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Careers in Science and Healthcare 2020

What can you do with science and healthcare degrees?

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Charlie Ball

Head of Higher Education Intelligence, Prospects, Jisc

These are difficult times for anyone looking for work, and particularly for young people leaving education.


With degrees costing a great deal and all sorts of stories about their perceived value – or lack of them – it is only reasonable that people considering degrees in science and health should be asking questions about what they can do with them.

What sort of jobs can you get? Are there any jobs to get? Where are they? And how will that all change in the future?

Well, let’s take a look at where we are now, which is in the middle of a rolling labour market ferment caused by COVID-19. Even with constant daily changes and updates on what’s going on, some clarity is starting to emerge about how jobs have been affected.

Graduate job hunting is tough right now

The graduate labour market has suffered significant damage, particularly in the arts – which may be the worst-affected sector in the UK. The level of vacancies is running at about 50-60% of normal rates. But things are far worse for non-graduates. Many key graduate employment sectors – in health, social care, IT, finance – have been much less affected than many other areas of the economy.

If you’re studying science and healthcare degrees you will possess some of the most valuable qualifications for the current and future jobs market

Although the situation is pretty gloomy for the jobs market right now, if anyone can be considered to have lost out less than others, it’s graduates in healthcare related subjects. COVID-19 has shone a very harsh light on the country’s long-term shortages of all kinds of healthcare professionals and there will be strenuous efforts made to shore up the levels of health professionals in the UK.

Anyone thinking of studying degrees in medicine and nursing and all forms of allied health professions – occupational therapy, radiography and midwifery are three areas in particular demand – can be reassured that the market is strong and is only likely to remain strong.

Decrease in jobs for science graduates

It’s not quite the same in the sciences. There are still a lot of questions about future research funding.

The UK’s long-term reliance on the pharmaceutical industry for a lot of science employment meant that prospects took a big hit over the last decade or so with the likes of Pfizer pulling out of their hugely important site at Sandwich and other structural sector changes. As a consequence, the science jobs market for first degree science graduates has weakened substantially over the last 15 years and postgraduate roles are now very important (fortunately that market is not as badly affected).

Science backgrounds offer attractive, transferable skills for employment

However, other industries have capitalised on a relative glut of able scientists, with their quantitative skills and ability to assess evidence and have moved to fill the gap.

The business service and finance industry is now the top employment destination for physics and chemistry graduates – a blow to the purists but testament to the valuable skills science graduates bring to the table. And, of course, the pharmaceutical industry has been thrust to the forefront of efforts to combat COVID-19 and its effects, and this is likely to mean it weathers the employment storm rather better than many other.

There’s a lot that’s genuinely uncertain about what the future holds for graduates, but if you’re studying science and healthcare degrees you will possess some of the most valuable qualifications for the current and future jobs market. That doesn’t mean jobs will leap out at you – you’ll still need to work to demonstrate your skills and attributes to prospective employers – but the options are there for you.

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