Biomedical research roles and career pathways - MRC

Use this overview to:

  • explore career pathways in biomedical research, within academia and industry
  • learn about the many and diverse roles of those involved in research and innovation.

Read about funding options for researchers.

Download a printable overview of research career pathways and research funding types.

Career pathways and role descriptions

An overview of the roles and typical career pathways in biomedical research and innovation.

Apprenticeship

An apprenticeship combines practical training in a job with study, leading to a nationally recognised qualification.

From an apprenticeship you could progress to a BSc or research technician/officer role.

BSc

An undergraduate degree, usually lasting either three or four years if studied full-time.

From a BSc, you could progress to an MSc, PhD (full- or part-time) or research technician/officer.

MSc

A postgraduate degree, usually lasting one to two years if studied full time. Courses combine taught and research elements, focusing on a particular area of interest in more detail.

From an MSc, you could progress to a PhD (full- or part-time).

PhD

A postgraduate research degree, usually lasting three or four years, if undertaken full time. Involves independently conducting original and significant research in a specific field. Normally assessed by a written thesis and oral examination.

From a PhD you could progress to postdoc. From PhD (part-time) you could progress to postdoc or research technician/officer role.

Postdoc

A postdoctoral researcher is a person conducting supervised research after completion of a PhD. The role can provide an opportunity to develop independence, strengthen technical skills and focus research interests.

From postdoc you could progress to:

  • junior career fellowship
  • second/additional postdoc(s)
  • research/technical specialist
  • laboratory/facility manager
  • intermediate career fellowship
  • tenure track/lectureship.

Fellowship

Fellowships are funding for individual researchers. They allow you to devote time to your own research and provide support for you to develop as a research leader. Fellowships often include career development opportunities like training, mentorship and international placements.

From junior career fellowship you could progress to intermediate career fellowship or tenure track/lectureship.

Research technician

A person with specialist technical expertise and knowledge, using their practical, analytical and management skills to contribute to research.

From research technician/officer, you could progress to BSc, PhD (part-time), senior research technician/officer, or laboratory/facility manager.

Senior postdoc

An experienced postdoctoral researcher conducting supervised research. Likely to be taking on senior responsibilities, for example in research management, supervision, mentoring, and paper and grant writing.

From senior postdoc, you could progress to research/technology specialist.

Research/technology specialist

Team scientists within industry or academia who maintain and develop technologies and methodologies to better address biomedical questions.

From research/technology specialist, you could progress to laboratory/facility manager or senior research/technology specialist.

Senior research/technology specialist

A senior team scientist, in industry or academia, who maintains and develops technologies and methodologies to better address biomedical questions.

From senior research/technology specialist, you could progress to laboratory/facility manager or research/technology specialist director.

Tenure track

A pathway to promotion and academic job security.

From the tenure track, you could progress to senior career fellowship, or group leader/associate professor.

Lectureship

An academic post, with teaching, research or administrative responsibilities.

From lectureship, you could progress to senior career fellowship, or group leader/associate professor.

Laboratory/facility manager

A person managing all day-to-day operations of a laboratory or facility, including managing budgets, procurement and technical maintenance, and providing technical expertise and training.

From laboratory/facility manager, you could progress to research/technology specialist, senior research/technology specialist, or research/technology specialist director.

Group leader

A researcher responsible for the leadership and management of their own programme, team and resources.

From group leader, you could progress to principal research fellow, or professor/director.

Associate professor

An academic post, one rank lower than a professor. In the UK the person holding this post may also go by the title ‘reader’ or ‘senior lecturer’.

From associate professor, you could progress to principal research fellow or professor/director.

Principal research fellow

A competitively won award, enabling protected time to undertake independent research. This is accessible at different career stages.

From principal research fellow, you could progress to professor/director.

Professor

A senior academic post, providing academic leadership within a university or research institute.

Director

A senior management post responsible for leading and implementing policy and strategy.

Career profiles

Read about some of the career paths people have taken in the career profiles section.

Last updated: 17 November 2021

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