A science degree doesn't have to mean a career in the lab. Students with a head for science but little interest in the traditional career paths should explore some of these exciting alternatives.
Science Writing and Journalism
Advances in science occur at a rapid pace. Science writers are needed to keep up with the latest happenings in the science community and share that information with a broad audience.
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Science writers contribute to various types of publications:
- Newspapers and Magazines: Science, medical reporters and staff writers cover science-related news.
- Television and Radio: Writers help produce science-related scripts.
- Science journals: Journalists write for an audience of professional scientists.
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Medical and technical writers’ jobs differ slightly from journalists. They work for medical, biotech and other technical and science companies. These writers contribute to technical guides, instructions, product specifications and textbooks.
Science writers must be knowledgeable about many aspects of science and be able to quickly learn the basics of various topics. Writers have to keep up with the pace of scientific discovery. They must also be able to present complex scientific and technical subjects in clear, precise language for a general audience. An academic background in science or journalism is needed, but successful science journalists must be proficient in both fields.
Patent Law/Intellectual Property
Science expertise is in demand in the field of patent law. Patent lawyers must have solid legal skills, but they must also understand cutting-edge innovations in science and technology.
Patent law protects clients’ claims to new inventions and discoveries. Client’s innovations occur in diverse areas, from new pharmaceuticals to the latest design of a food package.
Patent lawyers need an academic background in engineering, physics or the natural sciences. “Make sure you really focus on your undergraduate degree,” says Brent Hawkins, a partner at the intellectual property rights law firm Wallenstein, Wagner and Rockey. “Be the best engineer, scientist or researcher that you are and really develop your skills there because they are helpful later.”
You do not need a law degree to get started on a career in patent law, but most scientists working in patent law eventually attend law school.
Without a law degree, scientists can work as technical advisers. Technical advisers can sit for the patent bar examination without having earned a law degree. Those with a law degree can handle the legal work needed to protect patents from infringement.
Strong communication skills are also essential. Patent applications can be 60 pages or more and involve long technical explanations.
“It’s our job to interpret the inventions to the world,” Hawkins says.
The need for science teachers is growing. If you have a broad knowledge of science and enjoy sharing your love of science with others, consider a career in education.
Science teachers at the middle and high school levels typically focus on a single subject. Those with science backgrounds also work as educators at museums, zoos and conservation societies.
A good science teacher presents complicated scientific concepts in a way that engages young students. Teachers must be capable of using the latest teaching resources, including multimedia equipment. There is more to teaching than sharing your expertise. Unlike other careers in science, teachers may find themselves in the role of mentor to their students, so they must enjoy working with kids.
To teach in a public school, you must be licensed by the state. Certification procedures differ from state to state, but training for teacher certification can take as long as two years. Some programs, like North Carolina’s NC Teach, offer intensive teacher training programs that combine 12 months of training alongside working in a classroom.
From national defense to environmental protection, many political issues require scientific input. Scientists play an essential role in shaping public policy and advocating on behalf of science.
Scientists working in public policy keep policy-makers up-to-date on the latest scientific developments and provide the scientific information they need to make sound political decisions. Opportunities are available in a variety of federal, Congress, quasi-governmental organizations as well as advocacy groups and think tanks.
Most successful scientists working in public policy have PhDs. There are graduate programs in public policy, but they are not necessary to get started in this field.
In addition to being an expert in their field, scientists working in public policy must be able to communicate their ideas and research to non-experts. You don’t necessarily have be conversant with the ins and outs of the political process, but a basic understanding of economics, international affairs and policy making will help you succeed.