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Become A Postdoctoral Scholar

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Working As A Postdoctoral Scholar

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

  • $48,708

    Average Salary

What Does A Postdoctoral Scholar 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 Postdoctoral Scholar

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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Postdoctoral Scholar jobs

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Postdoctoral Scholar Demographics

Gender

Male

51.6%

Female

27.3%

Unknown

21.1%
Ethnicity

White

51.9%

Asian

36.2%

Hispanic or Latino

8.0%

Unknown

3.2%

Black or African American

0.8%
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Languages Spoken

Chinese

20.0%

French

11.4%

Mandarin

8.6%

German

5.7%

Spanish

5.7%

Japanese

5.7%

Korean

5.7%

Swedish

2.9%

Portuguese

2.9%

Bulgarian

2.9%

Nepali

2.9%

Polish

2.9%

Dakota

2.9%

Greek

2.9%

Urdu

2.9%

Hindi

2.9%

Cantonese

2.9%

Sanskrit

2.9%

Xiang

2.9%

Russian

2.9%
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Postdoctoral Scholar Education

Schools

University of California - Davis

8.1%

University of California - San Diego

7.1%

Pennsylvania State University

7.1%

University of Chicago

7.1%

University of Alabama at Birmingham

6.1%

Stanford University

6.1%

University of California - Irvine

6.1%

University of California - Los Angeles

5.1%

University of California - Berkeley

5.1%

University of Notre Dame

5.1%

Arizona State University

4.0%

University of Kentucky

4.0%

Iowa State University

4.0%

California Institute of Technology

4.0%

University of Iowa

4.0%

University of Wisconsin - Madison

4.0%

University of Texas at Austin

4.0%

Emory University

3.0%

Oregon State University

3.0%

University of California - Riverside

3.0%
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Majors

Chemistry

20.0%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

8.6%

Physics

8.1%

Chemical Engineering

8.1%

Biology

5.2%

Mechanical Engineering

5.2%

Neuroscience

4.8%

Physiology And Anatomy

3.8%

Microbiology

3.8%

Pharmacy

3.8%

Biomedical Sciences

3.8%

Electrical Engineering

3.8%

Biomedical Engineering

3.3%

Genetics

2.9%

Mathematics

2.9%

Cell Biology And Anatomical Science

2.9%

Geology

2.4%

Pharmacology

2.4%

Biostatistics

2.4%

Business

1.9%
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Degrees

Doctorate

87.3%

Other

5.7%

Masters

5.3%

Certificate

1.1%

License

0.4%

Associate

0.4%
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Real Postdoctoral Scholar Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Postdoctoral Research Scholar Columbia University New York, NY Jan 07, 2016 $125,000
Postdoctoral Scholar, AMD Research Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Sunnyvale, CA Oct 09, 2016 $114,358 -
$162,500
Postdoctoral Scholar, AMD Research Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. Boxborough, MA Sep 13, 2016 $88,899 -
$131,300
Postdoctoral Scholar Employee University of California, San Diego San Diego, CA Sep 06, 2016 $88,434
Postdoctoral Scholar Employee University of California, San Diego San Diego, CA Jul 01, 2016 $82,620
Postdoctoral Scholar Employee University of California, San Diego San Diego, CA Jan 07, 2016 $82,620
Postdoctoral Research Scholar Columbia University New York, NY Jan 07, 2016 $80,000
Postdoctoral Scholar The University of Chicago Chicago, IL Jul 01, 2015 $80,000
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, CA Jan 01, 2015 $80,000
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, Davis Davis, CA Jan 11, 2016 $80,000
Postdoctoral Scholar Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH Jan 07, 2016 $80,000
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, CA Sep 15, 2015 $52,112
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, Irvine Irvine, CA Nov 15, 2015 $52,020
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, Davis Davis, CA Jan 12, 2015 $52,020
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, CA Jan 28, 2015 $52,020
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA Jul 13, 2015 $52,020
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, CA Jan 01, 2016 $52,020
Postdoctoral Research Scholar The University of Iowa Iowa City, IA Aug 15, 2016 $47,940
Postdoctoral Scholar Merrimack Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Cambridge, MA Sep 11, 2015 $47,870
Postdoctoral Scholar Employee University of California, Berkeley Berkeley, CA Mar 01, 2015 $47,844
Postdoctoral Scholar University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, CA Apr 01, 2015 $47,840
Postdoctoral Scholar The University of Chicago Chicago, IL Feb 17, 2015 $47,820
Postdoctoral Scholar Medical University of South Carolina Charleston, SC Jan 25, 2015 $47,802
Postdoctoral Scholar Arizona State University Tempe, AZ Dec 09, 2016 $47,741

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Top Skills for A Postdoctoral Scholar

CellularBiologyLabMembersBiochemicalTechniquesLaboratoryEquipmentGeneRegulationResearchProjectsSynthesisDNACellCultureDataAnalysisADVMedicineChemistryRna-SeqPHDRt-PcrFlowCytometerCellLinesMouseModelPython

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Top Postdoctoral Scholar Skills

  1. Cellular Biology
  2. Lab Members
  3. Biochemical Techniques
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Awarded Travel Grant (odds 1/50, $3K) by American Society for Cellular Biology
  • Used online collaborative tools to work remotely on team research projects.
  • Performed DNA manipulation and made constructs for generating transgenic mice 4.
  • Determined the mechanism of action for the beta-cell specificity by use of pharmacological agents in cell culture and in mouse models.
  • Mentored and guided new graduate students on research methodologies, experiment design, equipment operation, and data analysis.

Top Postdoctoral Scholar Employers

Postdoctoral Scholar Videos

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