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Become A Principal Scientist

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Working As A Principal Scientist

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

  • $104,199

    Average Salary

What Does A Principal 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 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 Scientist Jobs

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Principal Scientist Career Paths

Principal Scientist
Investigator Data Analyst Clinical Data Manager
Clinical Project Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Principal Investigator Research Consultant Senior Clinical Research Associate
Clinical Study Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Principal Investigator Research Coordinator Clinical Research Coordinator
Clinical Trial Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Faculty Nurse Practitioner Clinical Assistant
Clinical Trials Specialist
8 Yearsyrs
Research And Development Manager Program Manager Senior Manager
Director Of Analytics
13 Yearsyrs
Senior Manager Service Director Nursing Director
Director Of Clinical Operations
13 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Product Manager
Director Of Product Development
11 Yearsyrs
Research And Development Manager Project Manager Program Manager
Engineering Director
13 Yearsyrs
Senior Manager Controller Project Manager
Engineering Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Professor Nurse Practitioner Assistant Professor
Medical Director
9 Yearsyrs
Associate Director Program Director Operations Director
President Of Operations
11 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Consultant Senior Consultant
Product Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Director Of Product Development Engineering Director Technical Director
Research And Development Director
12 Yearsyrs
Quality Control Laboratory Manager Clinical Research Coordinator
Senior Clinical Research Associate
10 Yearsyrs
Director Of Product Development Purchasing Manager Product Developer
Senior Manager, Product Development
10 Yearsyrs
Associate Director Adjunct Professor Senior Project Manager
Senior Product Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Investigator Adjunct Instructor Research Scientist
Senior Research Associate
6 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Professor Faculty Assistant Professor
Senior Scientist
9 Yearsyrs
Associate Director Of Development Senior Director Vice President, Business Development
Vice President Of Research And Development
12 Yearsyrs
Associate Director Of Development Development Director Vice President Of Engineering
Vice President Product Development
12 Yearsyrs
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Help others decide if this is a good career for them

Average Length of Employment
Senior Scientist 4.9 years
Lead Scientist 3.6 years
Staff Scientist 3.5 years
Scientist 3.4 years
Top Employers Before
Scientist 10.3%
Fellow 6.4%
Consultant 1.7%
Chemist 1.7%
Top Employers After
Consultant 9.0%
Director 8.2%
Scientist 8.1%
Manager 3.1%

Do you work as a Principal Scientist?

Principal Scientist Demographics

Gender

Male

66.1%

Female

20.9%

Unknown

13.0%
Ethnicity

White

49.6%

Asian

26.5%

Hispanic or Latino

11.0%

Black or African American

8.2%

Unknown

4.7%
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Languages Spoken

Russian

20.6%

Chinese

17.6%

German

7.4%

Spanish

7.4%

Mandarin

5.9%

Polish

5.9%

Hindi

4.4%

Ukrainian

4.4%

French

4.4%

Carrier

4.4%

Dutch

2.9%

Japanese

2.9%

Marathi

1.5%

Gujarati

1.5%

Shan

1.5%

Welsh

1.5%

Georgian

1.5%

Fijian

1.5%

Bengali

1.5%

Thai

1.5%
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Principal Scientist Education

Schools

Purdue University

8.4%

University of California - San Diego

6.3%

Stanford University

5.9%

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

5.9%

University of Pennsylvania

5.9%

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

5.9%

University of Florida

5.5%

Pennsylvania State University

5.0%

Johns Hopkins University

5.0%

Case Western Reserve University

5.0%

State University of New York Buffalo

4.6%

Lehigh University

4.6%

University of California - Davis

4.2%

Michigan State University

4.2%

The Academy

4.2%

University of California - Irvine

4.2%

Rice University

3.8%

North Carolina State University

3.8%

University of California - Berkeley

3.8%

University of Iowa

3.8%
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Majors

Chemistry

33.0%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

13.7%

Biology

7.5%

Pharmacy

6.2%

Physics

6.2%

Microbiology

4.2%

Business

3.9%

Pharmacology

3.6%

Chemical Engineering

3.5%

Electrical Engineering

2.7%

Computer Science

2.0%

Cell Biology And Anatomical Science

2.0%

Genetics

1.9%

Physiology And Anatomy

1.7%

Neuroscience

1.6%

Biomedical Engineering

1.4%

Geology

1.4%

Materials Sciences

1.4%

Food Science

1.2%

Mechanical Engineering

1.1%
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Degrees

Doctorate

61.0%

Masters

18.8%

Bachelors

10.5%

Other

7.8%

Certificate

1.3%

Associate

0.4%

Diploma

0.2%
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Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Real Principal Scientist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Principal Scientist Wal-Mart Associates, Inc. San Bruno, CA Jul 16, 2015 $180,000
Principal Scientist APIO, Inc. Guadalupe, CA Apr 15, 2015 $159,135
Principal Scientist of Speech Wearable Intelligence, Inc. San Francisco, CA Aug 23, 2015 $155,000
Principal Scientist, Pharmacology & Toxicology Juno Therapeutics, Inc. Seattle, WA Mar 09, 2015 $155,000
Principal Translational Scientist Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals LP Waltham, MA May 09, 2016 $146,850 -
$181,500
Principal Translational Scientist Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals LP Waltham, MA Sep 26, 2016 $146,850 -
$181,500
Principal Modeling & Simulations Scientist Sunovion Phramaceuticals Inc. Marlborough, MA Jun 12, 2016 $145,000
Principal Scientist-Printed Electronic Materials TYCO Electronics Corporation, A Te Connectivity Ltd. Company Menlo Park, CA Aug 20, 2015 $145,000 -
$162,000
Principal Scientist 1 (Modeling and Simulation) Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals LP Waltham, MA Apr 11, 2015 $141,650
Principal Scientist Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals LP Waltham, MA Sep 04, 2015 $141,650
Principal Scientist Amgen Inc. Thousand Oaks, CA Apr 06, 2015 $140,000
Principal Scientist/Head, Pharmacology Juno Therapeutics, Inc. Seattle, WA Sep 12, 2016 $140,000 -
$180,000
Scientist Principal-Formulation TEVA Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. Weston, FL Sep 29, 2016 $139,050
Principal Scientist, Fragment Based Lead Generation Astrazeneca Pharmaceuticals LP Waltham, MA Sep 04, 2015 $133,000
Scientist Principal-Formulation TEVA Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. Weston, FL Mar 10, 2016 $122,138 -
$156,200
Principal Scientist/Engr-Materials & Process Technology McCormick & Company, Inc. Huntingtown, MD Aug 28, 2016 $122,000
Principal Scientist-Milk Powder Hilmar Cheese Company Turlock, CA Oct 13, 2015 $120,000 -
$150,000
Principal Scientist, Bioinformatics Roche Sequencing Solutions, Inc. Pleasanton, CA Jul 09, 2016 $119,059 -
$153,600
Principal Scientist I, Bioinformatics, Sequencing Roche Molecular Systems, Inc. Pleasanton, CA Sep 12, 2015 $118,331 -
$153,600
Principal Scientist Pfizer Inc. San Diego, CA Apr 30, 2015 $118,000
Principal Scientist, Integrated Vehicle Systems Department Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North A Ann Arbor, MI Jul 19, 2016 $117,847
Principal Scientist, NDS Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Ridgefield, CT Sep 17, 2015 $116,355 -
$141,590
Principal Scientist Lumeras LLC Santa Cruz, CA Jul 13, 2015 $106,000
Principal Scientist, Sequencing Roche Molecular Systems, Inc. Pleasanton, CA Aug 20, 2016 $104,624 -
$128,400
Principal Scientist, Sequencing Roche Sequencing Solutions, Inc. Pleasanton, CA Aug 20, 2016 $104,624 -
$128,400
Principal Scientist KVK-Tech, Inc. Newtown, PA Sep 14, 2015 $104,582 -
$130,000
Principal Scientist Instrumentation Laboratory Company Bedford, MA Feb 11, 2015 $101,325
Principal Scientist I, Bioinformatics Roche Sequencing Solutions, Inc. Pleasanton, CA Sep 19, 2016 $100,547 -
$269,200
Assoc Principal Scientist Biostatistics Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. Rahway, NJ Aug 15, 2015 $100,422

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Top Skills for A Principal Scientist

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  1. Methods
  2. Regulatory Documents
  3. Laboratory
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Designed dye calibration standards and signal normalization procedures; designed algorithms and methods to account for temperature/pH effects on emitted fluorescence.
  • Authored and reviewed pharmacology section of regulatory documents for US and global regulatory submissions.
  • Mentored colleagues in general laboratory techniques including experimental design and interpretation, aseptic technique, cell culture, and western blotting.
  • Utilized pilot projects to optimize reagent production for basic internal drug discovery and reagent support for clinical development.
  • Designed and programmed a demonstration version displaying the total functionality of a major network optimization tool under development by GRCI.

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Top Principal Scientist Employers

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