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Become A Principal Research Scientist

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Working As A Principal Research Scientist

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

  • $96,410

    Average Salary

What Does A Principal Research 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.

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 Principal Research 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.

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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Principal Research Scientist jobs

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Average Length of Employment
Senior Scientist 4.9 years
Chief Scientist 4.2 years
Research Scientist 3.8 years
Lead Scientist 3.5 years
Staff Scientist 3.4 years
Scientist 3.4 years
Research Fellow 2.3 years
Top Employers Before
Scientist 5.2%
Fellow 3.7%
Instructor 2.7%
Researcher 1.8%
Top Employers After
Consultant 8.9%
Director 5.6%
Manager 4.4%

Principal Research Scientist Demographics

Gender

Male

69.7%

Female

17.6%

Unknown

12.6%
Ethnicity

White

69.7%

Asian

22.8%

Hispanic or Latino

4.7%

Unknown

2.6%

Black or African American

0.4%
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Languages Spoken

Chinese

14.3%

German

14.3%

French

14.3%

Comanche

7.1%

Portuguese

7.1%

Ukrainian

7.1%

Japanese

7.1%

Carrier

7.1%

Spanish

7.1%

Russian

7.1%

Polish

7.1%
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Principal Research Scientist Education

Schools

Ohio State University

16.4%

Purdue University

8.2%

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

5.5%

University of California - Los Angeles

5.5%

George Washington University

5.5%

University of Washington

5.5%

Duke University

5.5%

Brown University

4.1%

University of South Florida

4.1%

State University of New York Buffalo

4.1%

Texas A&M University

4.1%

University of Cincinnati

4.1%

Northeastern University

4.1%

University of Arizona

4.1%

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

4.1%

Cornell University

4.1%

University of Connecticut

2.7%

University of Alabama

2.7%

North Carolina State University

2.7%

United States Military Academy

2.7%
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Majors

Chemistry

24.7%

Electrical Engineering

8.9%

Pharmacy

7.4%

Computer Science

7.4%

Physics

7.4%

Biology

6.3%

Business

6.3%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

4.7%

Microbiology

4.2%

Chemical Engineering

3.7%

Public Health

2.6%

Mechanical Engineering

2.1%

Biomedical Engineering

2.1%

Cell Biology And Anatomical Science

2.1%

Civil Engineering

2.1%

Genetics

1.6%

Management

1.6%

Geology

1.6%

Philosophy

1.6%

Biomedical Sciences

1.6%
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Degrees

Doctorate

54.8%

Masters

25.6%

Bachelors

8.8%

Other

7.6%

Associate

2.0%

Certificate

1.2%
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Real Principal Research Scientist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Principal Research Scientist Autel Robotics USA LLC San Ramon, CA Jan 12, 2016 $300,000 -
$350,000
Principal Research Scientist Harvard University Boston, MA Apr 15, 2014 $210,000
Principal Research Scientist Harvard University Boston, MA May 05, 2014 $210,000
Principal Research Scientist The One-Page Company, Inc. San Francisco, CA Sep 01, 2016 $200,000
Principal Research Scientist The One-Page Company, Inc. San Francisco, CA Jan 09, 2016 $200,000
Principal Research Scientist EBAY Inc. San Jose, CA Oct 01, 2010 $170,000
Principal Research Scientist Synaptics, Inc. Santa Clara, CA Sep 17, 2012 $167,933
SR. Principal Research Scientist Autodesk, Inc. San Francisco, CA Jan 01, 2015 $164,403 -
$250,700
SR. Principal Research Scientist Autodesk, Inc. San Francisco, CA Oct 01, 2012 $158,371 -
$198,500
Principal Research Scientist Science Research Laboratory Inc. Somerville, MA Oct 03, 2012 $155,836
Principal Research Scientist Science Research Laboratory Inc. Somerville, MA Oct 03, 2009 $155,836
Principal Research Scientist Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Develo Radnor, PA Jan 28, 2011 $147,000
Principal Research Scientist Yahoo! Inc. Santa Clara, CA Jun 11, 2010 $127,900 -
$230,100
Principal Research Scientist AOL Advertising, Inc. Palo Alto, CA Mar 28, 2016 $127,837
Principal Research Scientist (Acoustic Modeling) Nuance Communications, Inc. Burlington, MA Sep 18, 2016 $127,608 -
$155,732
Principal Research Scientist Eli Lilly and Company Indianapolis, IN Jan 16, 2015 $127,517
Principal Research Scientist Eli Lilly and Company Indianapolis, IN Jan 16, 2012 $125,016
Principal Research Scientist Diamond Back Vision Reston, VA Jan 05, 2013 $120,698
Principal Research Scientist Eli Lilly and Company Indianapolis, IN Nov 14, 2011 $120,000
Principal Scientist/Researcher Pfizer Inc. Andover, MA Aug 02, 2010 $104,700 -
$157,100
Principal Research Scientist Waters Technologies Corporation D/B/A Waters Corporation Milford, MA Aug 09, 2016 $100,984 -
$120,984
Principal Research Scientist Battelle Memorial Institute Columbus, OH Jun 01, 2014 $100,008
Principal Research Scientist EMC Corporation Cambridge, MA Sep 22, 2011 $97,594 -
$127,500
Principal Research Scientist Boston Scientific Corporation Saint Paul, MN Sep 03, 2015 $97,289
Principal Research Scientist TYCO Healthcare Group LP North Haven, CT Nov 30, 2009 $95,000
Principal Research Scientist Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation Columbus, OH Jan 28, 2014 $95,000 -
$105,000

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Top Skills for A Principal Research Scientist

LabAnalyticalMethodsDrugDiscoveryMethodDevelopmentSafetySynthesisRBattelleFDARegulatoryCellPrincipalResearchProductDevelopmentHplcProjectManagementGMPAdditionalResearchProjectsClinicalTrialsDatabaseCreation

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Top Principal Research Scientist Skills

  1. Lab
  2. Analytical Methods
  3. Drug Discovery
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Provided general clinical care of multiple laboratory animal species.
  • Led drug discovery and development programs in Inflammation area from Identification/Optimization of novel targets to deliver pre-clinical candidates.
  • Work in the Analytical Research & Development Department providing method development and validation supporting formulation for filing ANDA(s).
  • Developed respiratory safety pharmacology study design for commercial clients to meet ICH S7A Guidelines.
  • Develop new synthetic methods and improve existing ones to facilitate chemical synthesis.

Top Principal Research Scientist Employers

Principal Research Scientist Videos

Medical Science Research: A Job People Love

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