4 science careers you didn't know existed

So you want to be a scientist… From exploring parts of the invisible sky, to fabricating new food flavours, here are some of the more unusual careers in science.

ASKAP radio telescope at the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory photographed at dawn
The CSIRO’s ASKAP radio telescope on Wajarri Country at Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. Image: Alex Cherney and CSIRO.

Anyone who’s watched The Big Bang Theory might think careers in science are limited to physics, neuroscience and engineering—and that you can only work in academia.

But there are thousands of scientists employed outside of universities, tasked with finding solutions to all kinds of problems that affect our everyday lives.

Think field-based oceanographers who work in marine centres, or lab-based embryologists that help IVF patients. Forensic scientists who work on crime scene investigations for the police force, and the oenologists who make your favourite bottle of red. The field is vast and the job opportunities numerous.

Given that the very definition of science, according to The Science Council, is the “understanding of the natural and social world”, it’s hardly surprising that the list of potential careers is so broad.

If you’re dreaming of starting a career that harnesses your curiosity for the world, these little-known jobs could be for you.

4 unusual science careers

Scatologist

By studying animal excrement we can determine a number of different things, from the overall health of an animal to their diet and habits, and how a changing environment can impact all of these aspects.

While there are few full-time careers in scatology, the wider field of zoology and wildlife science encompasses this niche, and a degree in biology could help you get your foot in the door. You can study introductory palaeontology as part of this Diploma in Science.

Flavourist, or flavour chemist

Flavourists use chemistry to develop natural and synthetic flavours for the food and beverage industry. They’re known for both their technical knowledge and keen sense of taste and smell.

A background in food science or chemistry is a good building block for a career in flavour chemistry.

Volcanologist

Use your investigative skills to gather data on volcanic activity, study extinct volcanoes, and monitor active or dormant volcanoes to help predict future eruptions.

A job that involves both desk and field work, volcanologists are most in demand at universities and government agencies. A degree in environmental science can offer a solid start.

Radio astronomer

Enhance our understanding of the universe. You’ll study celestial objects such as stars and galaxies at radio frequencies, and process huge amounts of information collected by a telescope, which detects and amplifies radio waves from space.

A Master of Science (Astrophysics) will give you a great foundation if you have an interest in space sciences, including radio astronomy.

Dr O. Ivy Wong, a CSIRO Science Leader, infront a star map
CSIRO Science Leader Dr O. Ivy Wong. Image: CSIRO.

How do you choose a science career?

Given the overwhelming number of different science careers available it can be hard to know where to begin. Narrowing your options down to physics, chemistry or biology and following your interests can serve as a helpful starting point, as can establishing whether you’d like to work in a lab, the field, the public sector, or a school or university. But even then, it’s worth remaining open to other possibilities.

Dr O. Ivy Wong, a Science Leader at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (or CSIRO), has always had a keen interest in science. But shortly after starting her bachelor degree in biology, things took an unexpected turn.

“When I was a kid I was fully set to become a vet,” she explains. “Things didn't really work out that way, because I did first year biology and I had no stomach for it. I literally had a bucket next to me just looking at drawings. I didn’t know right up until Year 12 [as] I never did biology because physics was easier. That backfired pretty badly.”

Ivy reevaluated and ended up majoring in maths and physics in her second year. Later, she took a summer vacation scholarship to Murriyang, CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope, on a whim; she’s worked and studied within the field of space and astronomy ever since, primarily as a radio astronomer.

Dr O. Ivy Wong, a CSIRO Science Leader
When Dr Wong first went to uni, she didn't intend to study physics. But it became her passion. Image: CSIRO.

How can you begin a career in science?

Like anything in life, there’s no single path to success. But in this technical field, obtaining a university degree is often a prerequisite. Becoming an environmental scientist, a cartographer, or a geophysicist, for example, all require a higher education.

Not only will a degree help you develop specialist knowledge that sets you apart from the competition, but it also gives you the opportunity to learn what areas do (or don’t) spark your interest.

If you think a career in science could be your calling but you still have doubts, Ivy has some sage advice. “Just have a go,” she says. “You don't know until you have a go. It's not the end of the world if you don't like it. That's what life is; it's a constant adventure and this is one of them.”

And if, like Ivy, you wind up studying a certain subject only to realise it’s not the right fit for you then all is not lost: an Open Universities Australia student advisor can help you plot out your next steps, whether that involves reducing your study load, hiring a tutor, or switching to a different subject or degree, for example.

Even after graduating, Ivy notes that there’s still room to manoeuvre into other industries, thanks to the transferable skills science students learn.

“People with a physics background are trained to ask questions, to be critical thinkers, to solve problems,” she explains. “[In] science you're constantly digging at puzzles. And it reminds me of this statistic, which asked ‘what's the most common PhD among Silicon Valley startup billionaires?’ [And the answer] is engineering or physics. So it's a certain mindset that the students get trained into.”

Although Ivy’s path into astrophysics was far from linear, the destination was worth it.

“It's a privilege to be able to think about questions that we all think about—[to develop] a deeper understanding of who we are, our place in the universe—and be paid for it, right?”

Keen to get started? Discover the science courses you can study online through Open Universities Australia. 

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