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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.
Average Length of Employment
Top Careers Before Research Physicist
Top Careers After Research Physicist
Hispanic or Latino8.0%
Black or African American0.9%
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University of Maryland - College Park9.3%
University of Colorado at Boulder7.0%
University of Toledo7.0%
New Jersey Institute of Technology4.7%
University of Notre Dame4.7%
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign4.7%
State University of New York Buffalo4.7%
Texas A&M University4.7%
University of New Orleans4.7%
University of California - San Diego4.7%
University of Arizona4.7%
University of California - Santa Barbara2.3%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology2.3%
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|Job Title||Company||Location||Start Date||Salary|
|Research Physicist||Milow, Ltd.||Austin, TX||Mar 25, 2016||$260,875|
|Research Physicist||Milow, Ltd.||Austin, TX||Mar 25, 2013||$260,875|
|Research and Development Senior Physicist (R&D SP)||21St. Century Oncology Services, Inc.||Madison, WI||Jul 01, 2013||$144,000 -
|Staff Research Physicist||The Trustees of Princeton University||Princeton, NJ||Dec 05, 2011||$137,881|
|Research Physicist||Shell International Exploration and Production Inc.||Houston, TX||Jun 09, 2016||$137,301|
|Research Physicist||Shell International Exploration and Production Inc.||Houston, TX||Sep 16, 2016||$137,301|
|Research and Development Physicist||Resonant Inc.||Goleta, CA||May 16, 2016||$133,058|
|Research Physicist||Shell International Exploration & Production Inc.||Houston, TX||Sep 18, 2011||$125,700|
|Research Physicist||University of California, Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||Nov 01, 2014||$121,000|
|Senior Research Physicist||Tomotherapy Incorporated||Madison, WI||Apr 07, 2011||$119,797|
|Research/Development Staff-Physicist-Electron Microscopy||Ut-Battelle, LLC (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)||Oak Ridge, TN||Feb 04, 2016||$116,170|
|Research Physicist||SRI International||Menlo Park, CA||Nov 27, 2013||$114,460|
|Research Physicist||Accuray Incorporated||Madison, WI||Nov 01, 2011||$110,863|
|Staff Research Physicist||The Trustees of Princeton University||Princeton, NJ||Nov 01, 2014||$89,000|
|Research Staff Scientis/Physicist||Ut-Battelle, LLC (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)||Oak Ridge, TN||Oct 16, 2013||$88,899|
|Research Physicist||Particle Beam Lasers, Inc.||Port Jefferson, NY||Jul 15, 2011||$88,885|
|Associate Research Physicist Step II||University of California, Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||Apr 15, 2015||$87,000|
|Research Physicist||Milliken & Company||Spartanburg, SC||Sep 20, 2011||$86,000|
|Staff Research Physicist||The Trustees of Princeton University||Princeton, NJ||Jan 06, 2016||$85,000|
|Senior Research Physicist||Ferrotec (USA) Corporation||Bedford, NH||Sep 01, 2015||$85,000|
|Physicist R&D||Genesis Vision Inc.||Rochester, NY||Oct 01, 2011||$75,000|
|Research Physicist||Entegra Corporation||Gaithersburg, MD||Nov 01, 2014||$75,000 -
|Research Physicist||Massachusetts General Physician's Organization||Boston, MA||Apr 01, 2015||$75,000|
|Assistant Research Physicist||University of California, Berkeley||Berkeley, CA||Mar 01, 2015||$74,700|
|Associate Research Physicist||The Trustees of Princeton University||Princeton, NJ||Jan 07, 2016||$74,675|
|Associate Research Physicist||The Trustees of Princeton University||Princeton, NJ||Jan 05, 2016||$74,675|
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