Information Scientist

The Job and What's Involved

Information scientists are specialist researchers who produce often highly technical reports for commercial organisations, government departments, the education sector and research institutes. The reports are used to help plan business strategies and keep track of competitors.

Information science is a specialist and skilled discipline that deals with information in scientific, legal, technical, commercial and financial areas.

The work involves:

- Sourcing and verifying information
- Cataloguing and indexing
- Analysing results
- Writing reports
- Producing graphs and spreadsheets
- Archiving

Information scientists now source most of their information from the internet, although they also use specialist publications and commercial databases.

A key part of their role is to make this information accessible to groups and individuals within their organisation, some of whom may not have their depth of specialist knowledge.

Once the information has been collected and interpreted, scientists have to reproduce it in a user-friendly way, often in a written report that includes graphs and spreadsheets to illustrate the main findings.

Information scientists are responsible for verifying the quality and limitations of a source of information, and for keeping accurate records to make sure the origin of all the information used in a report is traceable.

Although a lot of time is spent researching information, the job also involves a considerable amount of interaction with colleagues and clients. Information scientists usually work as part of a larger information team. Some also advise on software and database specifications for their research, and manage whole information systems.

In some environments, the work can be highly pressurised and demanding.

Most full-time information scientists work 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Shift work may be offered at some of the larger organisations. Some part-time opportunities are available.

Increasingly, information scientists are being employed on short-term contracts for the duration of a specific project.

The work is office based, usually in modern facilities. A lot of time is spent working at a computer screen. Occasional visits to clients or external libraries may be required.

Starting salaries may be between £18,000 and £20,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Although competition for jobs is high, the scope of the work means that there are many potential employers. These include:

- Government departments
- Educational institutions
- Practices such as accountants, law firms and architects
- Medical research institutions
- Pharmaceutical companies and other manufacturers
- Publishers and public relations firms
- Insurance companies and banks
- Charities and pressure groups

Information scientists may also work for consultancies that provide information services to a range of companies and organisations.

Positions are available nationwide, with a concentration of jobs in south-east England and around large cities such as London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester and Leeds.

At present, there are particularly good opportunities for information scientists with specialist knowledge in science and computer science.

Jobs may be advertised in specialist sector magazines, such as New Scientist. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) produces the Library and Information Gazette, which contains an appointments section. The Association for Information Management (Aslib) also has an online recruitment section at www.aslib.com.

Education and Training

The majority of new entrants are graduates. Degrees in librarianship or information science/management often offer a direct route into the profession.

Entry to a degree course is with a minimum of two A levels/three H grades, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent. Candidates should check specific entry requirements with individual institutions.

For graduates who do not have a degree specific to this area, relevant Masters degrees and postgraduate diplomas are offered by a number of universities. Work experience in librarianship or information science may be required to obtain a place, and competition is strong. Graduates already working in the field may be able to study for a Masters degree via distance learning.

Entry to a postgraduate course is usually with a good first degree and at least one year's relevant work experience.

To work in a specialist area such as health or pharmaceuticals often requires a relevant professional qualification in that subject as well.

NVQ's/SVQ's in Information and Library Services are also available at Levels Two and Three.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Individuals working in a library or information services position can apply for associate membership of CILIP. After a year's experience in the field, along with a relevant degree, it is possible to apply for chartered membership. With six years' experience, a chartered member can apply to become a fellow.

CILIP and Aslib both run a range of short, professional development courses.

Many information scientists continue to study and work towards postgraduate qualifications in their specialist area.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Information scientists need to:

  • Understand the needs of those who are going to use the information they produce.
  • Have excellent IT skills.
  • Have an enquiring mind.
  • Be able to work logically, accurately and methodically.
  • Be innovative in finding, analysing and presenting complex information.
  • Be well organised.
  • Have excellent attention to detail.
  • Have strong written and verbal communication skills.
  • Be proactive and self-motivated.
  • Respect the confidentiality of some information.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be a team player.
  • Cope with the pressure of working to deadlines.

Your Long Term Prospects

Large employers with information science departments may offer opportunities for promotion. In smaller firms, it may be necessary to change employers in order to progress.

Some information scientists become self-employed, working with different clients on a consultancy basis.

There are some opportunities to work abroad with large multinational companies and worldwide voluntary organisations.

Get Further Information

Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC),
Whitefriars, Lewins Mead, Bristol BS1 2AE
Tel: 0117 987 6500
Website: www.ahrc.ac.uk

The Association for Information Management (Aslib),
Holywell Centre, 1 Phipp Street,
London EC2A 4PS
Tel: 020 7613 3031
Website: www.aslib.com

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP),
7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE
Tel: 020 7255 0500
Website: www.cilip.org.uk

Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL),
102 Euston Street, London NW1 2HA
Tel: 020 7387 0317
Website: www.sconul.ac.uk

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