How Do I Become a Research Scientist?

Learn what it takes to become a research scientist in a variety of industries. Find out about the education requirements, licensure and possible career paths to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Research Scientist Do?

Research scientists are needed in numerous industries, including environmental, medical and agricultural. They collect pertinent information in attempts to better understand problems in society and work to explain their research. Their duties include but are not limited to conducting experiments, making observations and writing papers to explain their findings with the intention of publication. The chart below outlines the education requirements, salary potential and licensure requirements for the field in general.

Degree Required Bachelor's at minimum; master's or Ph.D. may be needed
Education Field of Study Various science fields, dependent on industry
Licensure Required Needed for some fields; for example, soil scientists may need a license; medical scientists may need a physician's license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8%* (for all medical research scientists)
Median Salary (2016) $76,961 (for all research scientists)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

Choose a Field of Study

The first step to becoming a research scientist is determining which field you're most interested in. While medical and biological science fields commonly employ research scientists, if you're more interested in food, you can study topics including agriculture, nutrition and organic options as a food scientist. If you'd like to study pollution or the ecosystem, you can perform research in the field as an environmental scientist.

Get Your Degree

Once you've decided what subject area you'd like to work in, you must complete a bachelor's degree in the relevant field, at minimum. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while some scientists in various industries may be able to get a research-related job with just a bachelor's degree, employers in many fields either prefer or require that candidates hold a master's or doctoral degree (www.bls.gov).

For example, BLS reports that biological scientists with a bachelor's degree could obtain applied research positions, and environmental scientists often start off as research assistants; however, biological scientists wanting to conduct independent research need a Ph.D., and although environmental scientists with a bachelor's degree may find entry-level work, many employers in the field give preference to candidates with a master's degree. Medical scientists need at least a Ph.D. in a biological science or a medical degree to obtain a job, and food and agricultural scientists also usually require a graduate degree to qualify for a research position.

Check Licensure Requirements

Although licensure isn't necessary for many research scientists, some specific positions may require it. For instance, soil scientists are required by some states to obtain licensure. Medical scientists who perform specific tasks involving interaction with patients need to be licensed as physicians.

Search for Jobs

According to the BLS, jobs for food and agricultural, medical, biological and environmental scientists were projected to be faster or much faster than average from 2014-2024; however, a high level of competition for research positions may still exist in various fields. Jobs can be found in the government, consulting firms and universities.

If you're interested in a career that requires only a 4-year degree, you may be able to find an entry-level assistant research scientist position and work toward advancement with years of experience. According to the BLS, Ph.D.-holding biological and medical scientists commonly obtain a temporary postdoctoral position prior to embarking on the hunt for a permanent research position; such positions allow you to first gain specialized research and publication experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Working as an epidemiologist could be a similar career. Epidemiologists need a master's degree and investigate patterns and causes of disease in people in order to reduce negative health trends. Many scientists can get involved with academia as well. For example, health educators teach people about strategies and behaviors that promote wellness in an individual or community. They need a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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