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Alternative Careers For Scientists

Resume and pen on a table to represent someone applying for alternative careers for scientists

What happens when you finally get the life sciences degree you worked so long for and then realize you really don’t want to spend the rest of your life in the lab?

Or you get tired of working long hours with few results and low pay, or you succumb to any of the other reasons that might put you off being a scientist.

You may well decide to hang up your lab coat and move into something else… and there are a lot of great options for people with a science background and postgraduate degrees that lead to rewarding and lucrative careers.

15 Alternative Careers for Scientists

In order to help you decide on an alternative career choice, we’ve compiled a list of  15 alternative careers for scientists that might be worth considering if you ever decide it’s time to leave the lab. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it might give you a few ideas.

1. Technical Services

Technical Services support involves interacting with scientists over the phone to troubleshoot problems with products or even to provide a scientific consultation on general experimental strategy and design. As this isn’t a face-to-face role, it makes for an easy transition for an introverted scientist to a more outgoing profession.

Many opportunities exist to grow your career within a company if you want to move up the corporate ladder. Just be prepared to answer the phone 30–40 times a day and, once in a while, be berated by a customer.

2. Product Manager/Marketing

Product managers are responsible for a product from launch to discontinuation. The job has many responsibilities so fits best with people who are highly organized, and can multi-task, and lead teams. The main goal of a product manager is to make money for the company.

You accomplish that goal by numerous marketing activities (advertising, attending scientific conferences, promotional giveaways, etc.), by building new products that people want, and by making sure that every product is in perfect working order when received by the customer.

The salary is generous but be prepared to work 12-hour days and be under constant pressure to increase revenues.

3. Biotech Sales Representative

Who is that person who comes to your door and tries to sell you everything from tips and tubes to kits and instruments for PCR? It’s your friendly neighborhood sales representative. Most, if not all, salespeople in biotech have worked in the lab and some even have PhDs, making it one of the most common alternative careers for scientists.

If you take a minute to talk to your biotech sales rep, you will see that their true purpose is to make sure you have everything you need (from their company!) to be a success. But your success is always paramount to their sale.

Of course, there are those who are under intense pressure to make a sale to the point where they push too hard, and some are too green in their career to understand that they are trying to sell you something you don’t use.

But, overall, they are a bright and hard-working group of people who want to excel at their job by helping you excel in the lab. The income you can make in sales can be very high but so is the pressure to meet the revenue targets assigned to you.

4. Field Application Scientist (FAS)

The FAS role is often a perfect position for academic bench scientists looking to move into industry. The FAS is called in when a customer is interested in purchasing a new product or is having trouble getting an existing one to work.

Working in the customer’s lab, the FAS will demonstrate how well a product works, troubleshoot problems with a product, or teach a lab how to use a complex instrument. The FAS may also install instruments or robotics and maintain their proper function.

The FAS travels frequently because they are assigned large territories and will sometimes need to stay at an account for up to a week. Part of their role is to build solid friendships with the labs they support while helping their company win (or keep) new accounts.

5. Business Development

Business development is a very exciting role that involves growing and shaping the scope of a company’s business approach. This can mean making technical collaborations with other companies, bringing in contract work, or licensing in or out technologies through to deciding on mergers and acquisitions.

Typically, this requires an MBA degree in addition to a science background, but working your way up through the company ranks is another route. Business development requires a strong mix of technical knowledge and marketing experience.

The person should have a good feel for the changes going on in the market and what the next hot technology or area of research might be. Your advice can have a big effect on the decisions a company makes, so expect high stress and pressure.

6. Manufacturing Quality Assurance (QA)/Quality Control (QC)

The process of taking a product from the research phase to market requires the ability to produce it on a large scale. You’ve successfully formulated the buffers and the procedure for a new kit in the lab. Now try building 500 of them and make sure they work exactly as well as the single one from the lab.

Or try scaling up protein expression and purification to make liters of enzyme and keep it soluble. Or making liters of competent cells, bearing in mind that if the efficiency falls below a set number you have to start all over again. You get the picture!

Manufacturing requires precision, perfection, and focus. Manufacturing scientists do everything from production to the QC. Depending on what the product is used for, the QC can involve complex techniques such as real-time PCR, cloning, or enzyme activity assays.

Manufacturing is not a glamorous job but it is critical to the success of a company because if manufacturing can’t keep up, it can cause huge losses in revenue and customers.

7. Technology Transfer

Technology transfer involves finding ways to commercialize technologies developed in the public sector (universities or government agencies). It is like the academic equivalent of business development and requires many of the same skills.

Tech transfer jobs can be found in the public institutions themselves, in companies that routinely commercialize technologies that originate in the public sector, or in non-profit technology transfer organizations.

8. Science Copywriting

Copywriters produce the copy (the written material) for marketing products or ideas. This is a great position for people who like to communicate science through writing. If you work for a biotech company as a copywriter, you would be helping product managers to communicate their message to the market about a product via a print ad, email blast, banner ad, webpage, or flyer.

Copywriters and product managers work together to perfect the message before the copy goes to design for layout and imagery. This position really accentuates your creative side, but be prepared to deal with stressed-out product managers.

9. Medical/Technical Writing

Another type of science writing is technical writing, which includes writing handbooks/product manuals and application notes. This requires less creativity and more of the ability to communicate exactly how something should be done. If a protocol is unclear, it is the problem of the technical writer (and the product manager).

More info on working in medical and technical writing is available here.

10. Science Journalism

Yet another type of science writing is science journalism. Science journalists produce content for newspapers, magazines, and websites (just like I’m doing now). You can work either freelance or as a staff writer, employed directly by the publication. Either way, the competition is tough. The best way in is simply to start writing and trying to get things published.

If you are looking to start out in science journalism, Bitesize Bio is a good place to begin. Contact us for details on writing an article for Bitesize Bio!

11. Scientific Illustration

If drawing, rather than writing, is your forte, then scientific illustration may be an option. Although opportunities in this field are limited, they do exist. Breaking into this field is like scientific journalism – you just have to start drawing and try to get your work noticed. Here is a great article on carving out a career in scientific illustration.

12. Recruitment/Head-hunter

Recruiters help companies to find suitable candidates for job openings and can work for independent recruitment consultancies or for a company’s in-house human resources department. This type of job requires an outgoing personality and the ability to develop a great network for candidate searches.

Having a science background will help you know when a candidate’s skills are a good match for an employer, but the competition for good candidates is high and part of the job is being a nudge. Typical recruiters call or email at least 10–15 times before they accept a “no” answer!

13. Teaching

Some people are born teachers and if this is you, high school teaching can be a great option. Aside from the joy of teaching (assuming it is a joy for you), the holidays are great and the pay can be pretty good too. The downside is working with teenage kids, which is an unenviable task if you ask me! Here is a good article on moving from the lab to the classroom.

14. Patent Examiner

Patent examiners are employed by the government to review patent applications and decide whether they should be granted. Typically this involves searching the literature and patent databases to determine if the application is innovative and meets the requirements for a patent to be granted. Get more information on the role of a patent examiner here. 

15. Patent Lawyer/Attorney

Patent lawyers operate at the other end of the patent application process, working for clients who wish to file and maintain patents or who need guidance with any aspect of patent law. This is a very well-paid career, but is also high pressure and requires both scientific and law training.

The level of training required to become a patent lawyer varies from country to country. More details about the qualifications required to become a patent lawyer can be found here.

Do you have any other alternative careers for scientists? Did this article help you find your next career move? Leave us a comment below!

Originally published January 3, 2008. Reviewed and updated on January 14, 2021.

Resume and pen on a table to represent someone applying for alternative careers for scientists

36 Comments

  1. Christopher Haggarty-Weir on June 23, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    Also Venture Capital as many firms are interested in highly talented STEM Ph.D holders with a solid technical background in their field of expertise. You should look into doing the level 1 CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) if you want to go into this. However, there are very very few jobs, so you really have to make yourself stand out. That said, if you do make it, the pay is eye wateringly huge.



  2. Arielle on May 15, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    Hi,

    I graduated 3 years ago with a B.S. in Biochemistry. I had trouble finding a job, but when I finally found one, I found that it was too stressful. I worked in a lab as a laboratory technician and was working with so many dangerous chemicals. Now I am completely confused about what I actually want to do with my life. I still love science and want to do research but it seems near impossible to find a research job that doesn’t include working in a lab. I don’t have that much experience and don’t want to give up science, but I don’t know who to talk to. Is there anyone out there that has gone through this? Or is there anyone who can give me advice about what jobs I can do that don’t involve working in the lab? I am very creative, artistic, and am pretty good at writing. Please help!



    • Walker on June 6, 2016 at 1:12 am

      Hi Arielle,

      Your story is real similar to mine. I graduated with my BS a few years ago and decided to work for a while before starting grad school. I found the job marketplace much more competitive than I thought, and having been a recent graduate, I lacked the work experience that many companies were looking for. I did get work as a technician, but I spoke to many professors who all emphasized the usefulness of having graduate education (masters or phd) to be both a good resume builder and better prepare me for the workforce. I’m working on my masters right now and am considering going into tech transfer, so I was able to secure a paid internship with the tech transfer office at my school to get work experience.

      However, if you have absolutely no desire to go to graduate school, then it might be time to ask yourself what kind of jobs can you get that require nothing more than a BS (jobs that are more advanced than a basic lab technician usually require many years of experience without a graduate degree).

      If you think that you are artistic and good at writing, then my recommendation is to look into career paths such as tech writing (I know that they describe it in this web page, but nevertheless). A great way to look into career paths is to get in contact with people who know more about scientific careers away from the bench (the career office at your alma mater is usually a great place to start). Also, talk to as many people as you can find who have scientific training but aren’t “scientists” per se. This actually is a great day and age to be getting away from the lab bench.



    • Jenny on September 7, 2016 at 1:00 am

      You are not alone! I have so many successful offers from good companies and I turn it down due to health reasons and working with 12 M acids daily is stressful. We will prevail. Now I know why no one wants to major in chemistry lol



  3. Linda on November 14, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Hi!
    I’m sort of in a limbo situation. Im a microbiologist, (10 years) and in the span of 2 months, recently, I was my company liason to a high profile company in an industry they were struggling to break into. Obtained information, scheduled meetings, provided marketing strategy and information and got my company onto the vendor list and landed them a contract that would potentially double my company’s revenue for the year. What is my position exactly. Do I continue on with my title as ‘microbiologist’ ? I analyze, but at the same time, I’m conversing with our new client, doing research, obtaining information and developing a marketing strategy for obtaining work with our new client. Marketing isn’t even in my job description.

    What am I exactly? How should I proceed?



  4. abeer30 on May 8, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    I need help, I worked as a clinical lab technologist for about 5 years, and a senior lab analyst for 3 years, I left my career for more than 10 years now for personal reasons, I ‘m trying to go back to the field in a nice new suitable way, I feel it is very tough, I’m about 45 years old now, do you have any ideas might post me?



  5. syeda on July 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Great article..Thank You. I’ve just completed my Bachelor’s in Biotechnology. I’m also very much interested in getting into television with science related issues. How do I go forth with it??



  6. djr677 on March 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Thanks Suzanne, this was VERY helpful!



  7. priya on May 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Hi to all,
    I did my Biotech degree and not trying to find a suitable career. I don’t like to work in lab and has no creative skills. I am not suitable for marketing as well. Could someone help me with some suggestions please. I would also like to know more about information specialist in molecular biology. What postgraduate course do I have to do? In which places can I find job opportunities? What would be the salary range? Please someone help.



    • Ayesha on October 10, 2018 at 7:35 pm

      Hey! after 7 years, I am hopeful you found your way. if you are reading this, can you tell us?



  8. Michael LaRocca on March 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Years after another commenter, I’ve got to agree that medical/technical writing is still a fine and fulfilling choice. I’ve been at it for 10 years and counting.



    • Divya on December 10, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      Thank you for sharing Michael! I am a masters student in molecular biology and would love to hear more about your work as a medical writer. Would you be interested in answering a few questions over email? I am considering career options outside of academic research and would like to be more informed about alternative fields like science writing.



  9. Collin on March 4, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    What about options for someone who doesn’t want to go on to get a PhD? I wouldn’t mind putting in the effort, but it just seems really inefficient to spend 5+ years learning how to do lab research to go into a career where you don’t use lab research skills. I’ve looked at some biotech masters programs but you loose the distinction of having a PhD. Most of the biotech patent lawyer jobs want someone with a PhD even though, IMO, the technical knowledge doesn’t extend that much farther than a person with an MS.



    • Suzanne on March 5, 2010 at 12:17 am

      Hi Collin,
      It is true that getting the PhD does give you an edge for some positions. Are you interested in science but just can’t stand the lab? With a masters you can go into marketing, such as product management or technical writing. You might consider getting an MBA instead and then you would be in a good position to apply for marketing positions at major biotechs and get a higher salary than the average product manager.
      If you are a people person, you might consider biotech sales. Life science companies need people who know the lab and the protocols and can recognize equipment in the lab so communication is better.
      If you are interested in public health and communicating science to the public, there are some good programs in this area where you can have a role in educating non-scientists and making policy on issues that affect public health.



  10. Suzanne on February 16, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Hi Tiffany,
    Like Nick, I also did not have first author publications after my PhD, due to circumstances beyond my control, but, it has not been a problem at all in having a career in biotech. Hard work, being motivated, and good networking count for a lot.



    • Meera on June 15, 2011 at 8:23 am

      Hi Suzanne

      I have published only one research paper till now and have no research articles to my pocket. I have tried to get my articles published in a reputed journal. But there has been no success till now.

      I have stopped trying now. Will it harm my career as a researcher?



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