Government and Public Sector

Government and Public Sector research and development offers an alternative to working in private sector industry, whilst also allowing PGRs to maintain research interests without the teaching, publication and other pressures involved in academia.

In the Civil Service, PGRs may enjoy the fact that their work will be used to inform the government’s actions on a range of high-profile issues from defence technology to climate change.

Key skills for government and the public sector include:

  • Excellent research skills in both organising and undertaking research (including any relevant lab skills)
  • Problem-solving
  • Fine-level analytical skills and accuracy
  • Team work
  • Strong communication skills
  • Self-motivation
  • Patience and resilience when progress is slow

Opportunities for STEM PGRs in the Civil Service 

There are a number of career options for STEM postgraduate researchers in the public sector, as well as private sector industry. One of these is the Civil Service Science and Engineering Fast Stream (SEFS), which is open exclusively to Masters and PhD graduates in biological, physical and mathematical sciences or engineering subjects.

Work on this scheme focuses on ensuring that the best science and engineering advice is brought to bear on government policy and decision-making. Science and Engineering Fast Streamers work on issues as diverse as climate change, bioscience policy, defence technology, transport innovation and food production. The scheme is a structured programme over four years, including postings within and secondments beyond the Civil Service.

Beyond the Fast Stream, opportunities also exist for postgraduate researchers in the Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (DSTL), including two-year graduate training programmes in analysis, engineering and science. The government's intelligence and security function, GCHQ, also offers a range of roles in applied research, mathematics and cryptography, technology and engineering, and more.

Find out more about the Civil Service and other relevant government departments

  • Information on the Civil Service Science and Engineering Fast Stream  from the Fast Stream webiste
  • Civil Service recruitment website: As well as the fast stream, there are also direct-hire opportunities in the Civil Service for STEM postgraduate researchers; search for jobs in ‘analytical,’ ‘engineering,’ ‘environment and sustainability,’  ‘health,’ ‘IT,’ ‘science’ and more on the wider Civil Service jobs website
  • GCHQ Careers information: GCHQ are the UK intelligence services, and they offer career routes in applied research, technology and engineering, mathematics and cryptography and more
  • Other Government departments and agencies that are involved in scientific research in which research-based work opportunities can be found include the Environment Agency and DEFRA

Opportunities for STEM PGRs in the healthcare sector

Opportunities in healthcare and the NHS aren’t just for those with a medical or life sciences background; PGRs from engineering, physics and other STEM disciplines can also find opportunities to use their knowledge and expertise in this sector. Around 55,000 people in the UK work in healthcare science. Many work across life sciences and physiological sciences, but there are also opportunities to work in:

  • biomechanical and clinical engineering;
  • clinical computing;
  • physical sciences (including medical physics);
  • health informatics and data;
  • research and development in the NHS.

The principal ‘route in’ to many of these roles is via the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP) which offers three years of work-based training plus an additional Masters degree in your chosen specialism.  Depending on your specialism, work may be based in in diagnostic laboratories, pathology departments, or in other settings advising clinicians on diagnoses and treatment options. Alternatively, you may be working on maintaining and managing medical equipment and technologies. You can find information about different specialisms on the STP website.

The STP is highly competitive, but the skills and expertise that you develop as a postgraduate researcher can strengthen your application. Careers Network also run specialised workshops focusing on the STP application process. Keep your eye on their events page for more details.

Opportunities in research and development in the NHS are, however, advertised on NHS jobs and do not require entry through the Scientist Training Programme. These roles involve supporting the set-up and delivery of research projects undertaken within the health service. Some may focus particularly on supporting clinical trials or clinical data management.

Find out more about working in the healthcare sector


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