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Become A Research Scientist

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Working As A Research Scientist

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

  • $65,160

    Average Salary

What Does A 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 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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Research Scientist Jobs

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Research Scientist Career Paths

Research Scientist
Program Manager Human Resources Manager Human Resources Vice President
Chief Science Officer
11 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Professor Professor Senior Scientist
Chief Scientific Officer
7 Yearsyrs
Research Laboratory Manager Laboratory Manager Clinical Research Coordinator
Clinical Study Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Group Leader Assistant Director Nursing Director
Director Of Clinical Operations
12 Yearsyrs
Staff Scientist Laboratory Manager Laboratory Director
Director Of Laboratory Operations
15 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Program Manager Business Developer
Head Of Business Development
8 Yearsyrs
Senior Scientist Project Leader Quality Assurance Manager
Quality Systems Manager
12 Yearsyrs
Process Engineer Quality Assurance Manager Regulatory Affairs Manager
Regulatory Affairs Director
12 Yearsyrs
Senior Software Engineer Quality Assurance Lead Quality Assurance Manager
Regulatory Affairs Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Senior Scientist Research And Development Manager
Research And Development Director
12 Yearsyrs
Scientist Senior Scientist
Research And Development Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Professor Senior Software Engineer Senior Analyst
Research Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Assistant Professor Senior Scientist Research And Development Manager
Senior Manager Of Research And Development
12 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Product Manager Product Development Manager
Senior Manager, Product Development
10 Yearsyrs
Adjunct Faculty Assistant Professor Scientist
Senior Scientist, Project Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Principal Investigator Assistant Professor Scientist
Study Director
7 Yearsyrs
Scientist Research And Development Manager Research And Development Director
Vice President Of Research And Development
13 Yearsyrs
Assistant Professor Research Director
Vice President Research
9 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
Research Scientist 4.0 years
Research Biologist 3.6 years
Staff Scientist 3.5 years
Scientist 3.4 years
Research Associate 2.6 years
Research Fellow 2.3 years
Top Employers Before
Fellow 7.9%
Scientist 5.7%
Internship 4.8%
Researcher 2.7%
Chemist 2.1%
Instructor 2.1%
Top Employers After
Scientist 10.6%
Consultant 7.0%
Fellow 4.7%
Director 3.1%
Instructor 3.0%
Manager 2.6%

Do you work as a Research Scientist?

Research Scientist Demographics

Gender

Male

51.7%

Female

31.4%

Unknown

16.9%
Ethnicity

White

43.2%

Asian

32.8%

Hispanic or Latino

10.5%

Black or African American

8.2%

Unknown

5.2%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

21.0%

Chinese

13.8%

French

12.7%

Russian

8.1%

Mandarin

8.0%

German

7.7%

Japanese

4.9%

Korean

4.1%

Hindi

2.7%

Carrier

2.7%

Italian

2.5%

Arabic

2.0%

Cantonese

1.7%

Portuguese

1.7%

Swedish

1.3%

Ukrainian

1.3%

Polish

1.3%

Romanian

0.9%

Turkish

0.9%

Marathi

0.9%
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Research Scientist Education

Schools

University of Washington

8.6%

University of Texas at Austin

6.3%

Texas A&M University

6.2%

Ohio State University

6.1%

University of Florida

6.0%

Pennsylvania State University

5.7%

Johns Hopkins University

5.7%

Purdue University

5.5%

Georgia Institute of Technology -

5.4%

University of California - San Diego

5.1%

University of Colorado at Boulder

4.7%

Iowa State University

4.4%

University of California - Los Angeles

4.1%

University of California - Davis

4.1%

University of Connecticut

4.0%

University of Illinois University Administration

3.7%

University of Massachusetts Amherst

3.7%

New York University

3.6%

University of Maryland - College Park

3.6%

State University of New York Stony Brook

3.6%
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Majors

Chemistry

23.7%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

12.8%

Biology

10.2%

Physics

6.1%

Pharmacy

5.3%

Microbiology

5.2%

Chemical Engineering

4.6%

Business

3.8%

Electrical Engineering

3.4%

Computer Science

3.4%

Biomedical Engineering

2.7%

Pharmacology

2.5%

Mechanical Engineering

2.3%

Materials Science And Engineering

2.3%

Physiology And Anatomy

2.3%

Cell Biology And Anatomical Science

2.2%

Biotechnology

2.0%

Genetics

2.0%

Medicine

1.8%

Geology

1.6%
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Degrees

Doctorate

49.2%

Masters

26.1%

Bachelors

14.8%

Other

7.3%

Certificate

1.6%

Associate

0.8%

Diploma

0.2%

License

0.0%
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Real Research Scientist Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Research Scientist, Dept. of Civil & Environ. Engi The George Washington University Ashburn, VA May 01, 2013 $91,612
Research Scientist, Dept of Civil & Environ Engine The George Washington University Ashburn, VA Mar 08, 2012 $83,200
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 01, 2016 $75,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Jan 10, 2016 $75,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Apr 01, 2018 $75,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Aug 03, 2015 $70,000 -
$80,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Mar 02, 2015 $65,000 -
$75,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Mar 12, 2018 $65,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 01, 2017 $63,500
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 01, 2017 $63,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 01, 2018 $62,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 15, 2017 $60,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Apr 01, 2018 $60,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Feb 17, 2017 $60,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Jan 05, 2016 $60,000 -
$70,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Aug 14, 2015 $60,000 -
$70,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 18, 2015 $60,000 -
$70,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Jan 12, 2016 $59,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Apr 01, 2018 $57,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA May 01, 2018 $57,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Jul 02, 2018 $57,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 01, 2017 $57,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Mar 02, 2018 $57,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Jun 26, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Aug 15, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Feb 01, 2018 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Sep 04, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Oct 15, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Dec 01, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Jan 03, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Feb 17, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Apr 17, 2017 $56,000
Research Scientist Howard Hughes Medical Institute Ashburn, VA Dec 01, 2015 $56,000 -
$66,000
Postdoc. Research Scientist, Dept.Civil & Environme The George Washington University Ashburn, VA Feb 01, 2011 $45,000

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Top Skills for A Research Scientist

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  1. Methods
  2. Cell Culture
  3. Laboratory Equipment
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Formalized development and validation of GM Detection methods for regulatory studies and product quality testing.
  • Improved efficiency of cell scale-up process using Cellmate and SelecT automated cell culture robotics
  • Maintained usage and inventory of laboratory equipment, materials, and chemical solutions.
  • Collaborate with each financial department to create and control individual information technology budgets.
  • Performed crystallography, protein purification and virus propagation.

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Top 10 Best States for Research Scientists

  1. Washington
  2. California
  3. Oregon
  4. Arizona
  5. Delaware
  6. Minnesota
  7. Connecticut
  8. New Jersey
  9. Maryland
  10. Iowa
  • (964 jobs)
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  • (411 jobs)
  • (53 jobs)
  • (237 jobs)
  • (213 jobs)
  • (756 jobs)
  • (682 jobs)
  • (183 jobs)

Top Research Scientist Employers

Jobs From Top Research Scientist Employers

Research Scientist Videos

Educational Research Scientist, Career Video from drkit.org

Day in the Life: Planetary Research Scientist

Research Scientist, Career Video from drkit.org

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