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Become A Researcher

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Working As A Researcher

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

  • $70,004

    Average Salary

What Does A Researcher 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 Researcher

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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Researcher Videos

Career Advice on becoming an Oral History Project Researcher by Pete M (Highlights)

Field Researcher, Career Video from drkit.org

(1/2) A Day in the Life of an Academic Researcher

Researcher Jobs

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Researcher Career Paths

Researcher
Analyst Assistant Vice President Human Resources Vice President
Chief Science Officer
11 Yearsyrs
Research Fellow Research Scientist Senior Scientist
Chief Scientific Officer
7 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Information Technology Project Manager Information Technology Director
Chief Technology Officer
11 Yearsyrs
Mentor Specialist Data Analyst
Data Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Program Manager Senior Manager
Director Of Analytics
13 Yearsyrs
Editor Account Executive Business Developer
Head Of Business Development
8 Yearsyrs
Laboratory Technician Medical Technologist
Laboratory Manager
5 Yearsyrs
Instructor Project Manager Senior Project Manager
Project Director
8 Yearsyrs
Software Engineer Lead Technician Production Supervisor
Quality Control Supervisor
5 Yearsyrs
Fellow Research Scientist Senior Scientist
Research And Development Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Research Analyst Research Manager
Research Director
7 Yearsyrs
Research Analyst Senior Research Analyst
Research Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Fellow Senior Scientist Research And Development Manager
Senior Manager Of Research And Development
12 Yearsyrs
Analyst Product Manager Product Development Manager
Senior Manager, Product Development
10 Yearsyrs
Laboratory Technician Scientist
Senior Scientist
9 Yearsyrs
Research Fellow Scientist
Senior Scientist, Project Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Graduate Researcher Fellow Research Scientist
Study Director
7 Yearsyrs
Instructor Security Officer Technician
Technical Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Senior Scientist Research And Development Manager Research And Development Director
Vice President Of Research And Development
13 Yearsyrs
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Average Length of Employment
PHD Researcher 3.8 years
Researcher 2.0 years
Research Assistant 1.7 years
Research Scholar 1.4 years
Health Researcher 1.3 years
Field Researcher 1.1 years
Research Volunteer 0.9 years
Top Careers Before Researcher
Internship 21.1%
Volunteer 8.2%
Tutor 4.0%
Assistant 3.0%
Teacher 2.6%
Cashier 2.4%
Consultant 2.2%
Instructor 2.1%
President 2.1%
Top Careers After Researcher
Internship 13.5%
Volunteer 6.1%
Consultant 4.0%
Tutor 3.7%
Fellow 3.4%
Instructor 2.9%
Teacher 2.8%

Do you work as a Researcher?

Researcher Demographics

Gender

Male

46.7%

Female

46.4%

Unknown

6.9%
Ethnicity

White

51.5%

Asian

19.1%

Hispanic or Latino

14.5%

Black or African American

9.8%

Unknown

5.1%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

35.6%

French

13.0%

Chinese

8.8%

Mandarin

7.8%

German

5.0%

Arabic

3.6%

Japanese

3.5%

Korean

3.3%

Russian

3.2%

Italian

3.1%

Portuguese

2.8%

Hindi

2.8%

Cantonese

2.0%

Urdu

1.2%

Vietnamese

1.0%

Hebrew

0.8%

Thai

0.6%

Greek

0.6%

Polish

0.5%

Swahili

0.5%
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Researcher Education

Schools

Cornell University

7.3%

University of California - Berkeley

6.7%

University of California - Irvine

6.7%

Pennsylvania State University

6.2%

Purdue University

5.3%

University of California - Davis

4.9%

New York University

4.8%

University of California - Los Angeles

4.7%

Texas A&M University

4.7%

University of California - San Diego

4.6%

University of Florida

4.6%

University of Texas at Austin

4.6%

University of Delaware

4.5%

University of Washington

4.5%

Johns Hopkins University

4.5%

Carnegie Mellon University

4.4%

University of Pittsburgh -

4.4%

Georgia Institute of Technology -

4.3%

University of Southern California

4.2%

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

4.1%
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Majors

Biology

11.7%

Chemistry

11.2%

Mechanical Engineering

8.2%

Chemical Engineering

7.7%

Business

6.7%

Psychology

6.6%

Biochemistry, Biophysics, Molecular Biology

5.9%

Biomedical Engineering

4.7%

Computer Science

4.6%

Electrical Engineering

4.3%

Physics

4.3%

Environmental Science

3.4%

Political Science

3.3%

Mathematics

2.8%

History

2.6%

Public Health

2.5%

Communication

2.5%

Law

2.5%

English

2.3%

Materials Science And Engineering

2.2%
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Degrees

Bachelors

43.8%

Masters

27.6%

Doctorate

14.6%

Other

9.7%

Certificate

1.9%

Associate

1.9%

Diploma

0.3%

License

0.1%
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Researcher Videos

Career Advice on becoming an Oral History Project Researcher by Pete M (Highlights)

Field Researcher, Career Video from drkit.org

(1/2) A Day in the Life of an Academic Researcher

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Real Researcher Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Researcher National Bureau of Economic Research Cambridge, MA Jul 01, 2015 $257,328
Researcher National Bureau of Economic Research Chicago, IL Aug 01, 2015 $246,666
Abdominal and Oncologic Imaging Researcher University Hospitals Medical Group, Inc. Cleveland, OH Mar 02, 2015 $208,700
Researcher Recruit Institute of Technology, Inc. Mountain View, CA Nov 09, 2016 $200,000
Researcher National Bureau of Economic Research Boston, MA Jun 01, 2015 $199,434
Mathematical Researcher Renaissance Technologies LLC Setauket-East Setauket, NY Mar 02, 2015 $189,807 -
$234,285
Researcher Microsoft Corporation Cambridge, MA Apr 13, 2016 $181,271
Researcher Microsoft Corporation Redmond, WA Dec 01, 2015 $180,185
Mathematical Researcher Renaissance Technologies LLC Setauket-East Setauket, NY Oct 28, 2016 $180,000 -
$210,000
Researcher Apple Inc. Cupertino, CA Feb 11, 2015 $170,000 -
$190,000
Researcher National Bureau of Economic Research College Station, TX Jan 08, 2016 $169,932
Researcher National Bureau of Economic Research Urbana, IL Jul 15, 2015 $169,819
Researcher Microsoft Corporation Redmond, WA May 15, 2016 $167,810
Researcher Microsoft Corporation Redmond, WA Jul 23, 2016 $165,600
Spectral Imaging Researcher Agilent Technologies, Inc. Santa Clara, CA Jun 16, 2016 $99,000
M&S Scientific Researcher Pro Unlimited, Inc. South San Francisco, CA Aug 31, 2016 $98,197
Researcher IBM Corporation New York, NY Sep 11, 2015 $98,100 -
$270,100
Design Researcher Samsung Research America, Inc. Mountain View, CA Aug 25, 2016 $98,000
Design Researcher Samsung Research America, Inc. Mountain View, CA Aug 23, 2015 $98,000
Design Researcher Samsung Research America, Inc. Mountain View, CA Mar 09, 2016 $97,000
Researcher General Motors Company Warren, MI Dec 28, 2015 $97,000
Researcher I Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Oakland, CA Aug 16, 2015 $97,000 -
$120,175
Researcher California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA Sep 01, 2015 $63,012
Researcher 6 University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN Mar 16, 2016 $63,000
Researcher California Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pasadena, CA Jan 09, 2016 $62,982
Researcher California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA Feb 25, 2015 $62,400
Researcher 5 University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN Apr 15, 2016 $62,379

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Top Skills for A Researcher

  1. Lab
  2. Techniques
  3. Undergraduate
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Collaborate with PhD students and faculty to assemble state-of-the-art database and test hypothesis correlating entrepreneurship and the global financial crisis
  • Evaluate new techniques and methodology, update laboratory techniques, develop written documentation of lab protocols
  • Received two-year Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency to support research work.
  • Learned prudent laboratory skills and applied them to experimentation to garner professional results.
  • Created laboratory standards for determining effects of foreign chemicals on cell cultures.

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Top 10 Best States for Researchers

  1. Washington
  2. New Jersey
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Connecticut
  5. Georgia
  6. Rhode Island
  7. Pennsylvania
  8. Michigan
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Maryland
  • (469 jobs)
  • (203 jobs)
  • (577 jobs)
  • (37 jobs)
  • (158 jobs)
  • (23 jobs)
  • (331 jobs)
  • (85 jobs)
  • (36 jobs)
  • (188 jobs)

Top Researcher Employers

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Jobs From Top Researcher Employers

Researcher Videos

Career Advice on becoming an Oral History Project Researcher by Pete M (Highlights)

Field Researcher, Career Video from drkit.org

(1/2) A Day in the Life of an Academic Researcher

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