How To Become a Research Scientist (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 5, 2022 | Published June 12, 2020

Updated August 5, 2022

Published June 12, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're a naturally inquisitive person who enjoys research, you may enjoy a career as a research scientist. With a strong earning potential and the opportunity to research a variety of different fields, this role offers a fulfilling career path to interested candidates. Learning about the steps you need to take to become a research scientist can help you determine if this role is right for you.

In this article, we discuss what a research scientist does, how you can become a research scientist and some answers to frequently asked questions about this position.

Related: 10 Fascinating Science Careers

What does a research scientist do?

Research scientists conduct laboratory-based experiments and trials. You can find them in a variety of different fields, including medicine, political science, biology, chemistry, computer science and environmental science. Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Planning and conducting experiments

  • Writing research papers and reports

  • Collecting samples and carrying out other types of fieldwork

  • Monitoring experiments and recording and analyzing data

  • Supervising junior staff members

  • Demonstrating procedures

  • Staying up-to-date on the newest developments in scientific research

Related: What is a Scientist? Definition and Types of Scientists

How to become a research scientist

These are the basic steps you should follow to become a research scientist:

  1. Obtain a bachelor's degree.

  2. Complete a master's degree.

  3. Gain experience.

  4. Pursue certifications.

  5. Consider a doctorate.

1. Obtain a bachelor's degree

Aspiring research scientists should start by pursuing a bachelor's degree that's relevant to the field they're most interested in. If you are unsure, a general degree in clinical research can be a good option. If you want to research medicine, chemistry or biology, a degree in biochemistry, biology, pharmacology or pre-med can work well. If you are interested in being a computer and information research scientist, then a degree in information technology is appropriate.

2. Complete a master's degree

After obtaining a bachelor's degree, aspiring research scientists should begin working toward a master's degree. Some schools off a program that combines a bachelor's and master's program, allowing students to begin graduate coursework immediately upon obtaining their bachelor's. If your university doesn't offer this program, you will likely have to complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before applying to graduate degree programs.

These programs usually last two to three years. The coursework you complete as part of your program will vary depending on the degree you're pursuing, which should be relevant to the field you're entering. However, some common topics in many fields are:

  • Teaching skills

  • Writing for research papers and grants

  • Advanced mathematics courses

  • Public speaking classes to prepare students for presenting research findings

3. Gain experience

To better qualify for research positions, aspiring research scientists should consider entering the workforce for one to two years before pursuing a Ph.D. program. They could also defer a master's degree program for one or two years and pursue a position as a research assistant to obtain hands-on experience before continuing their academic studies.

4. Pursue certifications

While it's usually not a requirement for research scientists to obtain licensing, certifications are available, which can differentiate you from other candidates. The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) offers several certifications that you may want to consider such as the Certified Clinical Research Associate, Certified Principal Investigator or ACRP Certified Professional designations.

5. Consider a doctorate

If you are interested in becoming a lead research scientist, you should consider pursuing a doctorate after completing your master's program. Doctoral programs typically take between four and five years to complete. Doctoral candidates must perform original research during the time they're a student and their progress is monitored by school faculty or an advisor. As part of their program, they also defend their research through formal processes.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a research scientist

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about being a research scientist:

What is the job outlook for research scientists?

The job outlook for research scientists depends on the type of research they do. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for research scientists in the medical field is expected to grow 8%, which is slightly faster than the 5% average for all occupations. This is the result of an increase in demand for scientists to research diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's. A growing population facilitates the spread of disease and also increases the likelihood of new ones, both of which increase the demand for medical research scientists.

For computer and information research scientists, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job outlook to increase by 16% from 2018 to 2028, substantially faster than the average for all jobs. The demand is the result of a need for new and better technology, especially as it relates to cybersecurity and innovative ways to prevent cyber attacks.

Related: Learn About Being a Data Scientist

What is the work environment like for research scientists?

Research scientists often work at colleges or universities, private research firms or non-profit organizations. They typically work in office or laboratory settings and usually closely collaborate with other scientists, assisting in their research. They often use specialized machines and tools and, depending on what they're researching, they may be exposed to hazardous materials or infectious diseases. They could interact with patients, depending on the nature of their research. They generally work full time during normal business hours, although they may work longer hours or nights and weekends if they're conducting a research experiment that needs to be monitored.

What skills should research scientists have?

There are many skills that can help a research scientist succeed in their role. Some of the most important skills include:

Communication

Research scientists must have strong verbal communication skills to articulate their observations to other scientists and technicians in a laboratory. They must also have strong writing skills to successfully write grant proposals to pursue funding for their research or write summaries and reports with their findings. Many research scientists publish the results of their work in journals.

Data analysis

Research scientists must be able to conduct experiments and research, gather information and analyze that information to reach a conclusion.

Critical thinking

To solve a specific problem, research scientists must first use their critical thinking skills to determine the best method for exploring the problem and conducting an interview.

Interpersonal skills

Research scientists must be able to work well with other team members, including other research scientists, technicians and staff members. Interpersonal skills like listening, speaking and questioning skills ensure strong working relationships and effective teamwork.

Patience

It can take a long time to see results in an experiment. Research scientists must have the patience to stay optimistic throughout the course of their research.

Strong attention to detail

To record information accurately and design repeatable procedures, research scientists must have strong attention to detail.

What is the average salary for research scientists?

The national average salary for clinical research scientists is $128,660 per year and can range from $36,000 to $278,000 per year depending on experience, industry and geographic location.

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