• Question: does becoming at the stage you are at now require a lot of time and dedication put on towards aiming for you standard target, if so if I was to try and become a scientist that works on biology (the body)what would I need to know and understand to take that risk?

    Asked by hawk350day to Rob, Imad, Hannah, Fern, Christian, Carol on 9 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: Fern Johnson

      Fern Johnson answered on 9 Jun 2019:


      The most common route to being a scientist is doing well in science and maths GCSEs at school, then studying 3 or 4 A levels. You do well enough at A-levels, then go to university for 3 or 4 years. Many people that work in science get masters and/or PhDs, and then begin working in research, for universities or private companies. You start out very specialised, for example starting with a degree in biology or biomedical sciences, then get more and more specialised. You spend a long time in education, and need to get used to studying – it might not always be easy so you do need dedication! There are more alternative routes into science now, such as apprenticeships for school leavers, that let you get more hands on more quickly.

      Not everyone will follow the same path. I’m currently a trainee on the NHS healthcare scientist training scheme, which university graduates can apply to without needing a masters or PhD. However it is really competitive so I had to apply twice, and wait a year before finally starting. There is always a risk in any career path that you won’t be able to do exactly what you want, and you might need to be very determined and keep trying if you don’t get onto the course or get the job you really wanted. You might also change your mind and not want to be scientist, but having a science degree is still really useful – so many careers need problem solving and logical skills, that you develop as a scientist. I think very few people that I met doing biology degrees have regretted it, even if they didn’t stay in science.

    • Photo: Rob Ives

      Rob Ives answered on 9 Jun 2019:


      The most important thing is that you have a real interest in science (in this case biology) and are doing it because YOU want to (not someone else). If you are interested in a subject, it is much easier to learn new things. Next, ask questions. This helps you to understand what you have learnt. Asking “why” is fine and if someone cannot answer this, try and answer it yourself in your own head (wacky ideas are not always wrong). To succeed in your career, you will need to dedicate time and effort, but it will be worth it. Even Lionel Messi and Serena Williams have to work incredibly hard to be the best at what they do.
      Think about whether you would like to continue in education through University and get a science job when you already have some knowledge, or whether you might prefer to find a job (such as an apprenticeship) at 18 and ‘learn whilst you work’. I left school at 18 and this worked best for me, but it is about what works best for you. I love biology and never regret focussing my career in this area.

    • Photo: Carol Wallace

      Carol Wallace answered on 10 Jun 2019:


      That’s a difficult one to answer.
      I don’t think everyone has a straight career path, and there are many routes to the end point.
      You could go the academic pathway or an apprentice-ship style scheme or have a career break (as I have done) or even a total career change.
      You need to have an enthusiasm for the subject, an ability to ask questions (even if you think you’re being stupid) as not everyone learns in the same way and an ability to sometimes go with the flow (you’ll get there eventually).
      There is not a simple answer, as I’m sure all of us on the panel have had different routes to get where we are today.

    • Photo: Christian Gude

      Christian Gude answered on 10 Jun 2019:


      Personally, I try very hard to satisfy my perfectionism in all aspects of my work, but it’s important to know that there should be a playful side to science in which you allow your own creativity to take over!

      When I decided that I wanted to study Biochemistry, medicine was on the table as an alternative and I decided against it because I felt too uncomfortable with the level of responsibility I’d have. Research has a much larger margin for errors and, in fact, some of the best inventions are based on silly mistakes scientists made and then curiosity took over – for example penicilline was discovered that way.

      So keep being curious!

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