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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 Scientist
Top Careers After Scientist
Hispanic or Latino8.4%
Black or African American0.9%
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Johns Hopkins University7.2%
Pennsylvania State University6.3%
University of California - Davis5.6%
University of Washington5.5%
North Carolina State University5.4%
University of California - Berkeley4.9%
University of California - San Diego4.9%
Virginia Commonwealth University4.8%
University of Connecticut4.7%
University of Florida4.6%
Michigan State University4.5%
Texas A&M University4.3%
University of Massachusetts Amherst4.2%
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill4.2%
University of Arizona4.1%
University of California - Los Angeles3.9%
University of Maryland - College Park3.8%
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|Job Title||Company||Location||Start Date||Salary|
|Observatory Scientist||TMT Observatory Corporation||Pasadena, CA||Jul 15, 2015||$240,000|
|MTS 2, Applied Scientist||EBAY Inc.||San Jose, CA||Jun 08, 2015||$200,000|
|Scientist||Microsoft Corporation||Mountain View, CA||Jun 30, 2015||$177,600|
|Market Scientist||Vatic Operations LLC||New York, NY||Jan 27, 2016||$175,000|
|Market Scientist||Vatic Operations LLC||San Francisco, CA||Sep 15, 2015||$175,000|
|Speech Scientist||JIBO, Inc.||Redwood City, CA||Sep 14, 2015||$170,000|
|Decision Scientist||Facebook, Inc.||Menlo Park, CA||Jul 11, 2016||$170,000|
|Earth Scientist||Chevron Corporation||Houston, TX||Aug 03, 2015||$159,806|
|Applied Scientist||Microsoft Corporation||Redmond, WA||Aug 20, 2016||$156,600|
|Applied Scientist||Microsoft Corporation||Redmond, WA||May 23, 2016||$156,600 -
|Machine Learning Scientist||Wal-Mart Associates, Inc.||Sunnyvale, CA||Jun 30, 2016||$155,000|
|Applied Scientist||Microsoft Corporation||Sunnyvale, CA||Mar 27, 2015||$154,936|
|Scientist 4||Los Alamos National Security, LLC||Los Alamos, NM||Jun 06, 2016||$154,000 -
|Visiting Scientist||Food and Drug Administration, HHS||Silver Spring, MD||Apr 26, 2015||$99,905|
|Visiting Scientist||Food and Drug Administration, HHS||Silver Spring, MD||Aug 15, 2015||$99,905|
|Visiting Scientist||Food and Drug Administration, HHS||Silver Spring, MD||Jun 03, 2016||$99,905|
|Visiting Scientist||Food and Drug Administration, HHS||Silver Spring, MD||Mar 20, 2016||$99,905|
|General Health Scientist||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/DHHS||San Juan, PR||Oct 07, 2016||$99,785|
|Scientist II||Bayer Cropscience LP||Morrisville, NC||Aug 31, 2016||$99,738|
|Scientist||Amgen Inc.||Cambridge, MA||Dec 19, 2016||$99,692|
|Scientist||Amgen Inc.||West Greenwich, RI||Aug 30, 2015||$99,692|
|Scientist 2||Battelle Memorial Institute||Richland, WA||Jan 02, 2016||$82,755|
|Scientist 2||Battelle Memorial Institute||Richland, WA||Feb 01, 2016||$82,755|
|Outcomes Scientist||Pharmerit North America LLC||Bethesda, MD||Sep 09, 2015||$82,722|
|Scientist||Brain Corporation||San Diego, CA||Apr 13, 2015||$82,638 -
|Modeling Scientist||Novelis Inc.||Kennesaw, GA||Aug 15, 2016||$82,500|
|Reference Standards Scientist||U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention||Rockville, MD||Jul 20, 2015||$82,500|
|Scientist||Lanzatech||Skokie, IL||Aug 21, 2016||$82,410|
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