When it comes to choosing a career, there’s an awful lot to consider.
Aside from whether or not you find a certain profession interesting, you also have to take into account salary expectations, opportunities for advancement and, of course, the security of the industry itself.
In a job market that is constantly evolving, this can be a pretty tricky task.
Luckily, science – and the wider STEM field in particular – ticks all these boxes.
Whether it’s driving advancements in technology, defining business strategy through analytics or finding new ways to preserve our health, scientists create an understanding of our world and a means with which societies can thrive in it.
As if the prospect of shaping the future isn’t enough, there’s also more good news; science can actually pay pretty well, too. As governments and private organisations seek to redress the skills gap that currently exists, salaries are increasing, and young people everywhere are being encouraged to give STEM fields a go.
So, whether your bag is chemistry, physics or biology, why not see what your mind could be worth?
Here are the 20 highest-paying science careers in the world.
Average salary: £39,500 ($51,980)
As the name suggests, biotechnologists combine the study of organisms with the application of technology to solve environmental, commercial or medical problems.
Based mainly within a laboratory, you would require a relevant degree in a biochemical field, as well as experience or knowledge of the industry in which you want to specialise (ie: food and drink, renewable energy or genetics).
18. Palaeontologist (tie)
Average salary: £40,000 ($52,630)
If you’ve ever wondered how Ross Geller was able to afford such a luxurious Manhattan apartment (while also simultaneously supporting two children and a flurry of divorce-related legal bills), then science – as always – has the answer.
As a noted palaeontologist, responsible for the study of fossil plants and animals, the Friends character was able to attract the kind of salary you too could potentially earn. Oil, gas and mining companies all pay handsomely for experienced palaeontologists, as do traditionally academic employers such as universities and museums.
18. Meteorologist (tie)
Average salary: £40,000 ($52,630)
Although concerned primarily with the prediction of weather patterns, the scope of meteorologists involves far more than talking about sun showers on the six o’clock news. They also research and analyse the potential of dangerous weather threats such as floods, hurricanes and tsunamis, as well as study how weather can impact the spread of pollution and disease.
You would need a degree in a relevant topic such as geography, environmental studies or physics, as well as a strong understanding of how to interpret data to succeed as a meteorologist.
16. Physicist (tie)
Average salary: £42,000 ($55,270)
Physics is a wide-ranging spectrum of disciplines but is essentially split into two main fields: theoretical physics (think Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory) and experimental physics (as pursued by his colleague, Leonard Hofstadter).
The results of these theories and findings can have an infinite range of technological, environmental and commercial applications and, as a result, physicists can be very well paid. You would be expected to have studied at postgraduate level, with many subsequently establishing their credentials via their PhD work.
16. Biologist (tie)
Like physics, a career in biology could involve the study of any number of disciplines; among the more popular are molecular biology, marine biology and immunology.
Average salary: £42,000 ($55,270)
If you have an interest in the structure, mechanisms and natural development of organisms and ecosystems, as well as a strong educational background in any biology-related degree, then you can put your skills to use in a wide array of industries, including agriculture, medicine and conservation.
15. Electronics Engineer
Average salary: £43,000 ($55,570)
Science has a whole host of uses within engineering, and the physics-heavy nature of electronics is among the most prominent. Responsible for the research and design of complex electronic systems, electronics engineers work within a whole host of sectors, including aerospace, defence, telecoms, medicine and manufacturing.
You don’t necessarily need a degree to get started, either; many companies offer multi-level apprenticeships as a way into the profession.
14. Chemical Engineer
Average salary: £44,500 ($58,550)
On a similar theme, a career in chemical engineering could also yield a highly profitable return.
You would be responsible for the processes that turn raw or natural materials into usable domestic and industrial products, such as in the energy, food and drink, and manufacturing sectors. Many universities offer chemical engineering degrees, although it is possible to enter the profession with another chemistry-related qualification.
13. Research and Development Manager
Average salary: £45,000 ($59,210)
Large corporations invest a lot of capital into science-based research, with R&D budgets often accounting for a large chunk of a company’s expenditure; naturally, then, being responsible for the management of these budgets comes with a fairly hefty compensation.
Alongside your academic achievements, you will also need to demonstrate experience in your chosen industry (usually rising through the R&D ranks), as well as a strong understanding of data interpretation and market practices.
12. Data Analyst
Average salary: £46,500 ($61,180)
Once dubbed the sexiest profession of the 21st Century, data analysts are in huge demand across every industry. As the gathering, analysis and effective use of big data become the driving force behind everything from health informatics to investment strategy, capable analysts who can make sense of the numbers are now essential.
Ideally, you’d need a degree background in mathematics, computer science or similar, although a tailored master’s is another way to meet the skills gap in the market.
11. Nuclear Engineer
Average salary: £47,000 ($61,840)
Unsurprisingly, nuclear physics isn’t for everybody, but as the science behind the energy, medicine and defence capabilities of much of the developed world, it’s certainly important.
You would need a relevant degree in physics, engineering or mathematics, as well as the ability to pass rigorous security assessments. Much of your time would then be spent in a research, development and/or maintenance capacity.
Average salary: £48,500 ($63,810)
As a broad discipline, geoscience can provide a variety of possible career pathways, and all of them well-paid, too. For example, they advise engineers on the design of subterranean structures such as tunnels or dams, monitor seismic activity for potential disaster warning signs and work with mining or drilling companies to identify suitable sites.
You would require a degree in earth science or a geology-related subject, usually to postgraduate level.
9. Operational Researcher
Average salary: £50,000 ($65,780)
If data analysts are responsible for converting raw numbers into something meaningful, then operational researchers take it a step further, adding a consulting element to the mix.
If you have a project management background (or R&D experience), then you could land a position working with organisations to help streamline and optimise their processes. Operational research can be applied to nearly any business model that is quantifiable, making it a highly employable discipline.
7. Pharmacologist (tie)
Average salary: £52,500 ($69,070)
One thing that scientists, anti-vaxxers and consumers can all agree on is that pharma is indeed big business. In fact, the potential salaries for pharmacologists – who are responsible for research into the clinical and neurological effect of drugs – are unsurprisingly highly attractive.
A graduate degree in pharmacology would be the quickest route into this profession, followed by employment with a large commercial provider.
7. Economist (tie)
Average salary: £52,500 ($69,070)
Although some would argue that economics is more of an art than a science, there’s no doubt that pursuing it as a career requires a stringent examination of your scientific credentials.
Most employers prefer that you hold at minimum a postgraduate-level economics degree (although related qualifications in mathematics, finance or statistics may also be acceptable), while strong research and communication skills are also an essential part of the job.
Average salary: £60,000 ($78,930)
Although the prospect of heading into space will always be a pipe dream for most of us, the lucky few who leave Earth’s atmosphere can expect decent remuneration upon their return.
The downside is that the eligibility criteria is about as specific as it gets. Aside from a PhD in a relevant discipline (such as medicine, engineering or IT), you would need to have extensive experience as a pilot and be as close to medically perfect as is physically possible. A second language would also help (Russian is desirable, but not compulsory).
5. Medical Physicist
Average salary: £62,250 ($81,890)
If you’ve ever wondered how the machines used by doctors and other health professionals are developed and designed, then you might be interested in a career as a medical physicist.
Utilising your knowledge of radiation, electronics, imaging and even laser technology, you would work alongside engineers and doctors to develop the technology that diagnoses, treats and potentially saves the lives of patients.
A degree in physics and the subsequent completion of healthcare provider training are the only way into this specialism.
Average salary: £62,620 ($82,380)
Focused on the study of microscopic organisms, microbiologists can find employment in a range of important industries and sectors such as healthcare, agriculture and commercial R&D.
In general, their work is highly important to the development of several scientific fields, including molecular biology and biotechnology. To get your foot in the door, you would need a strong educational background in a biology discipline or experience in a laboratory technician role.
3. Clinical Scientist
Average salary: £62,870 ($82,710)
Clinical scientists work alongside medical doctors in a variety of roles, providing advice in areas such as infertility, pathology, haematology and genetics.
They also work with engineers and medical physicists to develop equipment for diagnosis and treatment. Their research work is very important and helps doctors and specialists to create treatment plans in complex clinical cases.
Most have degrees in a life science or medical-related discipline and undergo further training once qualified.
2. Medical Doctor
Average salary: £64,420 ($84,740)
If you want to apply your knowledge to help people directly, then becoming a doctor is a great place to start. Despite the long hours, stressful environment and rigorous training process, it is a hugely rewarding – and well paid – role.
Once qualified, you can also specialise in almost any area of medicine that you find interesting. You would need to attend an accredited medical school, followed by several years of intense on-the-job training in a hospital or clinic.
Average salary: £64,750 ($85,180)
Just pipping medicine to the post, however, is the practice of psychology – the study of the mind and human behaviour.
Clinical psychology (seeing and treating patients with mental health difficulties) is a particularly interesting and well-paid specialism, although there are also attractive opportunities in business, professional sport, education or in a criminal and forensic capacity.
Due to the popularity of psychology degrees, you would realistically need to study it to a very high level (ideally PhD) to pursue it as a serious career; you would then also need to gain licensure from a relevant authority.
While the information on this list is only a starting point, it demonstrates that there is a wealth of diverse and fascinating areas of science that are well worth pursuing – both in terms of job satisfaction and financial reward.
It also shows that there is more to science than people wandering around laboratories in white coats; there is the potential to drive huge changes in society and develop innovative new solutions to the problems that we face.
So, if any of the roles mentioned here have caught your fancy, why not consider them as a viable career? After all, who knows what ground-breaking discovery could one day have your name on it?
What science career do you think is most interesting? Let us know in the comments section below!
Salary information is based on data compiled and published by the National Careers Service. Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 25 September 2018.