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Career profile: Medical researcher

Career profile: Medical researcherWithout medical research, doctors wouldn't know what works and what doesn't. Find out how you can get involved.

What is a medical researcher?

Medical researchers use experiments and analysis to improve medical care. This includes developing new drugs, identifying the causes of illnesses, making medical procedures safer and much more.

Who employs medical researchers?

Medical researchers can work for organizations including:

  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Universities
  • Hospital laboratories
  • Research charities

Which employer is right for you will depend on your priorities and specialisms. You might earn more in industry, but have less freedom to pursue your own research interests, for example.

What is the work like?

There is a wide variety of work available within medical research. You could be working in a lab, testing new compounds to see if they might have a potential medical use, or conducting trials with people in a hospital setting. Whatever kind of research you work on, you can expect to do a few essential tasks:

  • Planning and running experiments
  • Analysing the results of your experiments
  • Writing up your results for medical or scientific journals

There is also a lot of work not directly related to your research. Medical researchers are often involved with the wider scientific community through visiting conferences and collaborating with other organisations. Researchers in universities will be expected to teach students, and will need to apply for funding to keep their research going. In industry, the approach will be more business-based: for example, you will need to review how profitable your research is likely to be.

Getting into medical research

You'll normally need a medicine degree and some experience in the lab to get started with a research career. Graduates with other biology or life science degrees can also find their way into medical researchers, and there are a few jobs available in specific fields of medicine for other science graduates. From there, you'll move on to a research-based post-graduate course - senior researchers normally need a PhD.

Proven experience and published research are the key to finding research jobs, whether you want to work in industry or in academia. Because your career might depend on being able to convince people to give you research grants, it's also important to get experience of writing applications.

How much do medical researchers earn?

If you get a PhD, you can expect a starting salary between £25,000 and £35,000 - but remember, you'll be earning significantly less during your studies. Pay for senior positions can reach over £60,000, and researchers earn even more in industry.

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