific roles.  DSTL – The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory have graduate scientist and graduate analyst roles for science graduates.  The Civil Service Fast Stream is an accelerated training and development programme for graduates, placing them into a variety of departments within the Civil Service.  Government jobs locally are advertised via the NICS recruit website. The new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) will have vacancies on their own site. Find recruitment agencies who have been awarded government contracts.

Teaching & Education

Good information available on entry to Teaching and PGCE is available at: Teaching  - graduate teaching and education jobs and careers advice and also Education Alternatives

In Schools: A recognised teaching qualification is essential to find work in this area. The Department of Education Northern Ireland has general details about Initial Teacher Education (which includes the PGCE). The Universities and Colleges offering the training also has information on their websites which include how to apply and the closing dates e.g. Queen’s Initial Teacher Education (PGCE) information.

PGCE courses are very competitive to get into so interested students are recommended to: 

  • Gain experience of working with young people of the age group you hope to teach – usually gained through voluntary work.
  • Get an insight into what work as a teacher is like by trying to arrange to speak to a teacher to ask them about their job, and/or try to get some classroom observation experience. Many students find it easiest to arrange this through personal contacts or with schools where they were once a pupil. It may be possible to arrange with a local school via a speculative application.
  • Keep up-to-date with what’s happening in Education via the Times Education Supplement and the Guardian’s Education section.
  • Apply early.
  • These interview tips are useful when preparing for the course interview.

The Teach First Leadership Development Programme recruits high achieving graduates to work as teachers in some of the most disadvantaged schools in England and Wales.  Its 2 year programme combines this work with business skills training, internship and mentoring opportunities. At the end of the programme around 50% stay in the teaching profession in a leadership position, the other 50% are readily employed in a variety of business areas.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is an official and prestigious Japanese government scheme that sends graduates to Japan in order to promote international understanding at grass-roots level and to improve foreign language teaching in schools. Although participants teach English to school pupils, applicants for the programme can come from any degree discipline providing they hold a full UK passport.  It is a tough application process that begins in the October preceding the departure the following summer.

The TET (Teach English in Thailand) programme offers students and recent graduates a 9 week placement opportunity as a Teaching Assistant in Thailand.

 Science writing, Science Communication and Education 

Working to promote areas of Science, this area is very broad and can encompass Environmental education and teaching through to science writing, medical writing, journalism and broadcasting. The School's website has an area dedicated to Education and Science Communication with useful links.  Our School Qubioblog is a great example of the communication of science by staff and students.

Science writers research, write and edit scientific news, articles and features. They write for business, trade and professional publications, specialist scientific and technical journals, and the general media. 

Many science writers have a science degree and a postgraduate science or journalism qualification - which can help ease the transition into writing. Here are some specific Science Communication courses. A scientist can either start writing immediately upon graduation, or can move into the industry after several years of scientific research.

Translating scientific and technical information into a style that is easy for others to understand requires specialist knowledge and strong communication skills. This job profile Science Writer has more details about the work, including case studies, entry requirements and typical employers. The European Medical Writers Association has produced a Careers Guide, and there is useful information on the website of the Association of British Science Writers, the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) and

You may find some advertised volunteering opportunities in journalism and PR, and some opportunities through The Gown.  It is also worth making proactive, speculative approaches to relevant magazines and newspapers. It is important to start building a portfolio of written articles.

Graduate Entry to Medicine and Dentistry

Some medical and dental schools offer graduate entry programmes through which graduates of other subjects can fast track a medical or dental degree in 4 years. Others welcome applicants with a first degree in a relevant subject e.g. Biological Science. Candidates will be required to have a strong academic record including a 2.1 degree. 

For Medicine - it is recommended that students gain some experience in a medical setting e.g. volunteering in a hospital or residential care home, and have spoken to a doctor to discuss the career in more detail. A period of work shadowing may be particularly useful and it is also recommended that students keep up-to-date with medical topics in the news. Medschools Online has lots of useful information about the courses and how to get in. There is additional information about the career, including information on funding and admissions tests, on the British Medical Association website and the NHS Careers website.

For Grad entry to Dentistry - contact your local dental hospital or practice to arrange a visit and possibly some work shadowing. More information about Dentistry and the graduate entry route can be found on the Dental Schools Council website

Funding questions? - see money4medstudents and DELNI Student Finance

Genomic/Genetic Counselling

The NHS Health Careers website describes the role of Genetic/Genomic Counsellors as working directly patients and families offering genetic/genomic information and support allowing them to make health decisions. The role requires strong communication and counselling skills so voluntary work with vulnerable people can be a great way for interested students to develop relevant skills and experience. Some basic counselling training (e.g. through an evening class) would be advantageous. An accredited Masters is required, but rather than apply to the Masters programme directly, this has been folded into the NHS Scientist Training Programme. Find out more on the NHS Health Careers website.

Allied Health

There are a number of allied health professions which may be of particular interest to students of these subjects. Examples include: Dietitian, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Speech and Language Therapist. These require further study, but each has an accelerated graduate entry route. 


There are R&D jobs in both the private and public sectors, in the UK and overseas. Employers are likely to include the research arms of large industrial and multi-national firms and universities, as well as a growing number of small to medium-sized 'hi-tech' and ‘biotech’ enterprises (SMEs). There are also opportunities to work for government departments, e.g. the Ministry of Defence or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or agencies, e.g. the Environment Agency or Food Standards Agency. The Prospects: Research Scientist (Life Sciences) gives an overview of what to expect from a career in this area.

University research:

Each year students in the School secure PhD positions with researchers within Academia both at Queen’s and further afield.  Previous hosts have included the CCRCB, Centre for Infection and Immunity , School of Chemistry and School of Biological Sciences including the Institute for Global Food security.  This is possible and can sometimes be secured through a relevant Scientific Professional body.  This is a competitive area to move into upon graduation and will typically require a PhD.  Lists of Studentships can be found on the Royal Society of Biology website


Research institutes and government agencies:

AFBI are an example of a local research institute and their research areas can easily be found on their website, AFBI are one of NI’s leading Scientist employers.  The availability of opportunities varies according to subject, and may be found in government departments (e.g. DSTL, MOD), government agencies (e.g. NIEA, Health Protection Agency) or in institutions associated with charities, often medical, (e.g. Cancer Research UK, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute  or funded by research councils.  Research the School Careers area to find institutes of interest.


Industrial research and development:

An industrial research career can allow your scientific work to lead to commercial applications. Timescales can be much shorter than in academic institutions, and you may see a more immediate impact or use of your work. However, commercial considerations may lead to scientifically interesting projects being abandoned. There may also be opportunities in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in areas such as biotechnology. Typically these employers expect you to find them and contact them speculatively explaining your motivations for wanting to work there. 


Graduate opportunities within the local Trusts are limited,  it is important if this is your area of interest that you move reasonably early in the year and make contact with relevant Lab managers to find out about collaborative research opportunities that may present.  Hospital based Science is a competitive area to secure employment in, experience at this point will certainly help with any future applications.  Some students considering this area want to apply to the new Scientist Training programme upon graduation.