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How to Become a Research Scientist

Do you enjoy learning? Are you interested in delving in and exploring new topics? If so, becoming a research scientist may be an exciting career path for you. Research scientists perform various scientific research tasks to discover new information about different deficits our world has pertaining to scientific knowledge. It will be important for research scientists to have excellent research and critical thinking skills to properly gather and analyze data.

Research scientists are typically hired by government agencies, universities, and other private businesses to run clinical studies and trials pertaining to the subject they are trying to learn more about. They usually work in a team where they will conduct various experiments to collect and analyze data that will eventually be published in scientific records or journals. 

Many research scientists need a Ph.D. in a science-related field to be hired. While there is a long road to follow to become a research scientist, it is incredibly rewarding for those looking to find solutions to difficult problems in the world, such as disease, illnesses, unsanitary water, and climate change.

Sample job description

As a research scientist for [Your Company Name], you are expected to demonstrate leadership in sensor design, clinical design, and sensor integration. You will also need to run clinical studies and handle the integration of technical, systems, and regulatory aspects of the project. The ideal candidate should be extremely proficient in statistical analyses and should be able to handle multiple statistical packages, be able to mentor and lead small research teams to execute complex projects, and write scientific journals, technical reports, grants, and contracts. You need to have proven experience formulating comprehensive research strategies, executing thorough methodological and analytical steps, analyzing results, and pitching your projects for publication.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Plans and conducts research experiments
  • Records and analyzes data and interprets results
  • Writes grant proposals and completes applications for funding to ensure they have the funds needed to carry out projects
  • Collaborates with team members and any support staff
  • Writes research papers and presents results to senior staff or other research teams
  • Supervises junior staff members or graduate students
  • Applies standard techniques, procedures, and criteria
  • Ensures proper care in the use and maintenance of equipment and supplies
  • Adheres to workplace safety and environmental practices
  • Keeps up to date with relevant scientific and technical developments
  • Designs, performs, and oversees experiments and data collection to ensure data integrity, quality control, and protocol compliance.

Education and experience

  • Master’s degree in a relevant field of science
  • PhD is highly desirable
  • Completion of a postdoctoral course is highly advantageous

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong scientific and math skills
  • Flexibility
  • Decisiveness
  • A logical and independent mind
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Strong teamwork skills
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Exceptional report writing skills
  • A methodical approach to gathering and analyzing data
  • Critical thinking
  • Advanced research skills
  • The ability to work independently

Preferred qualifications

  • Passionate about collaboration
  • Experience working in a laboratory environment
  • PhD in a relevant field of science

Typical work environment

Research scientists typically work in laboratories. The type of laboratory can vary greatly depending on your field of research. In a biology lab, you’ll work with living specimens, and the lab is designed to safely house and contain them. On the other hand, a psychology lab may only contain a bank of computers. Research scientists also write up the results of their research and publish research papers. These activities normally take place in an office environment. Research scientists might conduct this aspect of the job at home or have to visit labs or offices of other researchers or companies, especially when collaborating on the same project.

Typical hours

Research scientists typically work a 40-hour week from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. They might occasionally be required to work overtime or work in the laboratory on weekends to complete certain tasks. Many organizations offer flexible working arrangements for research scientists.

Available certifications

Many institutions offer certifications for research scientists. Here are some of the more popular certifications available:

  • Association of Clinical Research Professionals Certified Professional (ACRP-CP). The ACRP-CP certification recognizes your knowledge, skill, and ability as they pertain to all aspects of clinical studies and trials. Certification is available to all professionals involved in clinical studies, regardless of their roles, practice settings, or career stages. 
  • Clinical Research Coordinator (CRC). The CRC is for clinical research professionals whose research activities are conducted under good clinical practice guidelines. The exam assesses your knowledge and proficiency in the application of that knowledge in conducting research responsibilities. The six core knowledge areas covered on the exam include scientific concepts and research design, ethical and participant safety considerations, product development and regulation, and clinical trial operations. To be eligible to sit for the exam, you must have earned 3,000 hours of professional experience performing the knowledge and tasks outlined in the six core areas of research. Clinical certifications or education may substitute for work experience.
  • Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP). The Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) offers the CCRP certification proving your knowledge, education, and experience on an international scale. The certification program promotes recognition and continuing excellence in the ethical conduct of clinical trials. Certification evaluates your understanding and application of the conduct of clinical investigations involving humans following a number of international guidelines, including the United States Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), and the ethical principles that guide clinical research consistent with the principles of the Nuremberg Code, the Belmont Report and the Declaration of Helsinki.

Career path

To become a research scientist, you typically need to earn at least a master’s degree in your relevant field of science. If you do not have a Ph.D., it’s generally expected that you are working toward that goal. You will gain valuable experience while working on your doctorate. Advancement as a research scientist depends on the path you choose, working in industry, government, or academically. Regardless of whether you become a university professor or an industry-leading scientist, there are plenty of opportunities to grow.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 19-1042

2020 Employment133,900
Projected Employment in 2030156,500
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 17% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift22,600 increase

After the disruption of the clinical research industry in 2020, medical institutions are now embracing decentralized clinical research to accelerate the drug development process. Flexibility will be key in improving visit options for patients to enhance data collection and retention. A global focus and technology-enabled clinical research will become a standard clinical design.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about the need to optimize clinical trial processes to speed vaccine development and distribution. After the rapid development of the COVID vaccine, the industry is looking at steps to reduce bottlenecks and speed up the process for other drug candidates by exploring new access points for patients, using AI to compress the screening process, generating public awareness of the benefits of participation, encouraging physician participation, expanding patient diversity, and more.