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Working As a PHD Researcher

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

  • $50,000

    Average Salary

What Does A PHD Researcher Do

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

Duties

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 PHD Researcher

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.

Education

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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Average Length of Employment
Research Scientist 3.8 years
Doctoral Student 3.5 years
PHD Researcher 3.0 years
Doctoral Fellow 2.9 years
Research Scholar 1.7 years
Research Assistant 1.6 years
Researcher 1.5 years
Top Careers Before PHD Researcher
Researcher 7.2%
Internship 6.5%
Lecturer 2.4%
Instructor 2.4%
Master 1.8%
Top Careers After PHD Researcher
Scientist 7.6%
Researcher 3.8%
Instructor 3.5%
Consultant 3.1%
Lecturer 3.0%
Internship 2.4%
Fellow 2.2%

Do you work as a PHD Researcher?

Average Yearly Salary
$50,000
Show Salaries
$38,000
Min 10%
$50,000
Median 50%
$50,000
Median 50%
$50,000
Median 50%
$50,000
Median 50%
$50,000
Median 50%
$50,000
Median 50%
$50,000
Median 50%
$66,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
Apple
Highest Paying City
Pasadena, CA
Highest Paying State
Connecticut
Avg Experience Level
2.9 years
How much does an PHD Researcher make at top companies?
The national average salary for a PHD Researcher in the United States is $50,489 per year or $24 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $38,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $66,000.

Real PHD Researcher Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Postdoctoral Researcher Facebook, Inc. New York, NY Sep 12, 2015 $140,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Facebook, Inc. Seattle, WA Aug 02, 2016 $140,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Facebook, Inc. Seattle, WA Feb 08, 2016 $140,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Facebook, Inc. New York, NY Oct 08, 2016 $140,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Facebook, Inc. New York, NY Sep 13, 2016 $140,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar Columbia University New York, NY Jan 07, 2016 $125,000
Postdoctoral Researcher (Computer Science) Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC Livermore, CA Jan 12, 2016 $104,160
Postdoctoral Researcher SRI International Menlo Park, CA Oct 24, 2016 $89,502 -
$110,000
Biotechnology Postdoctoral Researcher Total New Energies USA, Inc. Cambridge, MA Sep 11, 2015 $86,572
Postdoctoral Researcher (Materials Science) Sandia Corporation Albuquerque, NM Jun 20, 2016 $85,700
Postdoctoral Research Oceanographer U.S Geological Survey-Coastal and Marine Geology Program Woods Hole, MA Mar 24, 2015 $80,766
Postdoctoral Research Scholar Columbia University New York, NY Jan 07, 2016 $80,000
Postdoctoral Research Assocaite Los Alamos National Security, LLC Los Alamos, NM Sep 01, 2016 $77,300 -
$87,700
Postdoctoral Research Assocaite Los Alamos National Security, LLC Los Alamos, NM Jan 09, 2016 $77,300 -
$87,700
Postdoctoral Researcher-Gsce South Dakota State University Brookings, SD Aug 19, 2016 $52,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC Jan 12, 2016 $52,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN Jan 10, 2016 $52,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC Dec 01, 2016 $52,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA Jan 29, 2015 $52,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA Jan 31, 2015 $52,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA Jan 01, 2016 $52,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar University of Oregon Eugene, OR Jan 11, 2016 $52,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Southern Research Institute (SRI) Birmingham, AL Jan 09, 2015 $47,048
Postdoctoral Researcher Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA Jul 12, 2015 $47,000
Postdoctoral Researcher University of Wyoming Laramie, WY Jul 22, 2015 $47,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC Aug 01, 2015 $47,000
Postdoctoral Researcher Montana State University Huntley, MT Jan 04, 2016 $47,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC Nov 15, 2015 $47,000
Postdoctoral Research Scholar North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC May 01, 2015 $46,987
Postdoctoral Researcher (Biotechnology) Agenus, Inc. Lexington, MA Sep 15, 2016 $46,925 -
$69,950

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Top Skills for A PHD Researcher

  1. Cell Culture
  2. Protein
  3. Synthesis
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Designed and conducted CHO cell culture experiments to optimize conditions.
  • Prepared and published a review on applications of polymer brushes in protein analysis and purification in a reputed journal.
  • Mentored/trained postdoc/graduate/undergraduate students for organic/polymer synthesis and characterization.
  • Managed and mentored graduate and undergraduate students in their physical chemistry related studies and research projects on spin dynamics simulations.
  • Enhanced laboratory infrastructure to support protein production and structural biology through the procurement of laboratory equipment and reagents.

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Top 10 Best States for PHD Researchers

  1. New Jersey
  2. Arizona
  3. Alaska
  4. Delaware
  5. Connecticut
  6. Pennsylvania
  7. California
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Rhode Island
  10. North Carolina
  • (180 jobs)
  • (153 jobs)
  • (22 jobs)
  • (14 jobs)
  • (25 jobs)
  • (132 jobs)
  • (504 jobs)
  • (331 jobs)
  • (6 jobs)
  • (310 jobs)

PHD Researcher Resume Examples And Tips

The average resume reviewer spends between 5 to 7 seconds looking at a single resume, which leaves the average job applier with roughly six seconds to make a killer first impression. Thanks to this, a single typo or error on your resume can disqualify you right out of the gate. At Zippia, we went through over 4,655 PHD Researcher resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

Learn How To Create A Top Notch PHD Researcher Resume

View Resume Examples

PHD Researcher Demographics

Gender

Male

43.3%

Unknown

29.9%

Female

26.9%
Ethnicity

White

41.9%

Asian

33.9%

Hispanic or Latino

11.0%

Black or African American

7.4%

Unknown

5.7%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Chinese

18.8%

Spanish

16.9%

French

13.7%

German

9.3%

Mandarin

8.3%

Japanese

6.1%

Russian

5.1%

Italian

3.8%

Arabic

3.2%

Korean

2.9%

Portuguese

2.6%

Carrier

1.6%

Turkish

1.3%

Hindi

1.3%

Cantonese

1.3%

Romanian

1.0%

Ukrainian

1.0%

Dutch

0.6%

Bulgarian

0.6%

Catalan

0.6%
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PHD Researcher Education

Schools

University of California - Davis

9.5%

Ohio State University

8.5%

University of California - Los Angeles

6.4%

Pennsylvania State University

6.4%

University of California - San Diego

6.2%

University of California - Berkeley

5.7%

University of Florida

5.1%

University of California - Irvine

4.7%

University of Pennsylvania

4.6%

Stanford University

4.6%

Purdue University

4.6%

National University

4.0%

Northwestern University

4.0%

Cornell University

4.0%

University of California - Santa Barbara

4.0%

University of Texas at Austin

3.7%

University of Washington

3.7%

Iowa State University

3.7%

University of Maryland - College Park

3.4%

University of Delaware

3.3%
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Majors

Chemistry

20.9%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

11.1%

Physics

11.1%

Chemical Engineering

5.7%

Biology

5.5%

Mechanical Engineering

5.1%

Electrical Engineering

4.8%

Microbiology

4.6%

Biomedical Engineering

4.1%

Materials Science And Engineering

3.7%

Neuroscience

2.7%

Computer Science

2.7%

Mathematics

2.5%

Materials Sciences

2.4%

Genetics

2.4%

Cell Biology And Anatomical Science

2.3%

Pharmacy

2.3%

Pharmacology

2.3%

Physiology And Anatomy

2.0%

Civil Engineering

2.0%
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Degrees

Doctorate

82.4%

Masters

8.6%

Other

4.7%

Bachelors

3.1%

Certificate

0.9%

Diploma

0.1%

Associate

0.1%

License

0.0%
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Top PHD Researcher Employers

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Jobs From Top PHD Researcher Employers

PHD Researcher Videos

James Hayton: How to get through your PhD without going insane (complete lecture), Edinburgh 2013

You Got Your PhD...Now What? Career Path Discussions at The New School

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Updated May 19, 2020