Working as a researcher in the South West

Posted in: For PhDs, Labour Market Intelligence

I often have conversations with researchers who are wanting to work in the South West, whether due to family commitments or other personal or professional needs or preferences. Here are some of the things I say most often in those conversations:

1. Think about what your maximum commuter distance is and look into travel options.
2. Consider flexible working options - could you expand your commuter distance if you were able to work from home for at least part of the time? They might mention remote working policies on their website or HR policies, or you could ask during an interview whether the team is working remotely.

3. Think about how flexible you're willing to be. Focusing your job-search on a specific location may limit your options, but also open up avenues you haven't thought about before. You may need to think about using a variety of job-search strategies to locate opportunities that would be right for you. Use LinkedIn and the library databases to source companies in your preferred region, and also local Chamber of Commerce websites and Local Enterprise Partnerships.  You'll also need an excellent understanding of the local labour market; again, Chamber of Commerce and LEP websites can be good for this, as can local news reports. All of this advice applies if you are considering finding work in other cities or regions.

To get a general overview of sectors and career opportunities in the South West, take a look at our previous blog post on this topic and the relevant pages of the Finding a Graduate Job Guide. The West of England Combined Local Authority has some great information on key sectors Bath and Bristol; these include life sciences, finance and food innovation. In addition to the broader graduate labour market in the South West, the region is home to many organisations and sectors that may be of interest to researchers. In particular:

Advanced Engineering

This includes Aerospace (Bristol), Automotive (Swindon), Measuring Instruments and Medical Devices (Gloucestershire). See GradSouthWest for more info on these sectors in the South West; Gradcracker has excellent general information on these sectors. There are also several advanced engineering companies in Bath, including BMT Defence, Horstman Defence Systems and Babcock International.


There are several universities across the South West, and the two universities in Bath are the city's largest employers, along with the NHS. As well as research and teaching, universities employ people in a range of roles including policy, student support, research support and commercialisation, library and information services, media and equality and diversity. PhD graduates can be found working in a range of roles in HE; our previous post has more detail on this topic and advice on the skills required. For vacancies look at individual university websites and sign up for email alerts on If you want to work in particular academic departments or research groups, make sure you build relationships with them through research collaborations, conferences/seminars and academic social media. If you're looking for a postdoctoral position in a particular research group, do consider emailing the Principal Investigator to ask whether they have any projects coming up; and remember this is always easier to do with someone who has already heard of you!

Other research organisations

Where there are universities there is increasingly likely to be a cluster of spin-off companies that have come from academic research. Often smaller research organisations and tech startups that originated from academic research will be clustered around science parks - check out the UK Science Park Association to locate the science park nearest to you.

The South West is a hub for biotechnology and biomedical research, centred around the universities in Bath/Bristol and Plymouth/Exeter. Again, GradSouthWest has more details, and Medilink Southwest is a network of organisations working in biomedical science, healthcare and health technology.

In terms of public sector opportunities for researchers, some government organisations have outposts in the South West, including DEFRA, Natural England, The Environment Agency and the MoD. The Office for National Statistics has an office in Newport. Sign up job alerts via the Civil Service Recruitment Portal, and see our previous post for an overview of how Civil Service recruitment works. Public sector jobs are also advertised on JobsGoPublic, and Voscur advertises positions with charities in Bristol. For opportunities in local councils, check out individual council websites and LGJobs.

Organisations that fund and support research

The Research Councils, now grouped together under the umbrella organisation of UKRI. are mostly based in Swindon, and offer opportunities in research, policy, training and development, programme management, innovation and communication. Many roles will have a PhD as a desirable criteria, particularly roles which involve responsibility for a particular area of the funder's research  (these roles involve building relationships with industry and academia, overseeing the peer review process for funding applications and organising events; depending on the Research Council the job title will be 'Portfolio Manager' or 'Programme Manager'. Research England, which is  responsible for funding, engaging with and understanding English higher education institutions, is based in Bristol. The Research Councils and Research England have a joint vacancy portal. The Office for Students, which is the independent regulator of Higher Education in England, is also based in Bristol, and has opportunities in HE policy, research and data analysis. For those interested in intellectual property, there are quite a few patent firms in the South West, and the Intellectual Property Office is based in Newport.

Science Communication

The South West is a hub for science communication, with organisations such as We the Curious, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, and Cheltenham Science Festival. Here's a comprehensive list of organisations involved in science communication.







Posted in: For PhDs, Labour Market Intelligence


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