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How to get a job in science

Tips for science graduates in Ireland on how to get hired; information on the entry requirements and recruitment processes of science employers.

Entry routes and entry requirements

Entry routes vary depending on the career you wish to pursue. The minimum requirement is a degree in science, but many science graduates will pursue postgraduate study before entering employment. A masters degree is almost the standard for working in a large proportion of scientific jobs. Relevant work experience will increase your chances of a job offer; many third-level institutions have links with industry to arrange in-service training and often students will be offered full-time employment on the basis of a successful period of work experience.

Because of the technical nature of most jobs in the science sector, employers will specify the qualifications, skills and personal qualities that they require. Technical skills are obviously a minimum requirement but what are known as ‘soft skills’ are equally important. Most industries require those working in scientific areas to possess good organisational and planning skills; communication and team working skills; IT skills; flexibility and adaptability; the ability to work quickly, accurately, and independently; and logical and critical thinking.

The recruitment process

Job vacancies may be advertised in the national and local press, in specialist magazines (eg New Scientist, Nature) and in scientific journals. There are also several specialist recruitment agencies placing candidates in science jobs. However, many positions are not advertised; as a result, good networking skills are essential to target prospective employers with speculative applications. While some companies will have specific closing dates for graduate programmes, many recruiters in the science sector fill their vacancies through ongoing recruitment.

Recruitment processes vary according to the type and size of employer you are interested in. Larger organisations tend to hold a first round interview followed by a second round interview if successful in the first round. Smaller organisations often have only one interview.

Interviews and assessment centres for science jobs

A first round interview is an initial meeting and questions will be general, with the focus on your CV or application form. A panel generally consists of two people: one representative from HR and one from the department that you are applying to, for example your future supervisor (eg a lab supervisor).

Second round interviews are also likely to be a panel of two: a representative from HR and again somebody from the area that you applied to, but of a more senior level than the first interview, eg a laboratory manager. The questions at this stage will be of a more technical nature focusing on your knowledge of the area and your work experience.

Assessment centres are also used by some of the larger recruiters. These generally consist of an interview, a group observation exercise and an aptitude test.

Work experience

Work experience and internships (either during or after your degree) can be a valuable addition to your CV.

IAESTE (The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) is an international student exchange association. It offers students studying architecture, engineering, information technology or science in full-time third-level education the opportunity to gain relevant, paid work experience in another country.

ESA (European Space Agency) has a limited number of internships and graduate traineeships which physics students/graduates are eligible to apply for.

Some organisations may run summer programmes, for example Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland and Marine Institute.