Research Scientist Career Information

Mar 26, 2019

If you are interested in becoming a research scientist, read on to find out whether this field is for you. Learn about the educational requirements as well as what skills are required. Also, check out some career options, salary information and job outlook.

Career Definition of a Research Scientist

Research scientists can be found in many professional fields, including biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, medicine, physics, anthropology, history, political science and sociology. They make hypotheses, collect data, and interpret results in order to answer questions about humans and the natural world. Research scientists work at colleges and universities, for non-profit organizations, government agencies, and private research and development companies. These workers contribute to knowledge in the fields of the natural sciences, medical science, computer science, environmental science and the social sciences.

Education Master's or doctoral degree in professional field
Job Skills Naturally curious, analytical, detail-oriented, ability to communicate well orally and in writing
Median Annual Salary (2017)* $69,400 for environmental scientists; $82,090 for medical scientists
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 11% growth for environmental scientists; 13% for medical scientists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Research scientists have typically earned master's or doctorate degrees in their specific fields of study, like physics, biology or chemistry. Most research scientists have completed postgraduate degrees in their field. Research scientist positions at colleges and universities generally require Ph.D.s, while master's degrees are sometimes acceptable for jobs in the public and private sectors.

Skills Required

Research scientists are naturally inquisitive. Their work requires analytical skills and attention to detail in order to design repeatable procedures and record results accurately. Research scientists report their findings in publications and oral presentations, requiring excellent communication and writing skills.

Career and Economic Outlook

Research scientists earn diverse salaries, based on their areas of specialty and level of experience. In 2017, environmental scientists and specialists earned median annual wages of $69,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). During that same time, medical scientists earned median annual wages of $82,090.

Career outlooks also vary according to the specific fields of research science. According to the BLS, environmental scientists are predicted to have better-than-average job growth of 11% from 2016-2026, and medical scientists are also expected to see faster-than-average growth during that time at 13%.

Alternate Career Options

Professionals who are trained as research scientists and who have either a master's or doctoral degree have other career options as well.

Natural Sciences Manager

Natural sciences managers are typically former scientists who have a graduate degree - either in their area of practice and/or management and extensive work experience. They coordinate and oversee operational, administrative, scientific and staffing activities; if their employer is small enough, natural sciences managers may continue with their own research responsibilities, too. The BLS predicts that jobs in this field will increase by 10% from 2016-2026. The median pay for natural sciences managers varies widely by field of employment. Those who worked for physical, engineering, and life sciences firms earned median pay of $147,030 in 2017, and those who worked for state governments earned $78,360 that year.

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers can work at vocational or community colleges, universities or similar schools. He or she teaches a specific subject, preparing lessons and assignments, evaluating student work and helping students choose classes depending on their education and career goals. Postsecondary teachers also perform research, publish their work, and participate in department or school committees as assigned. A master's degree is the minimum education requirement and can lead to work at a 2-year school; postsecondary teachers typically have a doctoral degree. In some cases, depending on the area taught, professional licensing/certification or relevant work experience may be required. According to the BLS, jobs in this field are expected to increase by 15% from 2016-2026. The BLS also reports that pay varied by subject taught, with a median 2017 salary of $76,000.

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