What does a research scientist do?

Research scientists improve and prolong life by helping to prevent and cure illnesses, protect our environment, and sustain our food, water, and natural resources. They work to learn everything possible about a particular field of interest and training. They work to gain new knowledge and understanding about the unknown world and identify solutions to major problems to improve our health, environment and economic well-being.

What might a research scientist do in a workday?

Research scientists:

  • study disease processes to find the causes of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
  • research actions of foods, drugs, hormones, nutrients, and other substances.
  • isolate and identify bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
  • study how the immune system works to prevent illness.
  • discover ways in which humans/animals lived, worked, and died in ancient times.
  • develop better ways to process, store, and use foods, drugs, and chemical compounds.
  • use and develop tests to detect diseases, genetic disorders, or other abnormalities.
  • design and build special laboratory instruments, space vehicles, and underwater equipment.
  • develop methods to transfer characteristics of one type of organism to another.
  • analyze and apply mathematical and scientific theories.
  • write reports and scientific papers based on research.

Research scientists may specialize in many different areas.

  • Biochemists study chemical processes of living organisms and changes that take place during their development.
  • Geneticists study the biology of heredity.
  • Immunologists study the ways in which humans and other organisms resist illnesses.
  • Marine biologists study life in the seas and oceans.
  • Microbiologists study bacteria and other organisms.
  • Molecular biologists study living organisms’ basic structures and functions.
  • Pathologists study the causes and characteristics of diseases.
  • Physicists study interactions of matter and energy.

How much does a research scientist earn?

  • $55,000 - $200,000

How do I become a research scientist?

Students interested in becoming research scientists should take the most challenging high school courses available in science, math, and English, including advanced placement courses.

The minimum educational requirement is a bachelor’s degree. A master’s or doctoral degree may be required for those who conduct advanced research or hold management and administrative jobs.

Where else can I learn about becoming a research scientist?

Association of Clinical Research Professionals
500 Montgomery Street, Suite 800 / Alexandria, VA 22314
tel:  (703) 254-8100 / web:  www.acrpnet.org

American Society for Microbiology
1752 N St. N.W. / Washington, DC 20036
tel:  (202) 737-3600 / web:  www.asm.org

National Academy of Sciences - National Research Council
500 Fifth Street, N.W. / Washington, DC 20001
tel:  (202) 334-2000 / web:  www.national-academies.org

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
9650 Rockville Pike / Bethesda, MD 20814
tel:  (301) 634-7000 / web: www.faseb.org

American Institute of Biological Sciences
1900 Campus Commons Drive, Suite 200 / Reston, VA 20191
tel:  (703) 674-2500 / web:  www.aibs.org

Educational Institutions in Virginia for Research Scientists: