Stepping stones to alternative science careers

Since leaving my job in academia, I have come to realise the breadth of careers out there for those interested in science. After 15 years as a pharmacology lecturer, I took a completely different track and started my own Company (STEM Scotland Ltd) in 2018, and I am often asked to speak about careers in science, most recently at Pharmacology 2021.

When you are in the midst of a science degree or job that is all-consuming, it can be difficult to see what else you can do. Perhaps you don’t know where you can apply the knowledge from your degree, or you like what you’re doing but don’t want to do it for ever. Maybe you love science but don’t want to work in a lab. If this sounds like you and you’re not sure where to start, read on for my suggestions about how to take the next steps into your alternative science career.

How to get paid whilst researching career ideas

Whether you are a science undergraduate, an Early Career Researcher, or you are already established in your academic career but feeling jaded, it can be hard to think outside the box, so here are some realistic ideas to consider. These examples all allow you to earn money whether you are already working, studying, or between post-docs, whilst using your scientific and other skills outside of academia. They can all be done alongside your current course or post, evolve into careers, and pay the bills whilst you consider your next steps!

Be a science tutor

For scientists, tutoring is a great side-line; it is very flexible time-wise and can develop into a whole new career, either tutoring full time (there is high demand for tuition in all branches of science) or setting up your own tutoring business. A good way to start is to ask your contacts for potential pupils, put a message on a local group, or register with a tutoring agency. One agency I would recommend is Clever Tutors but there are lots out there.

Create an online course

You may well have taken some online courses yourself, especially since 2020 – why not try creating an online course that other people will pay you to take? It doesn’t need to be restricted to your subject of study or research – think about other areas in your life where you are already an expert and can pass on your knowledge to others. It could be photography, dance, sport, languages, software packages, as some examples. You can start by creating an account with one of several online course platforms (for example Thinkific, LearnWorlds or Teachable) and have a play in your spare time, no matter how limited that is.

It can be difficult to approach course creation when immersed in academia, but I encourage you to throw aside any scepticism and embrace new forms of knowledge sharing. I am currently using Thinkific to create an online version of Dr Dot’s Science Club (my primary after-school science club which has become a key part of my business), then plan to expand the club to other audiences and scale this up over time. There is a whole big world out there so dip a tentative toe in or dive right in and make a splash! Who knows where it will lead.

Start your own business (yes, you can!)

I am part of a lot of business groups and it is common to work part time in your business whilst having the security of a regular job. And it is perfectly possible, particularly in this increasingly online working world. Your business can be product or service-based, online or in premises, full time or part time. Business Gateway and the Federation of Small Businesses are great sources of support, information and training. Before I founded STEM Scotland Ltd I had a lot of misconceptions about what business is and I have been pleasantly surprised by the creativity it has unleashed!

Take the first step

It helps to realise that there is no wrong career path, so don’t hold out for that elusive perfect job. You will find the science career that’s right for you in time – and you are the one that knows your own hopes, aspirations, circumstances and limitations. Some examples of possible careers are shown in Figure 1. Careers are not linear and it is absolutely fine to do something else to pay the bills whilst you are building, or changing, your science career. This is not failure! This is a pragmatic, liberating, and proactive way to progress your career and you will pick up many skills and experiences along the way. Whilst in between scientific contracts, I temped for a year with an accounting agency, and this exposure to an entirely different working environment was valuable experience in dealing with change. Without noticing at the time, I also became more familiar with various accounting terms and concepts, which helps me even now with some of the financial aspects of my business. I am a firm believer that no experience is wasted, even if the benefits are not always immediately obvious. So why not take that first step and let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments?


Figure 1. Examples of possible careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). The empty bubble is a space for your own ideas and further examples.


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Published: 24 Nov 2021

About the author

Dorothy Aidulis

Dr Dorothy Aidulis is the Director of her own science education company STEM Scotland Ltd, working with schools and the public to help them reach their potential in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths). Dorothy founded the company in 2018 after over 20 years in science and education. She is a member of the British Pharmacological Society and the Association for Science Education, as well as a registered STEM Ambassador.

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