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.

Developing a Career as a Research Scientist

Research scientists may work alone or as members of a team and usually are assisted by laboratory workers who perform routine tasks. Most research scientists work in laboratories; some also teach in colleges and universities.

How much salary do Research Scientists make?

Annual Mean Wage

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?

Professional Associations:

Association of Clinical Research Professionals
99 Canal Center Plaza
Suite 200
Alexandria, VA 22314

(703) 254-8100

American Society for Microbiology
1752 N St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20036

(202) 737-3600

National Academy of Sciences
National Research Council
500 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

(202) 334-2000

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
9650 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20814

(301) 634-7000

American Institute of Biological Sciences
1313 Dolley Madison Boulevard
Suite 402
McLean, VA 22101

(703) 674-2500

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