I went to a fascinating talk a couple of weeks ago, organised by the Bath Institute for Mathematical Innovation, by the Government Office for Science about career opportunities for scientists and engineers in the Civil Service. Go-Science provides policy advice and support to the Government Chief Scientific Adviser in carrying out his role in advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet on a wide variety of areas including Risk and Resilience, Infrastructure, Trade and Finance, Energy and Climate Change, Cities, and Data and Analytics. The Government Chief Scientific Adviser is also the Head of the Science and Engineering profession for around 10,000 scientist and engineers who work in government in a variety of roles from specialist to policy as part of the Government Science and Engineering (GSE) profession.
This YouTube video provides a useful overview of the Government Science and Engineering Profession.
We heard from three recent science graduates working for Government; as you read their stories you’ll see that they moved around a bit after they graduated, a timely reminder for those uncertain about their next step is that where you start isn’t necessarily where you’ll end up, and our interests and career plans often change and develop over time:
Jenni completed a Masters degree in Meteorology at the University of Reading and worked as a weather forecaster in Singapore for a number of years for oil and gas clients., She then returned to the UK and worked providing forecasts for media and film production companies. During this time she realised that she wanted to work at the science-policy interface within government. Jenni took an intern policy research role (which was fully paid) in the Government Office for Science before achieving a permanent position on promotion to her current role at Cabinet Office.
Alex is part of the Horizon Scanning Team, Government Office for Science. Her role involves advising government on the evidence and scientific basis for new technologies. Alex did a Biology degree and then a Masters in Marine Science. While working in a wildlife conservation start-up she became interested in technology, and saw an advert for an internship with the Government Office for Science; her paid internship was initially for six months, and following a successful review her contract has been extended for a further six months. Alex enjoys using her scientific knowledge to in way that has real world impact.
Jerome is currently doing the Science and Engineering Fast Stream. He did an undergraduate degree which included a year in industry and then a PhD in theoretical structural Biology. He realised during his PhD that he wanted to do science that was more applied and had more impact. His first role was working for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, where he was part of the research funding team, managing funding calls, visiting universities and working on Equality and Diversity policy. He realised that he wanted a career that made use of his intellectual capacities, and considered working for think tanks and consultancies before settling on the Civil Service. His current role involves writing briefings and speeches for ministers, and he has liaised with a wide range of groups including academic, the NHS and patients, and frequently gets to meet with very senior people in external organisations.
Some general insights and tips from the three graduates on working as scientists in the Civil Service:
- Roles can involve researching areas of science and technology that the government wants more information on – not necessarily from your own specialism.
- The analytical skills gained as part of your science degree can be put to good use outside of the lab in a range of jobs from understanding research reports, to commissioning new work.
- They were not expected to have particular areas of technical expertise, but rather to be have a broad knowledge, scientific training and interest in science and engineering which enables them to get to grips with new areas quickly.
- There are roles that do require particular technical skills and enable the development of specialist science and engineering careers in many organisations of the public sector such as Safety, Security, Defence (both military and civilian), Public Health, the Met Office and many, many, more- the role of Government scientist and engineers, as with all civil servants, is to support the priorities set by the Government of the day.
- Roles are varied and include real responsibility from the outset supported by induction, training, and development opportunities.
- To stay in touch with opportunities follow the GSE Blog: https://governmentscienceandengineering.blog.gov.uk/
Getting in to science policy
If you have a particular interest on working on science to inform policy or indeed the policy of science there are opportunities in the Civil Service, and scientific learned societies (e.g. Royal Society, Institute of Physics). Some entry level roles may requires a Masters or PhD. (https://wellcome.ac.uk/jobs/graduate-development-programme) has a graduate scheme. This article by Queen Mary, University of London Careers Service has a useful summary of organisations work in science policy and relevant events and training courses. If you’re wanting to get into science policy, think about getting some short-term experience (internships are sometimes advertised on the Campaign for Science and Engineering website, and there are internships for Research-Council funded PhD students to work in a range of policy organisations), keep up to date with scientific issues that affect public policy, and build your networks through sites like LinkedIn and our own Bath Connection.
For other ideas for non lab-based career options for scientists, take a look at our guide to Alternative Careers in Science.