Thursday, 25th April 2019


Research and development (R&D) plays a hugely important role in all scientific, engineering and manufacturing sectors. Put simply, people working in research and development will study existing products or technologies with a view to create new or improved versions, for various industries. Research and development covers the research aspects of many different types of sciences, but is arguably important enough to be considered as an employment sector in its own right.

Working in scientific research and development could include developing new or improved medicines, technologies, equipment and goods, and can lead to medical, environmental and industrial breakthroughs and discoveries.

The UK is top in Europe for investment in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and development, investing about £10 billion a year (SEMTA). Other sectors that require research, development and analysis include:

  • Life sciences
  • Physical sciences
  • Biomedical sciences

Research and development covers a range of different disciplines, from agricultural research and oceanography to nuclear science and the study of metals. Some professions within this area take on a more analytical role, with analysts identifying, studying and explaining the properties and nature of different objects and materials, rather than developing new products. Examples of theses analytical professions include forensic scientist, toxicologist, geneticist and marine scientist.

Other professions in the sector have a more obvious research and development bearing, where scientists will be expected to research existing products, chemicals or technologies, and develop newer, more efficient versions of the same thing. Examples of these R&D dominated professions include plant breeder, pharmacologist, food scientist and all specialisms of a research scientist.

People working in scientific research and development could find themselves working for a number of different institutions and employers. Universities, research-based companies, industrial companies or government departments all employ scientists from this area.

According to SEMTA, the sector skills council, the science and engineering sectors require a new, young and technically-skilled workforce in order for the industry to remain competitive. Entrants in the industry need to be well-qualified, with good scientific knowledge and technical ability. Therefore, for most jobs within scientific research and development, appropriate qualifications and skills will be required, so gaining a good scientific or mathematical education and practical experience will improve employment opportunities.