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Become A Lead Scientist

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Working As A Lead Scientist

  • Getting Information
  • Analyzing Data or Information
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge
  • Documenting/Recording Information
  • Mostly Sitting

  • $101,232

    Average Salary

What Does A Lead Scientist Do

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.


Medical scientists typically do the following:

  • Design and conduct studies that investigate both human diseases and methods to prevent and treat them
  • Prepare and analyze medical samples and data to investigate causes and treatment of toxicity, pathogens, or chronic diseases
  • Standardize drug potency, doses, and methods to allow for the mass manufacturing and distribution of drugs and medicinal compounds
  • Create and test medical devices
  • Develop programs that improve health outcomes, in partnership with health departments, industry personnel, and physicians
  • Write research grant proposals and apply for funding from government agencies and private funding sources
  • Follow procedures to avoid contamination and maintain safety

Many medical scientists form hypotheses and develop experiments, with little supervision. They often lead teams of technicians, and sometimes students, who perform support tasks. For example, a medical scientist working in a university laboratory may have undergraduate assistants take measurements and make observations for the scientist’s research.

Medical scientists study the causes of diseases and other health problems. For example, a medical scientist who does cancer research might put together a combination of drugs that could slow the cancer’s progress. A clinical trial may be done to test the drugs. A medical scientist may work with licensed physicians to test the new combination on patients who are willing to participate in the study.

In a clinical trial, patients agree to help determine if a particular drug, a combination of drugs, or some other medical intervention works. Without knowing which group they are in, patients in a drug-related clinical trial receive either the trial drug or a placebo—a pill or injection that looks like the trial drug but does not actually contain the drug.

Medical scientists analyze the data from all the patients in the clinical trial, to see how the trial drug performed. They compare the results with those obtained from the control group that took the placebo, and they analyze the attributes of the participants. After they complete their analysis, medical scientists may write about and publish their findings.

Medical scientists do research both to develop new treatments and to try to prevent health problems. For example, they may study the link between smoking and lung cancer or between diet and diabetes.

Medical scientists who work in private industry usually have to research the topics that benefit their company the most, rather than investigate their own interests. Although they may not have the pressure of writing grant proposals to get money for their research, they may have to explain their research plans to nonscientist managers or executives.

Medical scientists usually specialize in an area of research. The following are examples of types of medical scientists:

Cancer researchers research the causes of cancers, as well as ways to prevent and cure cancers. They may specialize in one or more types of cancer.

Clinical and medical informaticians develop new ways to use large datasets. They look for explanations of health outcomes through the statistical analysis of data.

Clinical pharmacologists research, develop, and test current and new drugs. They investigate the full effects that drugs have on human health. Their interests may range from understanding specific molecules to the effects that drugs have on large populations.

Gerontologists study the changes that people go through as they get older. Medical scientists who specialize in this field seek to understand the biology of aging and investigate ways to improve the quality of our later years. 

Immunochemists investigate the reactions and effects that various chemicals and drugs have on the human immune system.

Neuroscientists study the brain and nervous system.

Research histologists have a specific skill set that is used to study human tissue. They investigate how tissue grows, heals, and dies, and may investigate grafting techniques that can help people who have experienced serious injury.  

Serologists research fluids found in the human body, such as blood and saliva. Applied serologists often work in forensic science. For more information on forensic science, see the profile on forensic science technicians.

Toxicologists research the harmful effects of drugs, household chemicals, and other potentially poisonous substances. They seek to ensure the safety of drugs, radiation, and other treatments by investigating safe dosage limits.

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How To Become A Lead Scientist

Medical scientists typically have a Ph.D., usually in biology or a related life science. Some medical scientists get a medical degree instead of a Ph.D., but prefer doing research to practicing as a physician.


Students planning careers as medical scientists typically pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field. Undergraduate students benefit from taking a broad range of classes, including life sciences, physical sciences, and math. Students also typically take courses that develop communication and writing skills, because they must learn to write grants effectively and publish research findings.

After students have completed their undergraduate studies, they typically enter Ph.D. programs. Dual-degree programs are available that pair a Ph.D. with a range of specialized medical degrees. A few degree programs that are commonly paired with Ph.D. studies are Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). Whereas Ph.D. studies focus on research methods, such as project design and data interpretation, students in dual-degree programs learn both the clinical skills needed to be a physician and the research skills needed to be a scientist.

Graduate programs emphasize both laboratory work and original research. These programs offer prospective medical scientists the opportunity to develop their experiments and, sometimes, to supervise undergraduates. Ph.D. programs culminate in a thesis that the candidate presents before a committee of professors. Students may specialize in a particular field, such as gerontology, neurology, or cancer.

Those who go to medical school spend most of the first 2 years in labs and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and medical law. They also learn how to record medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses. They may be required to participate in residency programs, meeting the same requirements that physicians and surgeons have to fulfill.

Medical scientists often continue their education with postdoctoral work. Postdoctoral work provides additional and more independent lab experience, including experience in specific processes and techniques such as gene splicing, which is transferable to other research projects.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Medical scientists primarily conduct research and typically do not need licenses or certifications. However, those who administer drugs, gene therapy, or otherwise practice medicine on patients in clinical trials or a private practice need a license to practice as a physician.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Communication is critical, because medical scientists must be able to explain their conclusions. In addition, medical scientists write grant proposals, because grants often are required to fund their research.

Critical-thinking skills. Medical scientists must use their expertise to determine the best method for solving a specific research question.

Data-analysis skills. Medical scientists use statistical techniques, so that they can properly quantify and analyze health research questions.

Decisionmaking skills. Medical scientists must determine what research questions to ask, how best to investigate the questions, and what data will best answer the questions.

Observation skills. Medical scientists conduct experiments that require precise observation of samples and other health data. Any mistake could lead to inconclusive or misleading results.

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Lead Scientist Typical Career Paths

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Average Length of Employment
Senior Scientist 4.9 years
Lead Scientist 4.0 years
Research Scientist 3.8 years
Staff Scientist 3.5 years
Scientist 3.4 years
Top Employers Before
Scientist 9.5%
Internship 5.5%
Fellow 3.8%
Consultant 2.9%
Chemist 2.6%
Top Employers After
Scientist 8.5%
President 4.9%
Consultant 4.2%
Director 2.8%

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Lead Scientist Demographics












Hispanic or Latino


Black or African American



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Languages Spoken












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Lead Scientist Education


North Carolina State University


Ohio State University


West Virginia University


University of Washington


Stanford University


Washington University in Saint Louis


Boston University


Georgia Institute of Technology -


University of Minnesota - Twin Cities


Indiana Institute of Technology


California Institute of Technology


University of California - Santa Barbara


Arizona State University


George Washington University


Florida International University


University of Notre Dame


University of Pennsylvania


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


George Mason University


University of Georgia

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Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology












Chemical Engineering


Computer Science


Electrical Engineering




Environmental Science




Clinical/Medical Laboratory Science


Project Management


Mechanical Engineering


Public Health


Biomedical Engineering


Industrial Engineering


Criminal Justice

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Real Lead Scientist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Lead Earth Scientist Chevron Corporation Houston, TX Aug 25, 2013 $231,843
Lead Epidemiologist Scientist Genentech, Inc. South San Francisco, CA Oct 01, 2011 $185,000
Lead Earth Scientist, Southern Malongo Area Develo Chevron Corporation Houston, TX Dec 14, 2011 $155,000
Lead Scientist Rakuten USA, Inc. New York, NY Oct 27, 2016 $134,909
Lead Scientist Affectiva, Inc. Pacifica, CA Sep 11, 2015 $133,515 -
Lead Scientist Aquatic Energy, LLC Lake Charles, LA Oct 01, 2010 $130,000
Lead Scientist General Electric Company-Global Research Center San Ramon, CA Oct 01, 2012 $125,000
Lead Scientist General Electric Company-GE Global Research Center Niskayuna, NY Aug 20, 2016 $116,500
Lead Scientist Affectiva Waltham, MA Jun 17, 2016 $116,272
Lead Scientist Sabic Innovative Plastics Us LLC NY Sep 16, 2016 $115,051
Lead Scientist Quality Planning Corp. San Francisco, CA Jun 03, 2013 $115,000 -
Lead Scientist, Assay Development and Biomarker Validation Cynvenio Biosystems, Inc. Westlake Village, CA Dec 15, 2015 $115,000
Analytic Science-Lead Scientist Fair Isaac Corporation San Diego, CA Mar 11, 2015 $114,982 -
Analytics Lead/Scientist Opera Solutions LLC Jersey City, NJ Sep 01, 2012 $110,000
Analytic Science-Lead Scientist Fair Isaac Corporation San Diego, CA Sep 21, 2016 $107,786 -
Lead Scientist Purdue Pharma L.P. Cranbury, NJ Aug 29, 2016 $105,000
Scientist III, Preclinical Lead Cytori Therapeutics, Inc. San Diego, CA Nov 29, 2016 $105,000 -
Analytic Science-Lead Scientist Fair Isaac Corporation Chandler, AZ Feb 24, 2014 $105,000 -
Lead Scientist, Metallurgy Novelis Inc. GA Aug 31, 2014 $101,200
Lead Metallurgy Scientist Novelis Corporation Kennesaw, GA Sep 10, 2015 $97,726
Lead Scientist Natureworks LLC Minnetonka, MN Aug 14, 2016 $95,534 -
Analytic Science-Lead Scientist Fair Isaac Corporation Austin, TX Nov 16, 2015 $84,989 -
Analytic Science-Lead Scientist Fair Isaac Corporation San Diego, CA Aug 23, 2011 $83,720 -
Lead Scientist Kalsec, Inc. Kalamazoo, MI Sep 18, 2013 $82,000
Lead Scientist-Colors Kalsec, Inc. Kalamazoo, MI Sep 24, 2012 $82,000
Lead Scientist-Colors Kalsec, Inc. Kalamazoo, MI Sep 12, 2012 $82,000
Lead Scientist University of Wyoming Research Corporation Laramie, WY Sep 01, 2012 $82,000

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Top Skills for A Lead Scientist

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  1. Methods
  2. Laboratory Equipment
  3. Procedures
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Develop and establish all laboratory and sampling methods to conform to appropriate regulatory agency protocol.
  • Created and implemented all Standard Operating Procedures and Quality Documentation for every SKU using extensive project management tools.
  • Supervised PhD and MS level scientists in collaborative efforts with multinational companies
  • Supported the development of biological goals and objectives for large scale habitat conservation planning associated with Endangered Species Act consultations.
  • Included with my responsibilities as Cell Culture Scientist: * Managing and maintaining the integrity of the cell culture facility.

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Top Lead Scientist Employers

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