What can I do with a NatSci degree?

What can I do with a Natsci degree

Studying a broad, flexible degree like Natural Sciences opens up lots of opportunities post-graduation. We spoke with four Cambridge NatSci graduates about their career path to date, how they made decisions and what helped them to choose their next steps after their degree.

Whether you’re in your first year or finishing up your integrated Masters, as a NatSci, you might be wondering where your degree can lead, and more specifically, how can you use it to get you where you want to go.

Yijie Yin (2020 graduate): Yijie works as a Research Assistant in the Drosophila Connectomics group and in 2022 began an MPhil by research at the University of Cambridge.  

Dorina Pokai (2019 Chemistry graduate): Dorina started her career as a Supply Chain Analyst at Tesco and now works as a Lead Analytics Manager responsible for range optimisation in the Space, Range and Merchandising team.  

Isha Cordes (2021 PNB graduate): Isha worked as a Schools Liaison Officer at Girton College before joining Lucy Cavendish College as the Admissions and Outreach Officer in 2022.  

Joe Smith (2021 Materials Science graduate) : Joe completed internships in data science (Starboard) and Threat Intelligence (GSMA) and the Rolls-Royce Technology centre , before graduating and entering a roll as Materials Research Scientist with Intellegens and progressing to the role of Product Manager. 

So what if you don’t know what you want to do?  

“Talk to people – as many as you can.  Ask if they enjoy doing their job.,” says Dorina.  “If you’re feeling nervous, people are more open than you might think.” Isha chimed in, “Any decision you make {at this juncture} is not final. It’s ok to look for something that is secure…for now.”  

Joe, who was considering whether to continue his education in a PhD program or take on a job had some advice for those stressing over choosing an option. “Write your thoughts out. The important thing is to do something, it doesn’t have to be perfect. And if you’re considering two options, (eg, PhD vs a job), often the order doesn’t matter.” If you decide not to pursue a particular option right now, keep in touch with the contacts you’ve made. For instance, if you turn down a PhD offer, keep in touch with your potential PhD supervisor every six months or so.  Joe also advised slowing down and asking yourself, “Do I like where I am now?” 

One of the questions that arose was around getting another qualification – will it help? Yijie said her current supervisor has been quite supportive of her taking on new training. She says the more skills you build, the better, even if they seem disparate. “You come out as a Swiss Army knife.”  Particularly with a NatSci degree, your degree doesn’t directly lead to particular set of jobs. It’s important to address directly the soft skills you’ve developed during your time at Cambridge.  Dorina added, “Your skill set isn’t your degree.” Her experience as a NatSci taught her to be able to learn at a fast pace, which has been valuable to her employer.  

So how do you go about actually getting ready to apply for academic or other roles?  

Yijie advised that in academic research, it’s important to show your interest. Put in the effort by doing external activities. It’s not enough to say I’m a NatSci, now I want to do further research. Isha added that you need to show that you know what you’re talking about. Even working in higher education, their current work is evidence-based and data driven, allowing them to draw on skills they developed as a NatSci.  

Things don’t always go as planned, and all of our panellists entered the job market during the rocky first few years of the post-pandemic world.  So what surprised them? Dorina was surprised by data analytics, and how it wasn’t as quantitative as she expected. She was involved in making high level decisions, and when things didn’t work, the group went back to the drawing board and had a hands-on approach to developing sensible solutions. Despite having studied at Cambridge for four years, Isha was surprised at how differently each college operates. They had to learn new administrative processes, and learn how to effectively communicate with time-poor professors and students with preconceived notions. Joe was surprised by how plans can change.  Having done commercial internships in London and deciding they weren’t for him, he thought he would stay in academia, but found himself in a job instead. “Don’t hold on to {ideas} too strongly,” he added, emphasising that it is important to give yourself flexibility. “Embrace change, and don’t let uncertainty scare you too much.”  

Many NatSci’s also feel that getting a (funded) PhD position is the only way to stay in academic research. Yijie shared her experience of changing her course of study, and then taking on a research assistantship rather than a traditional PhD studentship.  She said she’s “doing a job she’s interested in, and getting paid for it!”  For those considering a research assistantship versus pursuing another degree, it’s important to understand that you’ll likely be working on a pre-determined project rather than pursing your own project. You gain experience and skills, but not a degree.  Yijie recommended asking key questions to your potential supervisors about a research assistantship. Will you be paid? Will you be included in publications? Will you be responsible for administrative work or supervising undergraduates? For either pursuing a PhD or a research assistantship, starting early is key.  “Reach out to relevant academics six months to a year in advance. Try to see who has grants, and follow researchers you’re interested in on Twitter.” Once you have options, it important to determine if you’re going to be in a supportive environment.  Yijie, recommends asking about this before joining a research group. In her experience, people will be honest.  

So if you’re leaving academia, what tips did our panellists have for you?  

“The type of company makes a huge difference,” says Dorina, before contrasting the job culture for her same role in two different countries.  Isha said it’s important to gauge how you will spend your day. Will you be working mostly as an individual or within a team? Knowing how well you fit in with the team and the line manager is key to determining if the role is the right fit for you, shared Joe. Slow down the interview process. “You are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. If they aren’t trying to impress you, that can be a big red flag.”  

Having a NatSci degree from Cambridge is a great base to pursue further education and a wide variety of jobs. The Careers Service can help you think through options, make applications and prepare for interviews.  Visit our website for all of our resources.

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