How to Become a Scientist (Job Guide & Field Overview)

Last Updated: June 27th, 2022 by Noah Shaw

Scientists are responsible for pushing the boundaries of new knowledge across any field. So whether you prefer studying life, physical, or social sciences, there’s a strong need for your skills and expertise.

No matter the field you’d want to work in, this guide will show you how to become a scientist.

You’ll discover the skills and proficiencies you’ll need to succeed and how much you can earn by working in a scientist role. 

Visit our Career Guide for a list of all our job insights for an in depth look at the new career path you are considering.

Job Description

As a scientist, your overall responsibility is to contribute new knowledge to your field of study.

That responsibility is the same regardless of whether you’re studying the life, physical, or social sciences.

To contribute new knowledge to your field, you’ll either challenge an existing hypothesis or propose a new one that might be true.

Then, you’ll set out to validate or disprove the theory you’ve chosen by performing experiments on them.

Your experiments will require you to gather relevant data. Then, you’ll interpret that data to test the validity of the hypothesis you’re studying.

Lastly, you’ll share the findings with your peers and others through conferences and publishing research papers.

Read our related article on How to Become a Meteorologist. Learn the science behind weather in this career!

What Does an Average Day for a Scientist Look Like?

Having a strong interest in your chosen field is essential when learning how to become a scientist. However, it’s not the only thing that’ll determine your success.

Besides that, you should also see what a scientist does on an average day to see if it’ll suit your preferences.

In most cases, your work patterns will follow the standard 9-to-5 and will involve these tasks:

Plan and Carry Out Experiments

Your average work day will begin with planning the experiments that you’ll be doing. Some fields will have you carrying out those experiments in a laboratory setting.

Others might have you going out into the world to survey locations or interview people.

Whatever the case might be, this is the time when you’ll plan all tasks involved with those experiments.

Collect and Analyze Data

All scientists must collect and analyze data for their experiments. Simply put, you must first gather data and figure out what it means.

Data collection could be in the form of test results, medical results, statistics, and so on.

Writing Reports

Every step of your experiment must be documented. Typically, that means writing reports that include experiment details like:

  • Why you wanted to conduct the experiment
  • How you planned on collecting data for the experiment
  • What results you expected to see
  • What results you actually found
  • Your finding’s implications on the field

As a scientist, writing reports is incredibly crucial for your career. Not only does it document your research successes, but it also shows other scientists how you got there.

With that information, other scientists can:

  • Perform similar experiments to confirm your findings are true
  • Build new experiments based on your results, thereby contributing even more new knowledge to your field
  • Help you identify mistakes in your research design so you can improve it for the future

Attending Meetings

Aside from experiments and report writing, you’ll also spend a portion of your day attending meetings.

Some of these meetings will be to share your progress with other scientists.

However, you must also meet with your employers and other stakeholders to update them on the research you’re conducting.

That’s especially important for grants and other forms of funding.

The people funding your experiments will want regular updates to know how your research and experiments are going.

These meetings also allow you to share any problems you’re facing with your employers.

Presenting at Conferences and Other Events

Lastly, scientists like you will also attend conferences and other industry events. These happen both locally and internationally and serve many purposes.

Firstly, presenting at a conference is one way to share your research findings with a wider group of your peers.

Besides that, these events also give you a chance to network with your peers and share information.

Process for Becoming a Scientist

The journey you’ll go through to learn how to become a scientist will generally look the same, regardless of your chosen field.

Your academic credentials matter a lot as a scientist. So, you can start early in high school as you work towards graduate school and beyond.

Here’s what that process will look like for you.

1. Prepare in High School

If you’re still in high school, you can take courses related to the field you’d like to study as a scientist someday.

For example, if you plan on becoming a political scientist, the Illinois Career Information System (CIS) recommends taking:

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • And other related courses.

On the other hand, if you plan on being a physical scientist, you can opt for courses like:

  • Math
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • And other related courses.

Early exposure to relevant subjects will make your learning in college much more effective later on.

2. Get a College Degree

All scientists will require at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a college in their respective fields.

Firstly, your college degree will involve courses relevant to your field. More importantly, a college education also teaches you to perform research independently.

At this stage of your education, you’ll begin to understand how to plan research, collect and analyze data, and report your findings.

3. Gain Hands-On Research Experience

You’ll spend a lot of time with classroom learning as you become a scientist. However, you must still gain plenty of hands-on research experience to help you in your career.

You can do this by participating in research projects on campus with your professors.

Alternatively, you can also Volunteer, take an internship, or apply for an entry-level research position. 

These roles will provide you with valuable insight that’ll help you when you become a scientist.

4. Pursue Relevant Certifications (Optional)

Pursuing certifications is not a must if you want to become a scientist. However, doing so can help you sharpen your skills while proving that you’re knowledgeable in your area.

Becoming a Certified Clinical Research Associate is just one of countless examples of certifications you can pursue.

5. Go to Graduate School

Some fields will expect you to have a master’s or doctoral degree to work as a scientist. However, others might not place the same pressure to do so.

Still, going to graduate school and pursuing advanced degrees will undoubtedly deepen your knowledge in your field and sharpen your research abilities. 

Both of these will contribute to your career positively.

Find A Scientist Job Near You!

Are You Suited for a Scientist  Career? Skills, Credentials, Tools and Technology

You have plenty of pathways that you can take when learning how to become a scientist.

No matter what field you choose, there are some personality traits, skills, and proficiencies that all successful scientists have in common.

Here are some of those skills and proficiencies that you must be willing to develop when pursuing a scientist career path:

Personality and Skills

Northeastern University points out that your communication skills, teamwork skills, and critical thinking skills are the most important ones for your career as a scientist.

Firstly, written and spoken communication skills are crucial so you can share your research findings with other people.

Explaining things to your peers might be easy. Still, you’ll also have to communicate with those outside your field who don’t share your technical expertise.

Besides that, scientists rarely work alone. Instead, you’ll work alongside other scientists and colleagues, so your teamwork skills are also crucial for your success.

Lastly, your critical thinking skills will help you solve problems and interpret your findings more effectively.

Credentials and Proficiencies, on the other hand, points out that you must be proficient in proposal writing, statistical analysis, and study design.

Firstly, having a deep understanding of proposal writing will benefit you in several ways.

For example, you’ll need to write proposals to secure funding for your research. Besides that, you’ll also do the same to share ideas with your employers and other stakeholders.

All scientists across all fields can’t conduct research without a plan.

Instead, you must understand study design principles to ensure you explore the correct possibilities while making the most of limited resources.

Besides that, a firm grasp of statistical analysis matters when you must analyze the data you collect.

Proficiency in this area will help you spot patterns and clues that others might not have noticed before.

How Does a Scientist Find Work?

Throughout your journey of learning how to become a scientist, you should think about where you’d like to work when you start your career.

The most effective way for a scientist to find work is to focus on the industries, companies, and organizations that hire scientists the most.

That way, your chances of securing a scientist position will be higher, saving you time and effort on your job hunt.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has data showing that the industries hiring scientists the most are:

  • Scientific research and development organizations
  • The education sector (e.g. colleges, universities, professional schools)
  • The public sector (e.g. local, state, and federal levels of government)

You can begin your job hunt by identifying the companies and organizations you’d like to work for.

Pay special attention to the ones in your local area or in an area that you’d be willing to relocate to.

Once you’ve collected a list, you can then:

  • Check their official websites for any job or recruitment information
  • Contact them directly on the phone or through email
  • If possible, visit their physical location to inquire about scientist job openings

Be sure to submit a copy of your resume or CV whenever possible, so they’ll have your information on file for any future job openings.

Find A Scientist Job Near You!

Scientist Salaries

Investing your time and effort into learning how to become a scientist can be quite lucrative. 

Surveys done by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that scientists in the life, physical, and social sciences fields earn an average of $72,740 a year. 

That’s higher compared to the overall average pay for all jobs which the BLS measures at $45,760.

Read More: How to Become a Chemist. Chemists work with chemicals to create products, medicine, and even see the affects of chemicals on the environment.

What Scientist Jobs Pay the Most?

The same data by the BLS also shows that scientists in some fields earn more than others. According to them, the top 5 highest paid scientists are:

  • Physicists and astronomers ($147,450 a year)
  • Political scientists ($122,510 a year)
  • Economists ($105,630 a year)
  • Biochemists and biophysicists ($102,270 a year)
  • Nuclear Technicians ($99,340 a year)

Where Do Scientists Earn the Highest Salaries?

Aside from your chosen field, your salary as a scientist also depends on where you choose to work.

Each type of scientist can enjoy a higher average salary in different states around the country.

Using the same examples as the previous section above, here is the highest-paying state for:

How Can Scientists Earn Higher Salaries? 

No matter your chosen field there are several ways that you can increase your earning potential.

Here are a few examples:

  • Further education: Your academic credentials are one of the most important assets you have as a scientist. While a degree might be enough for an entry-level research position, pursuing a master’s and doctoral degree will help you earn more in the long run.
  • Pursue training: Working as a scientist means being on the cutting edge of your field, and seeking to push those boundaries even further. You can only do that with skills that you can sharpen through continuous training and education.
  • Secure grants and donations: Many scientists and their departments are funded through research grants and donations. As a scientist, part of your job is to secure the funds needed to pay yourself and the rest of your team. Doing so is just as important as your day-to-day research work.

Read More: How to Become an Inventor. We explore how to become an inventor (and make a living doing it!)

Scientist Job Outlook

There’s a lot of potential for you or anyone else interested in learning how to become a scientist.

Overall, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that the overall field for life, physical, and social scientists will grow by 8% by 2030.

That growth rate, which the BLS calls ‘as fast as average’, means they expect an additional 113,800 scientist jobs to be created by that time.

That means there will be plenty of scientist jobs you can apply for by the end of the decade. 

Top 5 Fastest-Growing Scientist Jobs

According to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (GEN), here are 5 of the fastest-growing scientist roles, at least in the life sciences category:

Medical Laboratory Scientists

In this role, you’ll work in medical labs collecting patient samples like urine, blood, tissue, and more.

Your focus is on performing tests on those samples and relaying the information back to physicians and their patients.

Medical Scientists

As a medical scientist, you’ll produce new knowledge about improving human health.

Most of your work will happen outside of a lab as you interact with patients through clinical trials and more.

Biological Technicians

This role will have you working side by side with biological and medical scientists. You’ll specialize in helping them with tests and experiments that happen in a laboratory setting.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

As the name suggests, these two roles overlap closely by focusing on living things and their biological processes.

However, the first role will have you focusing on their chemical processes, while the other focuses on their aspects related to physics.

Read our related article on How to Become a Biochemical Engineer. Study life and develop new medicines and products in this interesting position!

Chemical Technicians

Lastly, you can also work in the growing field of chemical technicians.

In this niche, you’ll use specialized equipment and methods to research chemical processes and the chemical products.

Read our related article on How to Become a Marine Biologist. If you’re interested in marine life, this could be the career for you!

Professional Associations

You’ll never truly finish learning how to become a scientist because you’re always at the forefront of your field.

That’s why it’s crucial to stay connected to scientists inside and beyond your field throughout your career.

You can network with colleagues and peers through professional associations like:

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Society for Science

Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

National Social Science Association (NSSA)

American Political Science Association (APSA)

Top Colleges and Universities

Getting a college degree is necessary to learn how to become a scientist. However, the degree you pursue should also be in the same field you wish to study later as a scientist.

Here are some of the country’s top universities for aspiring scientists in any field.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Stanford University

Harvard University

Princeton University

Columbia University

About Noah Shaw

An editor & writer on staff at LandYourLife, Noah is a career research enthusiast passionate about helping others find & work towards their ideal vocation.