Research Scientist Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career opportunities available for research scientists. Find out about education requirements, salary potential and job duties to determine if this is the right career path for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Research Scientist?

Research scientists use their scientific expertise to make new discoveries and find solutions to problems that affect millions of people. In general, research scientists need to be detail-oriented, well-versed in research methods, and able to carry out long-term projects. There are many different types of research scientists, so specific job duties vary depending on the career. For example, as a biological scientist, you may research topics related to biological life. This could include researching diseases that affect humans or analyzing different types of bacteria.

As a chemist, you will work with chemicals. Your job may entail discovering new ways to preserve food or different ways of processing materials. Environmental scientists are involved with the preservation and protection of the natural world. You could work to develop new ways to protect the rainforests or research how human life affects plant and animal life. The chart below outlines the education requirements, earning potential and growth projections for these three common career paths in the field.

Biological Scientist Chemist Environmental Scientist
Degree Required Master's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Biology, biochemistry, physics Chemistry, engineering, physics Environmental science, biology, physics, chemistry
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%-4%** 3%* 11% (for all environmental scientists and specialists)*
Median Salary (2015) $72,220** $71,260* $67,460 (for all environmental scientists and specialists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O-Net Online

What Are the Job Duties of a Research Scientist?

Your work as a research scientist may involve developing research methods, conducting experiments and overseeing other scientists. In some situations, you may offer technical expertise and guidance to research and development teams. Other job duties may include developing research plans, collecting information and analyzing data. Your work may focus on one area of science, such as biological, chemical or environmental science.

What Does a Biological Scientist Do?

If you choose to go into the field of biology, you'll research matters related to living things. Biological research can be basic or applied, which means it's either done with a specific goal in mind or with no goal at all. Within this area of science, you may specialize in such areas as microbiology or zoology. Research that you perform could lead to the discovery of cures for diseases, ways to improve agriculture yields or methods for species preservation.

What Does a Chemist Do?

As a chemist, you work with chemicals, developing new products. You may also do research that leads to the development of different processing methods. Your research could help improve oil drilling processes or food processing methods, or you could discover a new type of fiber to use in clothing manufacturing.

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

Your main job as an environmental scientist is to help find ways to preserve and protect the environment. You may study the oceans, rainforests, deserts or other land and water areas. Your job may involve analyzing different ecosystems, studying how living things interact within a specific area, measuring the effects of pollution on natural areas or researching the way waste disposal effects the environment. Your work may help to find better ways to dispose of waste, or it could provide answers to questions involving diminishing animal populations. You might also find ways to preserve endangered areas.

What Education Do I Need?

To be a research scientist, you need extensive scientific knowledge. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required, but more often, employers prefer master's or doctoral degrees. You need to pursue a degree in the area of science in which you plan to work. For example, if you aspire to work as a biological scientist, you need a degree in biology. Within your chosen degree field, you may be able to specialize even further in a subdiscipline.

What Can I Earn?

O-Net Online reported that the median annual wages for biological scientists were $72,220 as of May 2015 (www.onetonline.org). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salaries for chemists and environmental scientists were $71,260 and $67,460, respectively (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You may also be interested in becoming a biomedical engineer. These professionals use both engineering and medical principles to design various types of equipment, healthcare software, and computer systems. You will also need a bachelor's degree to work as a biomedical engineer. Another option you may want to pursue is microbiology, which is a bachelor's-level career. This field also involves a significant amount of research skills, since microbiologists study all types of microorganisms, like bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Similarly, you could choose a career in epidemiology, which involves the study of disease and public health. Epidemiologists must hold a master'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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