Q. I am a sixth form student and have been trying to get some work experience. Unfortunately, it has been quite difficult and I would be very grateful if you could recommend some companies or contacts that I could apply to for work experience.

Finding a suitable placement for work experience can be difficult but companies and universities look very highly on students who have the enthusiasm and motivation to find a relevant position, so it is worth being persistent. There are many ways of finding a placement:

  • Talk to anyone you know who is already working in the type of job you’re interested in to find out if they can help
  • Check whether your school has a work experience scheme or can suggest some companies to approach
  • Look in the phone directory for relevant companies/organisations near your home and then phone or write to them – before you write to a company, call to find out who you should address your letter to. The relevant contact is usually the ‘Schools/Education Liaison Officer’ or the ‘Human Resources/Community Liaison Department’.

These pages will give you lots of advice and tips on how you could get work experience:

For work experience related to the pharmaceutical industry go to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry website.

Q. Do I need to go to university to earn a good wage?

Being a graduate is no guarantee of a higher wage, but in general graduates do go on to earn more throughout their professional life. You may also be able to earn while you learn, with many employers offering bursary schemes to help pay for university tuition costs. If you want to find out more about salaries in a particular career area, current job advertisements are a good source of information. Newspapers, career and recruitment websites and magazines focusing on topics relevant to your area of interest are good places to start. Remember that salaries depend on a large number of factors, including qualifications required, geographical location, experience and age of applicant, size and type of company/organisation etc.

For more information you could read the report on Economic Benefits of Higher Education Qualifications.

Q. What advantages are there to studying science, technology, engineering or maths subjects after I’m 16?

As well as being very enjoyable, studying science, technology, engineering or maths subjects after you’re 16 will give you many skills that will be useful in a wide range of careers. You will develop problem solving, team working, numeracy and creativity skills, all of which can be used in a variety of different careers.

Q. What can I do with science and maths?

The world is your oyster. Science and maths are very good training for the job market and as science is central to our everyday lives there are numerous opportunities if you have a science or maths qualification. You may not want to work in a laboratory, but you could end up working as an engineer, a sound technician, an accountant, a journalist or a teacher. There are many exciting opportunities if you have science and/or maths qualifications.

Find out more information about Careers in maths.

Q. Can I get financial help when I go to university?

Yes, there are various options for financial support available to eligible students including maintenance grants, bursaries and student loans.

Read more about financial assistance or go to the Directgov website, which includes links to sites dedicated to Irish, Scottish and non-UK EU students.

Q. Should I take a year out before going to university?

A year out can provide an opportunity to learn new skills, increase your confidence and gain experience of working in an environment completely different from that at school or college. You may choose to look for work in an area relevant to your chosen course to gain useful experience. If you decide to do this, the organisation YINI (Year in Industry) can help you find a placement. Alternatively, you may prefer to do some voluntary work either at home or abroad. This can be a great opportunity to gain new skills and meet new people. Whatever you decide to do, you should think carefully beforehand about your goals, how you can achieve them and what you will gain from the experience.

For more information and advice on taking a gap year or a year out, try these links:

Q. I’ve always been interested in a career in forensic science. I’m coming up to the end of my A levels and wonder if there are any options available apart from university? Is there any possibility of on-the-job training or do I have to have a university degree?

To become an assistant forensic scientist you need four GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades A-C which must include English and either maths or a science as well as an A level or equivalent in a science subject (e.g. biology or chemistry). You receive on-the-job training, but are expected to demonstrate knowledge of biology or chemistry techniques and practices.

To progress or to apply to become a forensic scientist you need a science degree with a grade of 2.2 or above. A growing number of universities now offer forensic science Foundation degrees and degrees, often combined with courses such as law, police studies and criminology. Entry requirements are usually two A levels/three H grades or equivalent, with at least one science subject. The Forensic Science Society (FSS) has accredited a number of university courses.

Bear in mind that this is a very popular area to go into and therefore the number of jobs may be limited. Make sure you talk to your careers adviser before opting for a specialist degree in forensic science.

For more information look at:

Q. I’m thinking about studying geology at university but I’m not sure what types of careers there are. If I don’t become a geologist what else can I do?

As problem solving, thinking in three-dimensions, team working, numeracy and good communication skills are all needed in most geological disciplines, these same skills equip geology graduates for a wide variety of alternative careers. Many geology graduates become accountants or enter the financial sector. Teaching is also popular, as the general science background makes graduates very eligible.

For more information explore The Geological Society website.

Q. What qualifications do I need to study food science or technology?

Food Science & Technology are science based, so a good grounding in science subjects (including Food technology) is the best preparation. GCSE’s, A levels, AVCEs, NVQs or Access courses all provide an appropriate starting point, in addition to relevant work experience. Once qualified, there are plenty of opportunities to further your studies and to develop new skills. Food science and technology is rapidly developing and food professionals must keep up to date with new developments to benefit and safeguard public health.

For more information explore the Tasty Careers website.

Q. I’d like to be a science teacher. What qualifications do I need for that?

The most common way to become a science teacher is to do a three-year degree course in a science subject and then a one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), also at a university. However, alternative routes are now available.

For more information go to the Teaching Agency website.