Do All Life Scientists Wear Lab Coats?

How will the loss of in-person laboratory teaching impact job prospects?

As a follow up to our recent poll asking if the current undergraduates who are losing in-person laboratory teaching will be disadvantaged in securing future jobs.

The results can be summarised as:

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No surprise perhaps that the overwhelming majority (84% where n=230) felt the answer was yes and in ‘normal’ situations the consequence should be avoided. We are not in normal times, of course, so how to balance the need to contain the spread of a virus with in-person teaching needs is complex for the education providers and students alike.

It did stimulate discussion however about how, in an age where virtual and augmented reality, broad internet access and communication, laboratory training could be delivered remotely. Recreating experiments in a virtual world I can see has merits and a potential legacy beyond the pandemic if it means access to such training is widened. The upfront investment to create such platforms I fear though may well render this approach non-viable without huge grant support. Clearly most agreed however that there was nothing quite like hand-on experience to enable someone to learn such techniques beyond the theoretical application.

Do all science careers require lab coats?

It was interesting to be pointed towards two reports about the career destination of science graduates. First, the Prosects What do graduates do? 2020/21 report. and the earlier Royal Society The Scientific Century report when asked, in response to the poll question above, how many of the cohorts go on to use practical skills and hence are less disadvantaged? Interestingly the Prospects report indicated that whilst >30% from 2017/18 graduation ended up in science professional roles such as researcher or technician, 25% were in manufacturing, R&D and construction and so on, it was notable that almost 20% were then in finance, HR, marketing and sales roles after studying a biological sciences degree. Many go directly on to further study of course and whilst I don’t have similarly recent data, the Royal Society report suggests that <5% of PhD graduates end up in permanent university research positions and >20% in research careers outside of universities. This leaves 80% of PhD graduates ultimately career shifting into careers outside science.







Or do they?

I ask this question since there is the assertion that all roles not in research are ‘outside science’. This may be true for many, but equally I know many science graduates and PhD scientists who are no longer in lab-based roles. They are however, in associated roles within R&D companies, public policy, investment, communications and wider, still within, supporting and influencing the science sector, just not in the laboratory.  Transformation of biomedical R&D to be increasingly data driven creates opportunities for those skilled in data science, engineering, automation and AI/Machine Learning at an almost exponential rate. Understanding how to engage such skills from other sectors is a Learning and Development opportunity for the whole Life Science sector. These scientists don’t wear lab coats, don’t require to be in a laboratory but absolutely require to be part of multi-disciplinary teams with whom to apply their expertise.

What attracts the best?

Mid-2020, the UK Government published its UK Research & Development Roadmap setting out its aspirations and proposed actions to ensure this was firmly part of a successful UK plc future. One aspect within that was laying down the challenge of how we attract the best talent to the UK? and furthermore how do we ensure research is for all? We have held discussions around those challenges, captured in our blog series and through our network have created a library of related recorded sessions available for on-demand viewing. Harnessing the inherent sense of purpose that the biomedical sector has whilst communicating the huge breadth of roles and opportunities within it is something we aim to do on a continual basis. Personal development matters to us all and career goals are personal and important. Lost of things make a great job, aspirations vary between us and employer practices vary also. We see hugely insightful leadership among those building their teams. Increasingly recognising that flexibility, company culture and how an organisation aligns with the big society matters such as climate change and diversity, mentoring of their staff. These examples indicate how the sector is adapting to ensure it attract, retain and motivate the best possible talent and skills.

So, what works?

The aim of One Nucleus is to work with our members and stakeholders to discuss and disseminate good practice wherever possible and position our sector as an employer of choice collectively. This allows us to support our members in attracting the best people, not because they create jobs alone, but because they are creating great careers for bright people looking for a cause.

Perhaps every Learning & Development exercise starts with awareness. For those building their careers, awareness of opportunity and the skills required to reach their goals. For employers, the awareness sits around understanding what can make them be perceived as an employer of choice, including the value that can add to their brand in the eyes of their stakeholders. The next step must be engagement with each other to create the journeys both wish to purchase tickets for. This alignment of aspirations is a two-way street, establishing what each other wants, what it is feasible to deliver for the other party and what the next steps could be.

This is the reason One Nucleus has created ‘Building Life Science Adventures’, an online careers conference with live sessions over 30th – 31st March delivered via an event app that enables all delegates to connect with each other for more targeted follow up. Far from being designed as a jobs fair where advice is given and CVs handed over, this event is built to enable that discussion around what works for career seekers and for employers, ideally identifying best practice for all. Registration is free to all thanks to the generous support of sponsors and supporters, all of whom are dedicated to ensuring the Life Science sector is the place to be to address unmet needs, global challenges and personal goals.

As Paul Meyer has stated “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success”. True for all ages and a fantastic opportunity to learn from those ahead or behind you in their journeys. Building Life Science Adventures allows you to engage, connect, communicate and network. The ingredients for each and everyone’s success are there, so you just need to add yourself and your own aspirations!

Tony Jones
18th January 2021