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How to Become a Scientist

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What Makes a Person a Scientist?

The Science Council defines a scientist as someone who gathers evidence and research systematically, makes and tests a hypothesis, and gains understanding and knowledge to share with others. Science is an enormous field, divided into the broad categories of natural and physical sciences. Just as there are many areas of study, there are many career options for those who have the education and skills necessary for a scientist.

Becoming a Scientist

Anyone with a curiosity about the world around us can become a scientist, at least in an amateur or informal sense. All that is required to get started is the desire for knowledge, the willingness to ask questions and the ability to investigate an idea. Famous scientists throughout history, from Galileo to Jonas Salk to Albert Einstein began their life's work by being curious and determined to seek answers.

Getting hired as a scientist requires more than curiosity, of course. You'll need a formal education including, for many positions, an advanced degree. Scientists conduct basic research, which is used to add to the general body of knowledge, and applied research, which is directed toward finding a solution to a particular problem. There are opportunities for both kinds of research in virtually all scientific fields.

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked the following as being among the top jobs for scientists. As you can see, the range of careers is quite diverse. Is one of them right for you?

Biochemists study the chemical makeup of living things. They look at biological processes such as cell development, heredity, disease and growth. Depending on the type of work they do, biochemists can also be called molecular biologists or cell biologists. Median pay is $91,190, meaning half in the field earn more and half earn less. Most positions require a doctorate or professional degree.

Environmental Scientists look for solutions to problems affecting the environment and human health. Their work may involve cleaning polluted areas, advising policy makers or conducting research in industry to find ways to reduce waste. The median annual wage for environmental scientists is $69,400. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for many entry level positions. Getting a master's in biology, environmental science or related field can enhance pay and job opportunities.

Epidemiologists/Medical Scientists study the causes, preventions and cures for diseases. They work in hospitals, universities and laboratories for government and private entities. According to the BLS, job growth is expected to be around 9 percent through 2026, with the majority of new jobs in state and local governments and in hospitals. Median salary for those employed in the field is $70,820 per year.

Forensic Science Technicians help with criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. If working in a laboratory, forensic science technicians usually work normal business hours and may specialize in a particular type of forensic test. Techs who work as crime scene investigators may be on call and work irregular hours. They might have to travel to crime scenes to gather evidence. A bachelor's degree is often enough to get hired. Median pay is $57,850 a year.

Industrial Psychologists use principles of psychology and research methods to solve problems in the workplace and improve the quality of life for employees. They may help train and motivate a workforce, study consumer behavior, devise ways to improve business efficiency or facilitate transitions in the case of mergers or layoffs. At a minimum, you'll need a master's degree in psychology, counseling or social work. Certification is available through the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology. Although not legally required, certification may enhance employment opportunities and salary. Industrial psychologists earn a median annual salary of $82,760, with the top 10 percent in the field earning more than $184,380.

Survey Researchers design surveys and analyze the data they gather from the results. There are many applications for survey research, including polling organizations, colleges and universities, private enterprise and government entities. Surveys can be designed to study a wide range of topics, from politics to health care. The job market is not particularly strong, with only one percent growth anticipated through 2026. Survey researchers earn a median salary of $54,470 and can enter the field with a bachelor's degree.

  • Working as a research assistant is a great way to get a glimpse of what a specific job entails and to discover whether you really like it.

Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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