Choosing a degree and university for your science career
When choosing your science degree you’ll need to decide whether you want to study a broad subject, such as biology, chemistry or physics, or a more specialist subject. If you’ve got a specific career in mind, think about which degree will give you the best grounding for this job. Some science careers will require you to have a postgraduate degree so think about whether you want or need to complete a masters or PhD.
What jobs do different science degrees lead to?
Many science degrees will open up a variety of jobs for you. For example, whatever subject you’ve studied, you can become a research scientist in your specialist area.
A chemistry or chemistry-related degree can lead to a graduate career in industries such as manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals and healthcare. Specific job roles include analytical scientist, chemist, medical scientist, forensic scientist, pharmacologist and toxicologist.
A biology or biology-related degree can lead to a graduate career in areas such as agriculture, biomedicine, environmental conservation, food and drink, genetics, horticulture and marine biology. Specific job roles include biologist, microbiologist, marine biologist, biochemist, biotechnologist, geneticist and zoologist.
A physics or physics-related degree can lead to a graduate career in several career sectors, including aerospace and defence, automotive, computing, healthcare and telecommunications. Specific job roles include physicist, geophysicist, nanotechnologist, astrophysicist, medical physicist and meteorologist.
If you decide that you don’t want to become a scientist, science degrees open up plenty of alternative career routes. You could become a science journalist, work in technical sales, or try your hand at teaching or lecturing. Or, if you’d like to work on the legal side of science, you could become a patent attorney. Science graduates also often find work in business and finance.
You’ll need further qualifications to do some of the jobs above. See our section on science postgraduate study further down to find out more.
Types of science degrees available
The science degrees you are likely to be most familiar with are biology, chemistry and physics. These are the broad, traditional science subjects you’ll have studied at school but they aren’t the only science degree options out there. You can choose to study a more specialist degree.
If you want a chemistry-based degree, other options include:
- applied chemistry
- environmental science
- forensic science.
If you want a biology-based degree, other options include:
- marine biology
- biomedical science.
If you want a physics-based degree, other options include:
- chemical physics
- mathematical physics
- theoretical physics.
Is it better to study a broad science degree or a specialist science degree?
Whether a broad or a more specialist degree is best for you will depend on how certain you are on what career you want. If you know you want to become a geophysicist, for example, a degree specifically in geophysics might be best for you. Or, if you know you want to go into forensic science, you will probably want to find a degree that focuses on this side of things.
A broad subject can be a good option if you know you want a career in science but you’re not sure on the exact job you want, are keen to explore a few different areas and would like to keep some flexibility in the modules you study. A general physics, biology or chemistry degree usually offers a broad overview of the subject at first and then you can specialise later on in the course. Or, if you’re interested in a particular area but you still want to keep your options open, you can often study a broad subject alongside a specialism, such as physics with medical physics. You could also opt to complete a broad bachelors degree and go on to study a specialist postgraduate degree. See the section below on science postgraduate study for more information.
One way to distinguish which degree is the right one for you is to compare the degree content and the modules available. Your first year will largely consist of compulsory modules to give you a strong foundation but in the following years you’ll be able to choose some of your modules from a list of options. Make sure the university offers modules that are of interest to you and, if you have a specific career route in mind, are relevant to this career.
Other considerations when choosing a science degree
Science industry placements and internships
An industry placement is a good way to sample the world of work and gain some valuable experience. It might even help you get your foot in the door with a company; lots of graduates end up working for the employer they interned with and some employers will fast-track interns through the graduate recruitment process.
Several universities offer four-year science degrees that include industrial experience. The University of Manchester, for example, offers this option for the majority of its science degrees. Other universities that offer industrial placement degrees include Bath, Cardiff and Exeter. This typically involves spending your third year on a placement with one of the universities’ partner organisations in the UK or further afield.
If a work placement isn’t built into your degree as a compulsory element, this doesn’t mean you can’t do one. You could still choose to apply to companies for industry placements and take a year off from your degree to do this. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and GSK all offer industrial placements and you will often find placements with smaller companies across the UK. If you choose to complete a placement year, you may still need to pay partial tuition fees to your university for the year.
If you’re not sure you want to spend a year out from your degree a good alternative is to look for shorter stints of work experience, such as summer internships.
Science postgraduate study
For some science careers, you’ll find it useful to have a masters or PhD under your belt. Postgraduate study will help you develop your specialist knowledge and can be useful if you have a general degree, such as biology, and want to move into a specialist area, for example, molecular biotechnology. In some cases, particularly for jobs in research or academia, a PhD will be necessary.
If you know you want to study for a masters, some universities offer an integrated masters degree. In England and Wales, this is a four-year course that combines a bachelors degree with a masters. In Scotland, these courses will typically last for five years. These include the master of chemistry (MChem), master of physics (MPhys) and master of biology (MBio).The final year typically allows you to specialise in a research theme, such as quantum physics, and naturally leads on to a PhD if you decide you want to do so.
If you go for a three-year BSc degree and decide you want to get a masters degree, you can then apply to study a masters such as an MSc. Alternatively, if your university offers a four-year programme, it might be possible to transfer over to this programme. The University of York, for example, allows you to choose between the MChem and the BSc up until the end of year two of your degree.
Professional accreditation for science degrees
It’s also worth looking at whether your degree is accredited by a relevant professional body. A professional body promotes and furthers a career area and the people who practise in it. If your degree is accredited, this means it meets the standard the relevant professional body has set.
In the science industry, these professional bodies include:
- the Royal Society of Biology (RSB)
- the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)
- the Biochemical Society
- the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS)
- the Institute of Physics (IOP).
They accredit both bachelors and integrated masters degrees. You can find lists of accredited degrees on their websites, and the course description on the university website will usually flag up if it has been accredited.
Studying an accredited degree can increase your employability and will show employers that you have been educated to a high standard. You will also have an advantage when applying for professional qualifications, such as chartered status.
Beware: you might need to have an accredited degree for certain science careers. A biomedical scientist, for example, is legally required to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). An IBMS accredited or HCPC approved degree will ensure you meet the HCPS’s academic requirements.