Biomedical Research Scientist

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This page contains all notes on biomedical research scientists over and above what we put in our career profile. Read the profile first, here.

Profile type


What is this career path?

Biomedical scientists do research on how the human body works with the aim of finding new ways to improve health. Biomedical research spans academia and industry. Academia tends to focus on improving tools and techniques, studying healthy biological processes and studying diseases, whereas industry tends to focus on generating and evaluating possible treatments. (“(A) – (C) are generally associated with academia, while (D) – (F) are generally associated with industry. “ [1]) In this profile we focus on biomedical scientists who work in academia.

What does the work involve?

What are the major stages of this career?

Training is done either through a PhD in biomedical sciences, or through doing a medical degree.

Typical career trajectory:

  • Initial training: Study in medicine or a PhD in biological sciences (4-10 years)
  • Junior researcher: Work in an established lab underneath the lab head, initially as a postdoc, and then as a tenure-track professor. During this phase you aim to publish, and find a promising field to specialise in.
  • Mid-level researcher:
  • Senior researcher:

What are the major sub-options within this path?

What is it like day-to-day?

Your days mainly consist of:

  • Running experiments in the lab
  • Writing academic papers and grant applications
  • Discussing your experiments with your boss and other members of the lab
  • Going to conferences, talks and learning about developments in the field
  • Teaching graduate students
  • If senior, managing and mentoring the other members of your lab.

Junior researchers may spend most of their time in the lab, while senior researchers spend most of their time managing, writing papers and speaking to other researchers.

Some day in the life profiles:

What are the people like?

Personal fit

Entry requirements.

What does it take to progress?

“This career is hard to predict. You have someone just starting their PhD. It’s quite hard to predict how it’s going to go for them. If they’ve done really well, they’ll probably succeed, but probably not quite as they imagine. And you may find that, although you’re first author on a Nature paper, you relied on having a great mentor. If they haven’t done really well, they can succeed, I’ve seen it happen. More likely, they’ll have to do something else.” “You’ll need to bear in mind that if it’s not working out, you may need to think about alternatives. It’s better to make the decision at that point rather than in 10 years. You can help yourself a lot by going to a top lab. Then ask, are you swimming or sinking?”

Who should especially consider this option?


Career capital

Common exits

“You can take jobs in lab admin, lab managers, research councils. It’s better to go into these careers at the start, but it’s an option. It’s difficult to go into medicine by this stage. People have, but it’s not ideal. Others just leave science, and go on to do other worthwhile things. One guy I know who went and started a coffee chain and did really well!”


Exploration value

Role impact

Direct impact potential

Summary of a literature survey on the returns to biomedical research and a tentative cost-effectiveness analysis by Givewell

“I think these kinds of issues [bad study design and other biases] are more of a problem in clinical trials. You’re not going to get funding to do a laboratory based project if it has been done before or it isn’t a very sound idea. The process is very rigorous.” “I agree that negative results tend not to be published, which does bias the field occasionally. And sometimes something gets published, but there’s never any follow up, so you might doubt it’s a real result. But in basic science, the word normally gets out one way or another. It’ll probably be mentioned in reviews eventually.”

Earnings potential

Advocacy potential

Job satisfaction

"Overall it takes 10-12 years before you’re fully qualified in medicine and able to run a research program. It’s tough, especially if you want to start a family.”

“Overall, I think it’s a fantastic career. The downsides are that it’s not very secure. People can run into funding problems, especially if they’re not at the peak of things or a bit unlucky. It’s not particularly well paid. It has its ups and downs. The ups more than compensate, but when you have a string of bad results and grants rejected, it gets a bit depressing.” “It can leave people a bit stranded mid career. You start out well, but you don’t quite make it to the top. You’re on a 3-5 year contract. You find it doesn’t get renewed. You’re 45 and stranded.


Past experience

Take action

Learn more

Next steps

Best resources

Remaining issues

Research process