what-do-research-staff-do-nextIf you decide that academia isn’t for you, then there are many opportunities in other sectors. Or you could explore the possibility of a non-academic role in a university. Of course, it can be difficult making that transition. Some researchers report a sense of ‘identity shift’ as they adjust to a different environment. Others find non-research roles offer less flexibility, and demand more emphasis on skills than on detailed knowledge of a subject.

Vitae’s What Do Research Staff Do Next? presents the findings of their study into the careers of researchers who move into occupations beyond academia. Alongside quotes from the researchers, it also includes lots of advice on how to make a successful transition.

Here are some of the main examples:

Professional Roles in HE

Typical areas within professional services include:

  • Research administration – e.g. grant management; commercialisation; knowledge exchange
  • Scientific support – e.g. laboratory management; study co-ordination; technical support
  • Training and development, and careers support – particularly working with doctoral researchers and research staff

“I love it; as Director of Research Services I do something different every day. One day I might be helping cost a funding proposal to a science research council. The next I could be looking at policy on open access publishing in the humanities, or resolving ethics issues with an overseas funder, or arranging a public outreach event with astronomers.” Simon Kerridge, Director of Research Services, University of Kent

In this video, Fiona Denney discusses her journey from PhD to becoming Head of Graduate Development at Kings College London:

Research Outside Higher Education

Many of the jobs in this sector are in life sciences and pharmaceutical industries. Much smaller numbers are employed by charities.

Typical job titles include:

  • R&D Scientist
  • Clinical Research Manager
  • Principal Statistician
  • Project Manager
  • Director of Research

“You’ll lose some flexibility in terms of timing or which topics of research you work on but you will gain some flexibility in terms of what you want to do next. Career progression outside academia is much broader and less directed.” Rosa Fernandez, Director of Research, National Centre for Universities and Business

Research Policy & Administration

Types of roles in this area include:

  • Developing, managing or implementing policy in government departments and agencies, including research funding bodies
  • Science policy research and advocacy (often in the charity/third sector)
  • Grant administration and programme management, including monitoring/evaluation and stakeholder management

“In academia, you forget how many skills other than research you are constantly developing. The organisational skills, ability to focus, extract information, motivate, lead, train, supervise, think strategically; building networks and horizon scanning – all of these helped me establish my career in a policy environment. Sushma Tiwari, Senior Policy Manager, Research Councils UK

Public Engagement & Science Communication

Typical employers in this area are universities, scientific/learned societies, medical charities, and museums/libraries. Particular themes include:

  • young people’s engagement with science
  • widening participation in education (non-traditional groups)
  • developing public engagement with science and culture

“A smaller organisation such as a museum … can make big local impacts, while in a national role you can help facilitate widespread change. I may consider eventually moving on to a role working more closely with scientists, helping them engage and communicate with general audiences. But for the time being I’m thrilled with where I am and what I’m doing!” Christina Fuentes Tibbitt, Engagement Manager (Regional), British Science Association


Outside HE lecturing, teaching professional mostly work in schools, further education, or vocational colleges.

Typical job titles include:

  • Further Education Lecturer
  • Tutor in Adult Education
  • Curriculum Leader

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“In school … I think that my previous experience as a research has a strong influence. I think (I hope …) I am more precise, objective and proactive … and to my surprise I am more patient and indulgent with my pupils (yes, they do not know many things, but that’s normal, I am there to teach them these things.” Alexandra Bourguignon-Lonero, former research staff in ancient languages

Writing & Publishing

Since it offers the opportunity to make use of subject knowledge and research training, specialist publishing is a popular career option for those leaving academia.

Typical job titles include:

  • Associate Editor
  • Medical Writer
  • Copy Editor

“I love the ability to deal with science from diverse fields, the day-to-day satisfaction of completing tasks … the longer-term job stability, and good work-life balance.” Darren Burgess, Associate Editor, Nature Publishing Group

Next Steps