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What does a Scientist do?

Scientists research phenomena of the natural world, seeking greater understanding and potential applications in areas such as policy making and product development. Scientific research specialties range from atmospheric physics to computing to social interaction.

Scientist careers: an overview

As a scientist, you can expect to advance knowledge in your field by systematically observing, measuring and testing hypotheses--in short, by applying the scientific method. Scientists may work in the field or in a clinical laboratory. In the field, you may be responsible for collecting evidence, observing and measuring outcomes; in the laboratory, you could conduct closely controlled experiments and analyze data.

Science offers a world of specialties and sub-specialties:
  • Biology, including biotechnology and biochemistry
  • Chemistry and materials science
  • Physics
  • Computer science
  • Earth sciences, including environmental science
  • Social sciences
Depending on your chosen specialty, you might work in an array of different sectors: pharmaceuticals, medical devices, high tech R&D, defense, aerospace or government, to name a few.

Training for a career in science

A career in science requires at least an associate or bachelor's degree in a scientific field. In addition to courses in the scientific specialty, students hone their skills in math and statistics, lab research methods and communication.
  • Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.): The two-year associate degree in applied science leads to entry-level science technician jobs. Science technicians assist a scientist in the lab or field, collecting specimens, maintaining lab instruments and recording experiment results.
  • Bachelor of Science (B.S.): The four-year college degree is the minimum qualification if you want to develop experiments, analyze results and publish findings. Bachelor-level scientists often work in applied research, working with engineers to develop products such as pharmaceuticals or high tech devices.
  • Graduate degrees: Scientists with master's degrees or PhDs have the clout and credibility to raise research grant funds and establish independent research labs. Graduate-level scientists may also teach at the college level.
The rise of online programs in science has made it possible to work your way up the career ladder while you pursue your education. You can complete an online bachelor's degree while working as a science technician, and then continue on to your master's while building experience in the lab.

Career outlook

Scientific research and development offers favorable career prospects, according to the Department of Labor. The field as a whole is expected to increase by 25 percent. The main drivers of growth are biotechnology and life sciences research. Advances in information technology may also support a robust job market for computer scientists.

High-growth scientist careers include:
  • Environmental scientists should see 28 percent job growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast.
  • Biochemists and biophysicists rank among the top ten fastest-growing occupations in the U.S., reports the BLS, with projected growth of 37 percent.
  • Medical scientists rank as the sixth fastest-growing occupation, with 40 percent growth.
Your earning power generally will increase with education.

Scientists play a critical role in shaping how we see the world and how we live. As a scientist, you can play a part in increasing scientific knowledge, developing innovative products or shaping environmental and social policy.

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