Veterinary Scientist

The Job and What's Involved

Veterinary scientists specialise in the study of disease in animals. They work in research centres and laboratories, researching more effective ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing animal diseases. They also play an important role in helping to prevent disease spreading from animals or animal products (such as meat) to humans or other species.

Veterinary scientists' research covers a very broad field, ranging from work that looks at the function of different body systems, such as the heart and circulatory (or cardiovascular) system, to areas such as animal behaviour. They also study animal pathogens, including viruses and bacteria, that could infect animals and potentially people.

Veterinary scientists' research can be grouped into five areas:

- Musculo-skeletal pathobiology
- Reproduction and development
- Infection and immunity
- Cardiovascular biology
- Clinical sciences

Within these areas they may specialise in:

- Immunology
- Inflammatory diseases
- The cardiovascular system
- Gastroenterology
- Dermatology
- Ophthalmology
- Orthopaedics
- Soft tissue surgery

Job roles vary, but the work of a veterinary scientist is likely to involve:

  • Devising and conducting experiments or surveys and recording and interpreting the results.
  • Communicating findings in written reports and presentations.
  • Developing and testing new methods of diagnosis, treatment and preventative measures, such as vaccines.
  • Giving advice to veterinary surgeons, government agencies and other organisations.
  • Supervising animal technicians.
  • Training junior staff.

Those employed by universities are likely to spend time teaching students.

Veterinary scientists work closely with veterinary surgeons, animal technicians and, in some jobs, clinical scientists. The amount of contact with animals varies from job to job.

Veterinary scientists usually work 37 hours a week, from Monday to Friday.

They usually work in a laboratory. Working conditions in laboratories are clean and often sterile.

Veterinary scientists use specialist equipment and computers, and may spend large amounts of their working day sitting or standing at a bench. Appropriate protective clothing, including coats, overalls, gloves, masks and safety goggles, is worn.

In some jobs, particularly those that involve monitoring or dealing directly with animals, a driving licence may be required.

Starting salaries for veterinary scientists may be around £26,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Employers are based throughout the UK and include government departments (particularly the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and related organisations), universities and research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, pet food manufacturers, zoos and animal charities such as the RSPCA. There may also be opportunities in the Armed Forces (in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps) and to work overseas with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

Vacancies may be advertised in the local and national press, in Veterinary Record and on the websites of individual employers.

Education and Training

New entrants are required to hold a degree, normally in veterinary science or veterinary medicine.

Minimum entry requirements for the five year degree are usually three A levels (grades AAB) including chemistry and biology. At GCSE level good grades in English, maths and science subjects are often required. As entry requirements vary, candidates should check with individual institutions. Entry to courses is very competitive and conditional offers may be set higher than the minimum requirements.

Nottingham University, Bristol University and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) offer a preliminary year for candidates who do not have the required grades at A level.

Some universities also offer three year degrees in veterinary science but further study is required to qualify as a vet.

Candidates will normally be expected to have experience of working with animals in a veterinary practice and other situations. Applicants to the University of Cambridge and the RVC are required to take an aptitude test called a Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT).

Some jobs are open to graduates from other disciplines, particularly if they do not require direct work with animals. Life or medical sciences are usually preferred.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training depends on individual employers, but is likely to combine on-the-job training from more experienced colleagues with training courses and seminars.

The British Veterinary Association offers a support scheme for recent graduates to ease the transition from university to working life.

Graduates in veterinary medicine or veterinary science from British universities are eligible to apply for membership of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Some job opportunities are open only to RCVS members.

Veterinary scientists need to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. It is also essential for members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) to complete a minimum of 105 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) over three years.

It is possible to study for postgraduate qualifications including RCVS certificates and diplomas in specialist subjects, and fellowships.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A veterinary scientist should:

  • Have strong science and research skills.
  • Have an enquiring mind.
  • Have excellent problem-solving skills.
  • Be accurate and pay attention to detail.
  • Be able to concentrate for long periods of time.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative and as part of a team.
  • Have management and leadership skills.
  • Have teaching skills (in some jobs).

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion opportunities depend on the type of employer, as well as experience and ability. It may be possible to progress to positions such as team leader, manager or research director.

Get Further Information

BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT),
Cambridge Assessment, 1 Hills Road,
Cambridge CB1 2EU
Tel: 01223 553366

The British Veterinary Association,
7 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NQ
Tel:020 7636 6541

Food Standards Agency, Aviation House,
Floors 6 and 7, Clive House, 70 Petty France, London SW1H 9EX
Tel: 020 7276 8000

Meat Hygiene Service (MHS),
Kings Pool, Peasholme Green, York YO1 7PR
Tel: 01904 455501

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS),
Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road,
London SW1P 2AF
Tel: 020 7222 2001

Veterinary Laboratories Agency,
New Haw, Addlestone,
Surrey KT15 3NB
Tel: 01932 341111

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