A career in research is an entirely realistic option for postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. What is important to realise is that this career does not have to be in academia. The commercial and public sectors also do large amounts of research and all value the skills and experiences of academic researchers. As in all things, there are good and bad points to each sector; you will have to consider which are right for you.
Research careers within academia
In Science and Engineering, and sometimes in Social Science disciplines, a PhD can be followed by a period of post-doctoral research. Postdoctoral research contracts can be anything from three months to three years in length. Postdoctoral research is the pathway to a longer term academic career. Undertaking one or two postdoctoral positions can be a good way to test out whether a long-term academic career is for you.
If you are passionate about academic research it's worth considering how much you also want to engage in teaching, as most lecturing jobs involve both of these elements. In limited cases it is possible to pursue a research-only career in academia. You can do this by:
- obtaining independant funding via a fellowship or grant (as a Co-Investigator or Principal Investigator). Both of these normally require you to undertake a postdoctoral position first. Research staff can find out more information on sources of funding and the procedures to follow from the Research Development and Support Office.
- Occasionally, 'lab managers' or 'facility managers' are recruited. These are normally senior researchers who can conduct research and manage large laboratories/central facilities. Such jobs are rare; once appointed, the postholder is highly valued as they provide key continuity in an area where staff/student turnover is high.
Research Careers outside academia
Depending on your discipline, you could pursue a research career in:
- industry (large or small)
- charities and NGOs
- central and local government
- cultural organisations
- research institutes and research councils
- social research organisations
- market research organisations
It is important to assess what is important to you in a career; for you, research in a large company with a big budget may be more important than wanting to set your own research agenda (lines of research in the commercial sector can change depending on the strategy of the company - projects can disappear almost overnight). You may also be expected to move departments/projects as dictated by the focus of the company, although you would be retrained if that were the case. There is often more of an emphasis on teamworking outside academia. See the vacancies section for where to look for research positions outside of academia. The Careers Group (University of London) have produced a detailed guide to research careers in various sectors which includes links and vacancy sources.