How To Get A Science Job At The UN (Complete Guide)

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Many people know the United Nations for its humanitarian and development work. However, the UN is an enormous organisation made up of more than 40 different bodies covering a huge range of areas. In fact, the UN has a significant focus in different scientific fields. This means if you’re interested in the sciences and looking to working for the UN, there are actually many roles for you.

We’ve put together this guide for anyone who works in a scientific field and is interested in transitioning to join the UN, as well as for those looking to start a career in the United Nations and wondering if they can pair this with their interest in science.

United Nations Science Jobs

The United Nations is an enormous organisation. With tens of thousands of staff stationed in 193 countries, there is almost an unlimited number of UN roles. However, in the scientific fields, there are a few UN jobs that are most commonly recruited. These include:

  • Medical Officer
  • Climate Scientist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Researcher
  • Programme Manager

Now we’ll briefly go over each of these…

Medical Officer

A commonly recruited science position by the UN is Medical Officer. There are many medical and health related roles across the UN open to those with a medical or medical science background.

Climate Scientist

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing humanity. The UN has a dedicated climate change agency – UNFCCC. They often recruit climate scientists to work on their projects and undertake research for them.

Environmental Scientist

The UN has a dedicated agency for promoting the improved treatment of the natural world – the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP often recruits environmental scientists to work on its projects. There are also environmental scientist roles in other UN agencies, especially focusing on agricultural development.


The UN recruits a huge number of researchers to work on science projects. These can include researching diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, or malaria, or undertaking climate and environmental research. There are many different research roles that qualified scientists can take with different UN agencies.

Programme Manager

One of the most frequently recruited science roles in the UN is actually that of Programme Manager. In the UN system, Programme Managers oversee a set project and are responsible for ensuring its successful outcome. For science related projects, the UN will recruit qualified scientists as Programme Managers.

United Nations Agencies Recruiting Scientists

A key step in getting a science role with the United Nations is understanding which UN agencies most commonly recruit scientists. Although there are a huge range of roles across the United Nations for qualified scientists, these are some of the UN agencies that most often recruit people with a science background:

  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS)
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Let’s take a quick look at each of these…

World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organisation is the UN agency tasked with improving global health. It recruits a range of science roles related to medical research, public health, and pharmaceuticals. WHO is one of the UN agencies most likely to recruit qualified scientists.

UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

UNSECO is one of the top UN agencies recruiting scientists. As the part of the UN tasked with promoting scientific research, UNESCO recruits many different science positions.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the main UN agency tasked with ensuring protections for the environment. It aims to promote wise and sustainable use of the natural world. UNEP recruits’ scientists with expertise in the environmental, climatic, and agricultural fields.

United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)

UNAIDS is the UN agency focused on tacking the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.  They often recruit scientists to conduct research on the disease and assist with developing new drugs and cures.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

The IAEA works to improve global cooperation in the area of nuclear science, as well as working to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technology. There are many roles for qualified scientists with a specialism in nuclear energy in the IAEA.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

The OPCW works to bring an end to chemical weapons use in conflicts around the world. They recruit scientists who have an understanding of chemical weapons and their development. They also recruit experts who can monitor, disarm, and dispose of chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as scientists that can deploy to areas where chemical weapons have been used to determine what happened and who should be held accountable.

Qualifications Needed Work In A UN Science Role

One of the most important things you need to do if you want to take a science role within the United Nations is get the right qualifications. There are two main steps to becoming qualified to work in a UN science position. The first is to complete the degrees needed to work in the field of science you are choosing.

Jobs in the UN are highly competitive. The United Nations also needs highly trained and competent staff. UN jobs are demanding – meaning that the UN usually focuses on people with good qualifications and often significant relevant professional experience.

If you want to work in the sciences with the UN, you should first complete your university studies. Most UN positions require a masters level degree. However, for some science roles it may be necessary to have a PhD. Essentially, your aim should be to become qualified enough to work in your chosen scientific field before applying for jobs with the United Nations.

The United Nations will not fund your studies. It’s important to note that you will need to complete all your degrees before applying to scientific roles in the UN.

The second step you need to take to become qualified to work in a science role in the UN is to get a broad understanding of what the United Nations does and how it works. One of the best ways to do this is to take online short courses.

There are a huge number of online courses relating to the UN. These can be taken over a few weeks and many are free of charge. Doing these courses will not only give you knowledge of the United Nations, but also introduce you to how science and research can be used to support the UN’s work. Understanding this is key to landing a scientific role with the UN.

United Nations Online Courses

For those wanting to work for the United Nations we highly recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations In The World. We think it’s one of the best overviews of the UN and it’s work and would be a great addition to the CV of anyone applying for a UN job. Click the link to enrol on the course.

If you want to know more about how to get a job with the UN then take the United Nations Jobs Guide online course. This course provides great details on the UN recruitment system, what the UN looks for in candidates and what you can do to make your UN application stand out. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

Another online course we recommend for those wanting to work in the UN is International Organizations Management. This course shows how large global organizations, including the UN, work. It also highlights many of the challenges these organizations face. Click the link to be taken to the course’s page.

Applying for UN Science Jobs

If you are going to get a job with United Nations, you will need to understand the different categories of UN jobs and how the United Nations recruits’ different roles. The UN hiring process is notoriously complex, but we’ll provide a brief overview of it here.

The UN has two main jobs categories. These are ‘Professional’ (P) and ‘General Service’ (G). The naming isn’t great as there is nothing less professional about G category jobs. In fact, the only real difference between P and G jobs in the UN is where and how they are recruited.

UN jobs categorised as G are only recruited locally. This means you must be a national of the country where the UN project you are applying to is. You cannot apply internationally for G category UN jobs.

P jobs, on the other hand, are only recruited for internationally. For P roles in the United Nations people deploy as expatriates and you can only apply for P roles if you are applying from abroad. Many people working P jobs move between different international postings throughout their UN career.

In the UN there are also D category jobs. These are similar to P jobs but more senior.

As well as the letter categories, in the UN recruitment system jobs are also given a number. This number is linked to how much experience is needed to do the role. The higher the number, the more years of experience are required. This is why you see UN jobs listed as G-2, or P-3, for example.

When applying for science jobs in the UN you need to apply to the type of role that best suits your experience level and career aims. If you are early in your career, apply for lower-level jobs. If you come from a country where the UN has a major presence working in the scientific fields, consider applying for relevant G category jobs.

Many people want to work internationally for the UN, especially in scientific positions. If you have some relevant professional experience already, consider applying directly for the P roles that interest you. If you don’t, then you could apply for relevant G roles, or work in the private or public sector in related scientific fields to gain the experience you need.

Another option for securing a science related role in the UN is to work as a consultant. The UN hires a huge number of consultancy positions. UN consultants work on specific projects and provide expert technical guidance to UN teams. Although many UN consultancies are at a senior level, in fact there are consultants throughout the UN, including in more junior roles.

As the UN often calls upon scientific experts to give guidance, if you have a science background, taking a consultancy can be one of the best ways to get a UN position.

Another great way to start a career in the UN is by taking an internship. However, there are not many internships in the UN related to the sciences, although they do exist. If you are a recent graduate, you may be better to take a more general internship and then move into a science related jobs as your UN career progresses.

If you want to learn more about how to get a job in the United Nations, check out of the top UN online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.