How to Become a Research Scientist in the US

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Research scientists are the brains behind the discoveries made in fields such as biology and chemistry. Their primary objective is to conduct experiments and obtain new information that could be used to develop new products or solve longstanding and emerging problems. If you have a nose for science and the desire to reach the highest heights of post-secondary education, you could become a research scientist.

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What do research scientists do?

Science is a broad field, so research scientists typically choose an area of specialism. They could focus on natural sciences, plant sciences, and medical and health sciences among other scientific fields. Regardless of this, they have the following general duties:

  • Identifying potential research topics
  • Preparing and presenting research proposals to clients or research directors
  • Writing grant proposals to secure funding for research projects
  • Conducting field and laboratory experiments
  • Analyzing experiment results and compiling reports detailing their findings conclusions
  • Publishing research findings in science journals
  • Collaborating with other professionals such as engineers to develop a product

Work environment

Research scientists typically work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. They can, however, put in longer hours when working on time-sensitive projects.

Depending on the nature of a research project, scientists could spend their time indoors in a laboratory environment, or outdoors where they are exposed to all types of weather conditions.

After completing an experiment, they usually retreat to their offices to analyze results and write research reports.


According to Payscale, research scientists in the US earn an average annual salary of $75,781.

Entry requirements

Research scientists can come from diverse scientific, academic backgrounds. It all depends on your scientific interests.

As such, the first step to joining this profession is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field. If you want to be a pharmaceutical research scientist, for example, an undergraduate degree in pharmacy will give you the best preparation. Upon graduation, you can qualify for employment as a laboratory or field technician.

The next step is to supplement your undergraduate training by pursuing a master’s degree in a field that is closely related to your preferred field (pharmacology in this case). At this level, you be hired as a research assistant – a position that you should use to gain at least two years of research experience.

Lastly, pursue a doctoral degree in research and evaluation methodologies. This program will equip you with the knowledge and skills to develop research methodologies for both quantitative and qualitative research projects.

Examples of universities offering this credential include:

  • Loyola University, Chicago
  • University of Georgia, Georgia

With a doctorate, you are ready to practice as a research scientist.

Important qualities

To be an accomplished research scientist, you need:

  • Excellent research skills
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Excellent observation skills
  • A desire to solve problems
  • Excellent communication/report-writing skills to present scientific information in an easy-to-understand manner
  • A methodical approach to tasks
  • Good at time management
  • Good presentation skills
  • Good practical and technical skills
  • An interest in science
  • Patience and determination (it may take several experiments to achieve the desired results)
  • Good teamwork skills
  • Good organizational skills
  • The ability to adhere to ethical research practices

Career advancement

As a research scientist, your success largely lies on the quality of your research projects. If you can engage in projects that lead to scientific breakthroughs, your reputation will grow and, as a result, heighten your advancement prospects.

Besides researching, you should:

  • Join the International Association of Scientific Research and other relevant local professional associations. Clinical research scientists, for example, should secure membership in the Association for Clinical Research Professionals – These bodies provide great platforms for publishing research findings.
  • Pursue a postgraduate certificate in research administration or management.

Job opportunities

The employers of research scientists include:

  • Research institutes (like the National Institute of Health)
  • Federal agencies (like NASA)
  • Colleges and universities
  • Private research laboratories
  • Private businesses (like manufacturing plants)

With several years of experience as a research scientist, you can advance to become a research manager – a position that involves supervising other scientists. You can also become the head of research in a government agency or educational institution.

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide occupational employment statistics for research scientists in general, you can expect to have strong employment prospects. Many profit and nonprofit organizations in various industries are actively funding research and development projects in a bid to obtain new information on various areas of interest, thereby creating numerous jobs opportunities for qualified research scientists.

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So if you would love to help solve problems and improve the quality of human life though science, this is a career you could enjoy.