Researcher (Privately funded or commercial company)

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Job Description

Private or commercially-based researchers work in a wide range of fields, including humanities, sciences and social sciences. Science subjects use by far the greatest number of researchers. They are usually based in one or more private companies and work on projects alone, or collaboratively with colleagues in the same company or in others. Many researchers also work with people in universities or in other public sector bodies such as the NHS.

The hours of work are determined by the individual and their employer depending on the needs of the project but researchers often work for long hours, especially as deadlines draw closer. More senior researchers are involved in the hiring of other staff and in managing budgets. Many senior researchers are also required to work with postgraduates in their field, in Knowledge-Transfer Schemes, for example. They may do a small amount of teaching in the university near which they are based.


  • Plan a research project, including one's own role within it
  • Seek funding for the project from external and internal sources
  • Lead pilot projects/feasibility studies if required
  • Undertake research, either laboratory- or office-based or in the field
  • Record findings
  • Present findings to peers at conferences or in published articles
  • Keep records and accounts of the management of the project
  • At more senior level, manage other staff
  • At a more senior level supervise students and perhaps some undergraduate teaching too

Salary and Conditions

Some researchers do not have permanent positions; their jobs are on temporary contracts for the life of the particular project. Researchers can spend many years jumping from project to project without any real job security. Projects can last anything from a few months to a number of years. This flexibility and variety suits many people. Other companies offer a more permanent opportunity, for example working across a number of different projects specialising in writing research funding proposals. The starting salary for a researcher with a doctoral degree is around £26-30,000, rising to £35-40,000 and higher for those with more experience in senior posts.

Entry Criteria

Some research posts welcome applicants who have not got postgraduate qualifications but do have experience in the field. In general, though, commercial research positions are for someone who has a masters or a doctorate. As well as a formal qualification employers are usually looking for a particular set of skills gained doing similar sorts of research, for example using certain statistical methods or certain pieces of equipment. They will also expect you to display an in-depth knowledge of the overall field of research.

Career Path

Researchers often start out by assisting on someone else’s project for a period of a few months or a year. By doing this they gain experience and are then able to move on to longer term projects and managing their own budgets and staff at a more senior level. Other researchers focus on particular aspects of the process such as proposal writing, research and development (R & D) or manufacturing.

Major employers

Commercial sector researchers are employed in all sorts of different companies, especially those in the engineering, sciences and medical fields. There are many different sorts of these in the UK and they can be based anywhere in the UK, often in major towns and cities. Many of these companies are now situated on science parks which are located outside city centres and main transport routes.

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