Careers Paths

A Guide to Becoming a Research Scientist (With Suggestions)

A profession as a research scientist may appeal to someone who is naturally curious and enjoys conducting studies. This position offers a rewarding career path to those who are interested, with a high-income power and the chance to conduct research in numerous subjects. You can decide if this position is right for you by having to learn about the steps required to become a research scientist.

This post covers the duties of a research scientist, how to pursue a career in this field, and some common inquiries about it.

What is the work of a research scientist?

Experiments and trials are carried out in laboratories by research scientists. They can be found in a wide range of disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, computer programming, political science, and environmental science. Their main duties include things like:

  • Organizing and carrying out experiments
  • Writing reports and research papers
  • Fieldwork tasks such as sample collection and other kinds of fieldwork
  • Keeping track of experiments, collecting, and analyzing data
  • Controlling less experienced employees
  • Displaying techniques
  • Following the trend of the most recent advancements in science
  • Design and carry out experiments
  • Processing and analyzing data and results
  • Use published papers to share findings with the research world
  • Work together with industry and academics to implement research findings and create new methods, products, or processes
  • Summarize the subject matter of the study, the technique, and outcomes for colleagues to hear about ongoing work and discoveries at conference presentations.
  • Conduct field studies to guide research, instruct, mentor, or oversee students (in academia), as well as train and oversee other staff. Develop or assist in creating new research propositions and funding applications. Work in an interdisciplinary team across various departments or schools in academia.
  • Conduct peer assessments of written materials and presentations to strengthen hypotheses and guide research
  • Stay informed about the latest scientific developments
  • Attend international academic conferences and routinely study trade publications.

Types of Research Scientists

There are different kinds of research scientists engaged in various branches of science. Science-related information analysis and dissemination fall under the purview of these associates.

  • Astronomer: Astronomers are in charge of researching galaxies, stars, and planets. They keep tabs on non-celestial spacecraft as well. This field entails working together with other scientists to examine planetary dynamics.
  • Botanist: One of the primary responsibilities of a botanist is to research the various facets of the plants that are frequently encountered in the natural world. They examine the composition, growth, and applications of the plant.
  • Geologist: One of a geologist’s most significant responsibilities is to research the various components of the Earth, including its solid, liquid, and gaseous states. She or he also researches the past and present of the planet.
  • Marine Biologist: An important area of specialty for marine biologists is the investigation of the many marine species that coexist with their environment. This area of study examines how animals and plants communicate. Marine biologists closely study many aquatic creatures after acquiring an in-depth knowledge of meteorology and biological oceanography.

How to start a research science career

The fundamental actions you must take to become a research scientist are as follows:

  • Get your bachelor’s degree.
  • Finish your master’s degree.
  • Obtain knowledge.
  • Look into certifications.
  • Contemplate obtaining a Ph.D.

1. Get your bachelor’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in the area of research science that most interests you should be your first step for prospective research scientists. In case you’re hesitant, a broad degree in clinical research can be a smart choice. A degree in biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, or pre-medicine can be useful if you want to study chemistry, biology, or medicine. A degree in information technology is excellent if you want to work as an information and computer research scientist.

2. Finish your master’s degree

Prospective research scientists should start pursuing a master’s degree after earning their bachelor’s degree. Several universities offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree that enables graduates to start graduate school as soon as they complete their undergraduate studies. You’ll probably need to pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before enrolling in postgraduate degree courses if your school does not offer this course.

These courses often run between two and three years. Your program’s coursework will differ according to the degree you’re seeking, and it should be pertinent to the industry you’re entering. However certain subjects that cross numerous fields are as follows:

  • Training abilities
  • Creating grant proposals and research papers
  • Specialized maths programs
  • Courses in public speaking that prepare students to discuss research findings

3. Acquire expertise

Prospective research scientists can think about working for one to two years before attending a Ph.D. degree so that they can more qualify for research opportunities. Alternatively, they might postpone starting a master’s program for an entire year or two and look for work as a research assistant to gain practical experience before continuing their educational studies.

4. Work toward certification

Although qualifications are not often required for research scientists, having one can help you stand out from the competition. Choose one of the qualifications offered by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), like the Certified Clinical Principal Investigator, Certified Research Associate, or ACRP Certified Professional titles.

5. Think about getting a PhD

Consider getting a doctorate after finishing your master’s program if you want to work as a lead research scientist. The average length of a Ph.D. program is four to five years. Doctorate candidates are required to conduct original research while they are students, and the academic staff or advisor oversees their progress. Also, as a requirement of their degree, they must formally defend their findings.

What competencies are required of research scientists?

A research scientist might excel in their position by possessing a wide range of talents. Among the most crucial abilities are:


To communicate their findings to lab technicians and other scientists, research scientists need to be well-versed in verbal communication. They must also have great writing abilities to successfully prepare grant proposals to obtain financing for their study or to create summaries and reports based on their results. The findings of research scientists’ work are frequently published in publications.

Data evaluation

Research scientists need to be able to carry out experiments and research, collect data, and analyze the data to conclude.

Critically analyzing

Research scientists should first exercise critical thought to choose the most effective approach for investigating the issue and interviewing people before they can address a particular problem.

Interpersonal abilities

Research scientists should be able to collaborate effectively with other colleagues, such as employees, technicians, and other research scientists. Strong professional relationships and successful teamwork are ensured by interpersonal skills such as speaking, listening, and questioning techniques.


Results from an experiment may not be seen for some time. Research scientists need the perseverance to maintain their optimism throughout the process of their job.

A keen eye for detail

Research scientists need to pay careful attention to every detail to accurately collect data and create repeatable processes.

Other skills needed to involve:

  • A systematic method for analyzing and processing data, as well as problem-solving abilities when running experiments
  • Good organizational and time management capabilities
  • Good communication abilities for producing papers, reports, and bids as well as for making presentations
  • Willingness and capacity to collaborate in cross-disciplinary teams
  • The perseverance and endurance to see projects through from conception to conclusion
  • Networking abilities and the capacity to create strong connections with outside organizations.

Professional experience

When seeking research work, having practical lab experience and understanding the variety of procedures utilized will help your prospects. An industry placement during a sandwich year or vacation work is two ways to get this experience.

It is best to strive to obtain experience in both the academic and industrial sectors because doing so will help you understand how the two settings differ and will influence the professional path you ultimately choose.

Additionally, you ought to read peer reviews and attempt to stay current on developments in the field. Staying current is possible through organizations like the BBSRC, which offer news and publications pertinent to the industry. For more details, see BBSRC News, Events, and Publications.

What do research scientists typically make?

Clinical research scientists earn an average annual compensation of $128,660, with salaries ranging from $36,000 to $278,000 based on experience, sector, and region.

  • Ph.D. studentships are one of the many ways to get funding for your degree. Certain studentships also offer maintenance grants, commonly referred to as “stipends,” in addition to covering tuition fees, project/training costs, and other expenses. The minimum stipend for 2022–2023 was determined by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) at £17,668. Certain institutions might pay a higher amount.
  • After receiving your Doctorate, depending on your area of expertise and experience, you might start making between £25,000 and £40,000 as a research scientist.
  • Salary ranges between £50,000 and £75,000 are feasible for senior researchers or university professors with high degrees of duty, such as lead researcher level.

Academic and industrial base salaries are similar, but in the private industry, especially in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, senior-level salaries are frequently higher.

The income figures are only meant to be a guide.

Work categories

You could focus on a certain branch of biological science, like:

  • Physiology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Stem cell research
  • Biotechnology
  • Neurosciences
  • Genomics
  • Oncology
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Plant sciences

While the work is closely related to the medical sciences, it also touches on other fields, like biochemistry.

Hours of work

The typical workday in academics is from 9 am to 5 pm, and the average workweek is about 37 hours. Occasionally, you might need to remain after hours or come in on weekends to finish experiments, but most employers provide flexible scheduling to account for this.

Your hours can be a little bit longer if you are in the manufacturing sector, and you might have to adjust your schedule to accommodate shift patterns and client deadlines.

What you may expect

  • Fieldwork is necessary for some professions, although laboratory work makes up the majority of their duties. It might be necessary to make trips between clients’ and coworkers’ workplaces, especially if the projects involve industry-university or cross-university partnerships.
  • Several researchers work under fixed-term contracts with limited funding for specific projects. The majority of contracts are long-term. Permanent positions are in high demand and more prevalent in business than academia.
  • In the UK, there are opportunities inside organizations that work in the biological sciences, but some areas are more proficient than others in particular areas. East and South East England have the highest regional concentrations of jobs in the science sector.
  • Experimental work can require handling harmful and dangerous substances. The research may also involve using animals or animal byproducts in experiments.
  • It is occasionally required to travel outside of the UK as well as inside it to attend seminars or conferences. International fieldwork may be necessary for some research fields, like environmental and ecological science.
  • There are plenty of prospects for international employment because many life science corporations have offices around the world and universities from different countries work together on research initiatives.


To enter the field of life sciences research, you generally need to have a strong honors degree in a related scientific field—typically a 2:1 or higher.

Any subject with a focus on biology, horticulture, agriculture, or medicine should be acceptable, but the following ones are especially helpful:

  • Biochemistry
  • Plant and crop science
  • Biomedicine
  • Ecology
  • Biological sciences of the environment
  • Microbiology
  • Drug science
  • Natural sciences.

Numerous organizations additionally demand you to have a research-based Ph.D. or an MSc, or to be aiming towards one, especially for higher-level positions.

You might be able to advance to a more senior position by starting with simply an undergraduate honors degree and then studying part-time for a graduate degree.

An HND or a foundation degree might be enough to get you started in a technician-level position, but you’d need more education to advance.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funds research institutions. Students then get this as studentships, bursaries, and scholarships. To learn more about potential funding opportunities, you should get in touch with the institution, research facility, or commercial partner of your choice. More details can be found at BBSRC – Funding in doctoral training.

Typical Employers

Inside the life sciences, there are numerous employers in numerous industries, including:

  • Institutions for clinical research
  • Big cosmetics and pharmaceutical firms
  • NHS trusts and private hospitals
  • National and international health-related charitable organizations
  • Research boards and their affiliated institutes
  • Technical and scientific consultancies
  • Universities, including those abroad.

Employment opportunities could also be accessible through Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP). This is a collaborative project between a college graduate, a company, and a “technical knowledge,” like a college or research organization, that enables Ph.D. graduate students to implement research in a business context.

Career development

Your Ph.D. studies will have given you the research and scientific skills that are considered to be the necessary foundational training for senior research jobs. Yet, non-technical abilities like administration and leadership are becoming more and more important for Ph.D. researchers.

It’s essential to remain informed about the latest techniques, abilities, and inventions. Support for continuing professional development (CPD) through seminars and business news is supplied by organizations like the BBSRC. You’ll be required to frequently attend conferences because they’re an excellent opportunity for you to learn about new developments in science and research techniques. On occasion, you may also be asked to show your work.

Careers in the business typically come with formal training programs that could include completing internships in various organizational departments, collaborating with a mentor, and developing personal development goals with line supervisors.

It is a requirement for all researchers who conduct laboratory work to take part in training in safety and health and good laboratory practices. This training may involve risk assessment seminars and management of substances harmful to health regulations (COSHH) instruction.

It’s also possible to get professional member status with an important services institution like the Royal Society of Biology and to operate towards chartered biologist status.

Employment prospects

In academia, advancement is generally well structured, with most researchers striving towards the status of senior research scholar or professor, directing research teams. You can attain this through experience, successful research initiatives, and producing unique, high-quality research.

Senior responsibilities are associated with more responsibility (i.e. seeking funds) and additional educational, managerial, and administrative obligations.

In industry, you may advance to senior science and research or leadership positions, which come with extra duties such as project supervision and management. Alternatively, you could transfer to a position in corporate development, production, or regulation within the organization.

You’re also able to advance into communications or media jobs. Careers for journalists with scientific backgrounds are expanding, and public knowledge of science is a growing topic with numerous new prospects.

Another job route is available to you when you have expertise in consultancy. You could contribute your scientific knowledge to projects by getting involved in the business and technical evaluation of innovative concepts, goods, and technologies.

Progression Chart for Research Scientists

  • Junior research scientist: Junior research scientists are in charge of offering advice on technical matters to engineers and interns who are operating in fields outside of their area of competence. These people increase their efficiency by making use of their expertise in the fields they work in.
  • Senior research scientist: A senior research scientist is a professional who concentrates on the fundamentals of several branches of engineering, including physics, chemical engineering, and electrical engineering. They control the technologists and technicians working on the project’s execution or research. In addition, they create reports and carry out additional duties to convey engineering advice.


As one of the oldest careers in the field, research scientist has a wide range of opportunities. Jobs for research scientists are accessible in domains including engineering and technology in addition to the healthcare and biological industries. The findings in engineering, which deals with the investigation of particulate matter, have a significant impact on this discipline.

Frequently Asked Questions about Research Scientists

The following represent a few of the most typical questions about working as a research scientist:

  • What are the employment prospects for research scientists?

The future of employment for research scientists relies on the kind of study they conduct. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of research scientists in the medical industry will increase by 8%, which is a little more than the typical growth rate for all professions of 5%. The demand for scientists to study illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and cancer has increased, which is the cause of this. The need for medical research scientists rises as a result of both the ease with which diseases spread and the chance that new ones may emerge.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 16% rise in employment opportunities for information and computer research scientists between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The necessity for new and improved technologies, particularly about cybersecurity and creative methods of preventing cyberattacks, has led to the need.

  • What kind of setting do research scientists work in?

Scientists that conduct research frequently work for colleges, universities, commercial research companies, or nonprofit groups. They frequently work collaboratively with other scientists to further their studies while working in an office or laboratory environment. They frequently work with specialized equipment and tools, and depending on the subject of their research, they might be exposed to dangerous substances or contagious diseases. Depending on the type of research they were doing, they might engage with patients. While they often work full-time during regular business hours, if a research experiment needs to be overseen, they may put in extended hours or work on weekends or nights.

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