When asked to describe what they associate with science careers, most people think of Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Dexter’s Laboratory. But working in science is much more realistic a prospect than you might think.
Whether you’re considering your options or a career change, here we’ll explore the 20 highest-paying science jobs, based on data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You’ll find out a little about what these scientists do, and what you’ll need to know to start work as one.
20. Food scientist and technologist
Average annual salary: $80,190
Creating tasty cuisines is far more than just combining ingredients in the kitchen. Food scientists are the brains behind food, making sure food products are safe to consume and keep for sufficient periods of time. To become a food scientist, you’ll need to take a university course in food science, food studies or food technology.
Average annual salary: $83,620
Chances are that you’ve almost certainly heard from or read the work of an epidemiologist in the last couple of years. Affectionately dubbed “disease detectives”, these scientists get under the skin (sometimes literally) of diseases, viruses and infections to understand how illnesses survive and spread. For this job, you’ll need a relevant science-based degree, and you’ll likely also need to complete a scientist training program to develop specialist knowledge.
18. Environmental scientist
Average annual salary: $88,140
Many scientists seek to explore the impact of things on humans. Environmental scientists, on the other hand, explore the impact of humans on the world. Practically, they might look at the best way to dispose of hazardous or chemical waste, reducing the risk of any negative impact on the environment in doing so. For this role, you’ll want a degree in environmental science, or a relevant subject with appropriate work experience.
Average annual salary: $90,150
A kind of environmental scientist, hydrologists manage, monitor and protect water and water resources. Practically, these scientists regularly work with water providers and governments to manage drought and associated water risks. A degree in geography or physical science is a must-have for this career. Postgraduate study in a relevant area like water management, aquatic resource management or hydrology may also help to secure a job in this area.
Average annual salary: $91,840
While epidemiologists explore the behavior of diseases in a population, microbiologists look at individual behavior of pathogens like viruses, fungi and parasites. These scientists recommend sampling methods to diagnose an infection and then follow up with the appropriate course of treatment to kill the bacteria, virus or fungus. For this role, you’ll want a medical school undergraduate degree, and possibly specialist training in infection and microbiology.
Average annual salary: $98,340
These scientists research, design and develop medical products like joint replacements or robotic surgical machines to complete biological tasks. You’ll use computer software and mathematical models to design and adapt devices for use in medical settings. Relevant qualifications for this line of work include mechanical engineering, physics or biomedical engineering.
14. Atmospheric and space scientist
Average annual salary: $100,550
Atmospheric and space scientists are sometimes also known as forecasters or meteorologists. These scientists investigate atmospheric changes gathered by sensors in order to prepare reports for public consumption on the weather and climate. This role, while science-based, sometimes carries responsibilities in front of the camera for media broadcast. To get started in this career, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject area.
13. Medical scientist
Average annual salary: $101,800
Medical scientists are the unsung heroes of hospital care. Tasked with the important job of testing patient samples, it is often medical scientists that help doctors settle on a diagnosis. To get into this area of business, you’ll need an accredited biomedical science degree, and some laboratory work experience. Some people that take up careers in this sector start their career in the armed forces.
12. Data scientist
Average annual salary: $103,930
The world is awash with data. Each time you swipe your credit card, log into a social media website or even walk past an antenna, a data record is created. Data scientists are the brains who take this data and turn it into answers to big questions. In this role, you’ll find yourself collating data and organizing it to discover trends. You’ll need to stay on top of analytical techniques such as machine learning, deep learning and text analytics.
Average annual salary: $104,810
Biochemists investigate chemical processes inside living things, bacteria and viruses. You’ll be in the driving seat of planning and carrying out scientific experiments, both on live subjects and using computer software to model biological behavior. Your contribution to the scientific community will be in the form of writing scientific reports to share your findings.
Average annual salary: $112,110
Concerned with the study of the earth’s structure, geoscientists analyze the composition of natural materials like rocks to understand their natural mineral and energy resources. These scientists play an important role in modern cities, assessing the suitability of particular areas of land for major engineering projects like dam or tunnel building.
9. Chemical engineer
Average annual salary: $114,820
Chemical engineers turn raw materials into useful products. These scientists test new ways to develop products and use computer models to devise safe, cost-effective methods of producing them. They monitor production to identify and resolve problems, ensuring that manufacturing processes are both safe and efficient.
8. Aerospace engineer
Average annual salary: $121,110
You’ve probably heard the phrase “you don’t need to be a rocket scientist!”, but for this career, you do! It’s literally what they are. Well, okay — maybe not strictly rocket scientists, but you’ve got the option. Aerospace engineers design and develop navigation, communication and sometimes weapons systems, researching ways to make components as fuel-efficient and drag-free as possible. They collect and analyze test data and write technical reports to estimate project costs and timescales.
7. Nuclear engineer
Average annual salary: $125,130
Nuclear power stations are a sustainable way of generating power with minimal impact on the environment. But this method of power generation is not risk-free. And the job of mitigating those risks falls to nuclear engineers. These scientists are involved in the design and building of new plants, as well as the general maintenance and monitoring of existing ones. They are responsible for measuring and monitoring radiation levels to ensure that the plant meets legal requirements around health, safety and environmental impact.
Average annual salary: $125,460
Pharmacists are experts in medicines and medical appliances. These scientists work with medical teams to identify the best course of medication to address a diagnosis. As well as giving advice, pharmacists dispense medicines to patients and prescribe dosages. They have logistic responsibilities to manage stock levels to ensure that sufficient amounts of individual medicines are available for use at all times.
Average annual salary: $126,250
Astronomers are scientists of the stars. These scientists study the origin and composition of the universe, from individual stars or planets all the way to entire galaxies. They analyze data obtained from satellites and spacecrafts, as well as images from telescopes, and compare current data to historic observations in order to develop predictions for the future and help understand our place in space.
4. Computer and information research scientist
Average annual salary: $130,890
In an increasingly digital world, where millions of people worldwide have computers in their homes, cars, even in their pockets, computer and information research specialists have a vital role to play. Their work is concerned with the advancement and increased efficiency of technology. From increased computing speed through to improved information security, these scientists have a significant impact on our experience of computers and technology.
Average annual salary: $137,700
Physicists drill down into the basic composition of things in the physical world. They analyze theories and ideas, using computer simulations and mathematical modelling techniques, to understand how individual elements interact with each other. They are likely to be involved in research and academia, teaching in schools, colleges and universities. They also share their knowledge to work in publishing, broadcasting and journalism.
2. Family medicine physician
Average annual salary: $214,370
Family medicine physicians are sometimes referred to as general practitioners — doctors of just about everything. They offer care services to the whole family, from babies to the elderly, and everyone in between. From colds and sniffles to referrals for complex care needs, family medicine physicians have an eye for symptoms of all kinds.
Average annual salary: $217,100
Effectively doctors of the mind, psychiatrists are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Like regular doctors, these scientists assess the condition of patients by exploring their thoughts and psychological responses to particular stimuli or situations. They may be involved in the treatment of mental health issues but are not limited to psychiatric medicine. Many mental health conditions have crossovers with physical health, so psychiatrists often need to be as savvy in general medicine as well as psychiatric medicine.
If you have an enquiring mind and an interest in scientific developments, a career in science might be just right up your alley. And with many — highly lucrative — options, you’re truly spoiled for choice, whether you want to work in a lab, in the field or both.
Join the conversation! Which science career are you thinking about pursuing? Let us know in the comments section below!
Originally published on 12 October 2018.