Becoming a Research Scientist: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
Research scientists work in medicine, biology, computer science and more. They earn a mean annual wage of approximately $76,000-$113,000, depending on the specialization. Is it worth the training requirements? Explore real job descriptions and learn about career prospects to discover if becoming a research scientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Research Scientist

Research scientists are involved in the research and development angle of a specific industry. Medicine and pharmaceutical development are the two most common. Take a look at the pros and cons below to see if becoming a research scientist is the best decision for you.

Pros of Being a Research Scientist
Potential to make over $100,000 per year*
Can work in many different fields (medical, biological, environmental, computer and information)*
Can work in the academic or private sector
May advance the public understanding of scientific processes
Above average job growth (8% expected growth from 2014-2024)

Cons of Being a Research Scientist
Salary varies widely depending on field*
Must have doctorate or master's degree
High-paying positions generally require years of industry experience*
Job requires professional skills in many areas

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Research scientists study and investigate specimens and scientific processes involved with the specific goals of the company. Research scientists record, analyze and interpret data, providing evidence to support all conclusions, whether that be in the advancement of technology, creation of new commercial applications, processes or products or to increase scientific understanding. Scientists may also conduct fieldwork, teach, publish papers, give findings in seminars or presentations, read journals and attend academic conferences.

Job Prospects and Salary

Research and development are the backbones of any industry, as well as anything involving product development, the advancement of technology and any data-based improvements. The need for qualified research scientists is always in demand. The average pay ranges widely depending on the field, from $77,920 a year to $113,190 (www.bls.gov), making it a very lucrative field, as well as a highly competitive one. Considering the top-level jobs require a master's or doctorate degree and at least a few years of industry-specific experience, it's a position that requires several years of planning and education. But with the demand for these positions not likely to ever decrease, the appropriate amount of experience and education can put the right employee in a very good position to get the job. The room for advancement is wide open for these same reasons.

What Are the Requirements?

Job requirements for a research scientist largely involve educational backgrounds. Most companies require a master's or doctoral degree (or advancement toward that degree) in the chosen field of research. Requirements are also heavily based in the knowledge and experience of industry-specific equipment and the competent analysis of collected data. Scientists should have organizational, time management, communication, paper writing, presentation, networking and analytical skills.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers are generally looking for a research scientist with an advanced degree and a few years of industry experience. Here are some requirements for a research scientist position taken from job postings on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com:

  • 'Requirements include a Master's degree or appropriate coursework in organic chemistry or Pharmacy certification. Laboratory research experience is a definite plus, and specific case-study experience is very helpful.' -- AMRI
  • 'The ideal candidate will have two years of experience in data analysis in a laboratory and research setting. Must be computer literate at a high level and willing to learn new systems. There will be interaction with customers, so a background in customer service is helpful. Applicants should be willing to learn about clinical research. Must have excellent team and communication skills.' -- MedFocus
  • 'The research scientist will support the development and implementation of disease-relevant pharmacology models for testing of therapeutics for degenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. You will be experienced in conducting research and tests to determine correlations between multiple variables. Experience in test staining and microscopy would be a plus.' -- Vertex Pharmaceuticals

How to Maximize Your Skills

There are a variety of ways to help your resume stand out. You can earn a doctoral degree to ensure you've acquired the highest level of education available. If you intend to conduct medical research, you may consider obtaining an advanced degree in medicine, so you can perform medical procedures as part of your research. If you know you'd like to specialize in a particular kind of research, you can take additional coursework in those areas to strengthen your knowledge.

Alternative Career Paths

Microbiologist

If you enjoy studying nature and how biological systems work, you may consider becoming a microbiologist. Microbiologists study microorganisms to determine how they live, function and interact with other organisms and their environment. Microbiologists work to improve scientific knowledge and solve scientific problems. Becoming a microbiologist only requires a bachelor's degree, rather than a master's or more typically, a doctoral degree. The majority of microbiologists work in research and development, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2014 that the average salary for microbiologists was $76,530.

Computer Hardware Engineer

If you're more interested in computer science research, you may want to look into becoming a computer hardware engineer. Computer hardware engineers conduct research and develop new technology including networks, processors, memory systems and routers. They test the systems to ensure their functionality. To become a computer hardware engineer, you only need to obtain a bachelor's degree in engineering or electrical engineering. It is also recommended to have an understanding of computer programming. According to the BLS, in 2014 the average salary for computer hardware engineers was $110,650.

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