Biochemistry career paths: interview with Professor Alison Woollard

On Wednesday 29th June and Thursday 30th June we opened the Department's doors for our biannual undergraduate Open Days. To mark the occasion, we spoke to Professor Alison Woollard, the Department of Biochemistry's Director of Undergraduate Teaching and Learning, about the career paths an Oxford degree in Biochemistry equips students for. A transcript of the video is available on this page as well.


What career paths an Oxford degree in Biochemistry equip students for? 

In terms of what students do, we find that quite a lot of our students go on to do research. They might go on to do a PhD or they may get a job in the technical side of science in a lab. For example, within a university, within a research institute or within industry. Around 40 to 50% of our students will go on to do some research, at least in the initial stages of their career. They do not all then stay in academia after that. Some do, but some will do a PhD and then they will decide to go off and do something else. Even if you decide you are going to do a PhD, it does not necessarily mean that that is it for life, you are going to be a research scientist and there are no other doors open to you.

I think one of the key skills scientists have is that they have so much transferable ability in so many ways. Scientists often lose sight of that. For example, when you can do a really good experiment, you understand so much about logistics, about data analysis, about what makes a really fair test, what makes a good control. You learn a lot about how reliable your answer is, how science works and how to communicate your findings. All those skills that you require as a scientist, you could then use in so many ways. Our students will go on to do things like science communication and medical writing. They will go off and use their more analytical skills in industries such as consultancy. Management consultancy companies tend to want very highly numerate students and our students are very highly numerate by the end of their undergraduate course.

Our students will often go into teaching. This is a great reflection of the experience our students have in Oxford that a lot of them want to go off and join schemes like Teach First, where the idea is really to use very bright, intelligent people to go into challenging environments in schools and really help make a difference. That is something that we are really proud of. I have had students go into social work and, again, I think logistics and looking at things from lots of different points of view are excellent skills. The biotech industry is a huge growth area as well. We find that lots of our students go off and work in biotech, in labs, and in research management.

Accountancy! Going back to being very numerate, some of our students will graduate and move into accountancy. Law is another profession which is a growth area for our students. A lot of the skills that a scientist has are similar to the skills that you need to be a good lawyer. For example, looking at data, understanding weight of evidence, being very analytical, being able to look at huge volumes of information and data. Patent law is also something that demands technical knowledge and technical skills of the type that our students learn.

A biochemistry degree can open many, many doors for you. And it certainly is the case that when we see what our students are doing a few years after graduating, we are always amazed at the diversity of different careers that they found themselves in. One thing I would say really unites them is that they are all determined to do something that is worthwhile, that they find intellectually fulfilling, and that makes them happy. Studying biochemistry at Oxford is about doing a great course in a great university that has a hugely diverse attitude towards the learning experience. Oxford is a university that sees the learning experience as a way of setting yourself up to make really good decisions for the right reasons later in life.

Couldn't make it to the Open Days? Check out the recordings of Open Day events that were live streamed on the day for people who couldn't make it in person: