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Working as a Scientist

Are you interested in the world around you? If you're fascinated by science and want to make a difference in people's lives, becoming a scientist may be a good idea. This profession allows you to study the vast arena of science by choosing a subject to specialize in. You can opt to focus on physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geoscience, or any other science-related subject that you're interested in.

As a scientist, generally your core duty is to research and examine various aspects of the physical world. Starting a career as a scientist may give you a chance to explore the world, make fascinating discoveries, and help improve the lives of others. Another perk of being a scientist is that you get to do a wide variety of tasks. On any given day, you might be running experiments, writing papers, presenting your research at a conference, or meeting with other scientists to discuss research. Doing all these different things all the time keeps your mind limber.

If you aspire to become a scientist, you will usually need to have a bachelor's degree in the scientific field that you want to specialize in. Earning a master's degree or Ph.D. in the relevant subject may also help boost your scientific and numerical skills and allow you to explore different career options. As a scientist, you can generally work in almost every area imaginable. You may work in universities, at government facilities, in company labs, for for-profit companies, in space, on ships, underground, in hospitals, at private practices, or pretty much anywhere in the world in any industry within your particular field. In addition to this, science professions consistently rank at the top of all occupations in terms of physical demand and stress, but they also rank equally as high for work environment, income, and hiring outlook.

What Does a 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.


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.

How To Become a 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.


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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Average Salary$88,364
Job Growth Rate8%

Scientist Career Paths

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Average Salary for a Scientist

Scientists in America make an average salary of $88,364 per year or $42 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $125,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $62,000 per year.
Average Salary

Best Paying Cities

Average Salary
Redwood City, CA
Salary Range84k - 132k$106k$105,621
Ridgefield, CT
Salary Range75k - 118k$95k$94,530
Piscataway, NJ
Salary Range74k - 117k$94k$93,833
Baltimore, MD
Salary Range69k - 110k$88k$87,726
Philadelphia, PA
Salary Range69k - 108k$87k$86,874
Boston, MA
Salary Range67k - 105k$84k$84,354

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Scientist Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Scientist. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Scientist Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Scientist resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Scientist Demographics



50.3 %


38.2 %


11.5 %



53.9 %


29.5 %

Hispanic or Latino

7.8 %

Foreign Languages Spoken


30.6 %


11.8 %


11.1 %
See More Demographics

Scientist Education



37.4 %


28.6 %


28.5 %

Top Colleges for Scientists

1. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition

2. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition

3. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Public

In-State Tuition

5. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition

6. Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD • Private

In-State Tuition

7. Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN • Private

In-State Tuition

8. University of California - Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA • Public

In-State Tuition

9. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Public

In-State Tuition

10. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
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Top Skills For a Scientist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 9.8% of scientists listed procedures on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and observation skills are important as well.

Best States For a Scientist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a scientist. The best states for people in this position are Nevada, California, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Scientists make the most in Nevada with an average salary of $107,329. Whereas in California and Rhode Island, they would average $99,331 and $95,795, respectively. While scientists would only make an average of $94,660 in Connecticut, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. California

Total Scientist Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. New Jersey

Total Scientist Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Connecticut

Total Scientist Jobs:
Highest 10% Earn:
Location Quotient:
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Scientist Employers

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2. Battelle
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3. Microsoft
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4. Food and Drug Administration
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5. Pfizer
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6. Amneal Pharmaceuticals
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