Qualification options for a career in science

Almost every career in 'science' starts with a Bachelor of Science. What happens next is a bit more complicated.

The Bachelor of Science (BSc) has a generalist structure, so you get a fairly free choice of your focus or ‘major’ for the three years of your studies. You may also have a supporting or ‘minor’ subject. The Bachelor of Applied Science is similar, but with a more practical, industry-aligned focus.

You can enrol in postgraduate qualifications once you’ve become a graduate by completing an undergraduate (Bachelor) degree. Your options include graduate/postgraduate certificates and diplomas, Honours and Master’s degrees. The highest science degree is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which can involve many years’ of research work.

Key school subjects for a Bachelor of Science depend a bit on what you intend to major in, but a good grounding in maths will help with almost every course of study.

Diploma in Science

Certificates and Diplomas in Science (Level 5-6) provide a mixture of practical laboratory skills and scientific knowledge, alongside a range of transferrable skills. They may take 1-2 years to complete and will qualify you to work as a laboratory technician in manufacturing, research & development or quality assurance areas. Entry requirements vary.

Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Applied Science

The Bachelor of Science (BSc) is a three-year, Level 7 degree that is the starting point for most science-based careers. It is a generalist degree which allows you to combine a major subject of your choice with supporting or minor subjects. You will need to gain University Entrance, and first-year courses in subjects such as Maths and Physics may require specific NCEA Level 3 credits.

Graduate Diploma in Science

Graduate certificates and diplomas involve studying additional courses at Level 7 after you’ve completed your undergraduate degree. They can be used effectively to expand a 'minor' subject to a 'major' by studying extra second- and third-year courses.

Postgraduate Diploma in Science

Postgraduate certificates and diplomas (Level 8) can be a flexible way to study at a more advanced level once you've completed a Bachelor's degree with the same or a closely related major. Unlike an Honours year, you won't generally need to do a research project or thesis. You may be qualified to work in an applied science role or as a technician in a research laboratory.

Bachelor of Science (Honours)

Adding an Honours year (Level 8) to your Bachelor's degree extends your understanding of your major subject, and can be a way to discover if you enjoy doing scientific research. Generally an Honours year involves both courses and a short research project or thesis. You may be qualified to work in an applied science role or as a technician in a research laboratory.

Master of Science

A Master of Science degree (Level 9) is another option for building on the major subject of your Bachelor's degree. A Master’s generally involves a year of courses followed by at least a year working independently on a research project or thesis. This qualification should help you get an applied science role or work as a senior technician in a research laboratory.

Specialist Master’s degrees

Specialist/professional Master's programmes (Level 9) are generally focused on employment in a particular area and may be more structured than a Master of Science degree in a similar area. Specialist Master's degrees vary in terms of the mix of advanced-level courses and research projects.


A PhD is the internationally recognised qualification for a career as a research scientist. To be awarded a PhD you need to write a book-length thesis summarising a major piece of independent research that you have completed under the supervision of an experienced scientist.

Qualifications Pathway Diagram

You can also use this diagram to get an overview of all the science qualifications and how they fit together, but it's best viewed on a tablet or full size screen.

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