How to Become a Researcher (Duties, Salary and Steps)

You could uncover the next big thing in our lives.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to become a researcher

Everything important in our day-to-day life started as a groundbreaking piece of research.

Researchers make ideas come to life, and all of the things that we take for granted wouldn’t be here without research. Therefore, being a researcher offers a rewarding, challenging and varied career path.

This article takes you through the details of being a researcher, including what this exciting role entails, what the working environment and salary are like and, critically, what you can do to get started in the role.

What is a researcher?

A researcher collects data and undertakes investigations into a particular subject, publishing their findings. The purpose of this is to uncover new knowledge or theories. Researchers typically specialize in a particular field and follow rigorous methodologies in order to ensure their research is credible.

What are the different types of researchers?

There are many ways to categorize researchers, such as by their field, expertise or methodologies. Here are six basic types of researchers:

  • Applied researchers use existing scientific knowledge to solve problems. They use this knowledge to develop new technologies or methodologies.
  • Clinical researchers conduct research related to medical treatments or diseases. They often work in institutions like hospitals or pharmaceutical companies.
  • Corporate researchers collect data related to business environments, with the aim to use this to benefit organizations.
  • Market researchers gather data related to consumer preferences or an organization’s competitors.
  • Social researchers investigate human behavior and the factors influencing this. Social research relates to fields like psychology, anthropology and economics.
  • Policy researchers work with companies and governments to investigate the impact of policies, regulations or programs.

What does a researcher do?

Researcher work is quite varied. It begins with reviewing existing research and literature and formulating research questions. Researchers also have to design studies and protocols for their research, and diligently and thoroughly collect data.

Once the data is collected, researchers have to critically analyze their findings and communicate them. To ensure the research is reliable, researchers must embrace peer review, where their research is evaluated by other researchers in the same field, and draw conclusions accordingly. The entirety of this process must be bound by ethical considerations, as researchers have a duty to ensure their work is truthful, integral and accurate.

Researchers also undertake supportive duties, such as applying for grants and funding, and investigating new areas to research.

What is their work environment?

Researchers’ work environment depends greatly on the type of research they are doing and their field. The typical researcher environment can, therefore, vary considerably but might include time in laboratories, academic institutions, office spaces and IT workshops. There might also be the need to undergo onsite fieldwork or attend conferences and workshops.

Researchers work in collaborative environments, and teamwork is common. That said, they also need to undertake plenty of solo work that requires concentration and quiet. Consequently, they need to be happy in a variety of different work settings.

How many hours do they work?

The hours researchers work vary just as much as their working environment. Freelance or contract researchers might work atypical hours, whereas academic or corporate researchers might work more standard hours, such as a 40-hour working week.

Field researchers might have to work longer hours at times in order to collect data. This also might involve travel time.

All researchers might have to work long hours when deadlines are due, or when projects are time-sensitive. Finally, because of the idiosyncratic nature of research work, all researchers might have their favorite personal working style and work their hours in preferred patterns.

How much do they earn?

Owing to the nature of the role, researcher salaries can vary considerably. Based on current market data, the average salary is $82,276 per year.

One of the largest variables in researcher salaries is the field you decide to go into. Academic researchers are typically paid towards the lower end of the scale, as are government researchers. Industry or corporate researchers are paid a lot more, with computer and information research roles paying a median annual salary of over $130,000.

Researcher salaries can also vary based on the job level. Apprentices or research assistants have lower salaries, whereas research scientist or professor-level roles often pay over $100,000. Pay scales are connected to academic reputation, industry credentials, and the industry you work in. This also means that as your career in research progresses, you can expect to take home extremely good paychecks.

What is the job market like for researchers?

Some research roles can be extremely competitive, with tenure-track roles in academic research being highly in demand, as are positions in consulting firms. The labor market for corporate research and governmental research roles can also be very strong, but research is heavily impacted by economic conditions, and roles can be cut in times of recession.

In general, research roles are highly sought-after, and this means competition for them is fierce. This means that you need to have a strong network, undergo continuous professional development, work on your research portfolio, and ensure your résumé and other supporting documentation are up to date.

What are the entry requirements?

Starting your career as a researcher requires plenty of preparation. Here’s what you need to focus on in terms of education, skills and knowledge, and licensing and certification.


Higher education is essential to become a researcher; what degree you choose might depend on what field of research you are interested in. A bachelor’s degree will give you foundational knowledge, whereas a master’s or PhD offers more specialized knowledge and can lead to more career opportunities later in your career journey.

Skills and knowledge

Entry-level researchers need a rich mix of skills and knowledge to be able to fulfil their job duties. Skills to develop include analytical skills, critical thinking ability and solving problems, with other useful ones being IT and presentation skills. Knowledge of research methodologies and rationale, as well as database management, is very useful.

Licensing and certification

Licensing and certification requirements for researchers vary, depending on the field you are planning to go into. Academic credentials, as outlined above, are important, but being a member of relevant professional associations is also highly advised.

Some sensitive areas of research might require you to have specialist credentials, such as certification in Good Clinical Practice if you’re planning to undertake medical research.

Do you have what it takes?

Being a researcher is a labor of love. If your values, passions and talent are related to traits like curiosity, attention to detail, discovering more about the world we live in, and rigorous attention to detail, then being a researcher is the perfect job for you. You also have to have a lot of patience, honesty when it comes to reporting unwelcome results, and resilience.

If you’re not sure what kind of career your skills, interests and passions might lead to, then consider taking CareerHunter’s six-stage assessment. These tests have been developed by psychologists and assess your skills and interests in order to provide you with best-fit careers that you can really thrive in.

How to become a researcher

A lot of preparation is needed to become a researcher. If, after reading this far, you still feel that becoming a researcher is the perfect job for you, then read on to discover how you can make this career dream a reality.

Step 1: Choose your field

Try to choose your research field as soon as you can. This is important, because it might provide you with direction for your higher education. There are so many different research fields to choose from — for example: social sciences, humanities, business, healthcare, engineering, or simply focusing on research theory or methodologies.

It’s important to choose a field that you have a strong interest or passion in. Also, consider where your talents and skills lie, and let this guide your decision too.

Step 2: Get qualified

As we’ve covered already, education is an important first step to becoming a researcher.

Common degrees to focus on can be the sciences (biology, chemistry or physics), computer science, mathematics, or statistics. Alternatively, if you have decided on your chosen research field, then consider obtaining higher education that relates to this.

Being a researcher is a competitive career: good grades in leading institutions will be required if you want to work as a researcher in prestigious organizations.

Step 3: Develop your research skills

Whether it’s part of your higher education or simply learning in your own time, developing research skills such as new methodologies, quantitative and qualitative methods, strategic analysis, or data analytics will keep you professionally competitive.

Additionally, it’s useful to gain experience in using research tools and software. These can include statistics software like SPSS, as well as programming languages like Java and Python. Understanding data visualization and presentation tools can also be hugely helpful.

Step 4: Gain research experience

A great way to start your career as a researcher is to undertake undergraduate research. This could be your own independent research project but is most commonly achieved through research internships or assistantships. With these experiences, you can collaborate with academic leaders, mentors or established researchers on their projects, and learn from their experience and expertise as well.

Another way to gain experience is through volunteering in research-related roles in academic institutions, laboratories or other similar environments.

Step 5: Network with peers

Networking with fellow research professionals enables you to exchange ideas, resources and expertise. Your network might be able to support you in finding research positions as your career progresses.

Grow your network by attending conferences and seminars, and by leveraging your work experience. You can also grow your network by reaching out to researchers on LinkedIn, and by publishing your own research papers as your experience grows.

Step 6: Present and publish your work

Presenting your work and publishing your findings establishes and grows your credibility as a researcher. You can present your research at conferences or even online via websites like YouTube.

Being published or listed as a collaborator on research papers can impact your career hugely, and being featured on important or large-scale research works can truly establish you as a researcher and lead to larger projects or more funding.

Step 7: Develop your résumé

Ensure that your résumé links to your portfolio of published works, as well as your presentations. It should showcase to potential employers and academic institutions what you have done, and what you’re capable of doing.

Ensure your résumé also references your research skills in a way that relates to the reader, and that it can be parsed effectively in applicant tracking systems.

Step 8: Seek funding

Research requires time and money. By applying for research grants, fellowships, scholarships and projects, you’ll grow your experience and leverage your credibility. Many of these opportunities are competitive, and being able to showcase what you can achieve via your published work, portfolio or résumé is essential.

Applying for funding is a skill in itself, as researchers need to be able to write compelling and thorough applications. You’ll also need to use negotiating and influencing skills in order to secure the funding and get your projects off the ground.

Step 9: Apply for research jobs

Whereas being a researcher often means that you’re working on independent projects, freelancing, or affiliated with an academic institution rather than being employed by one, there are plenty of research jobs out there — and lots of companies have their own in-house research teams.

If you apply for these roles, ensure that your résumé is up to date and that you practice your interviewing skills for them. Research jobs are in demand, and being able to showcase what you do is essential for success.

Step 10: Never stop discovering

Being a successful researcher isn’t just about continuous learning; it’s about endless discovery as well. The best researchers stay curious about their field, exploring new research questions, learning and growing from failure, and asking new questions.

Researchers are passionate about discovery and believe that learning new things and overcoming challenges makes the world a better place. Enthusiastically discovering new things will also ensure that your career as a researcher keeps growing. You’ll also develop resilience and persistence, which are powerful skills to have.

Final thoughts

Being a researcher requires a lot of skills and knowledge, as well as you taking time to figure out exactly what kind of research you want to get involved with. The job is complex and detailed, and can be as frustrating as it can be rewarding.

Becoming a leading researcher requires a lot of career preparation, and hopefully this article can point you in the right direction if you feel this is the perfect job for you. Once you get started, choose your research projects carefully, and who knows? You could be the researcher that uncovers the next big thing in our lives!

Are you thinking about becoming a researcher, or want to share your experiences? Let us know in the comments section below.