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How to Become a Scientist – Curiosity, Education, Career

How to Become a Scientist

Many young professionals want to leave their mark on the world and make important discoveries for future generations. If those sound like your ambitions, you must know how to become a scientist.

Becoming a scientist is a very long and involved process, however. Knowing what to expect and what degrees to prioritize before you embark is essential. Keep reading to find out how to become a scientist today!

What is a Scientist?

A scientist is a trained, research-oriented professional. They use the scientific method to perform experiments, observe results, and discover truths about the physical world. These professionals may specialize in different fields, but they all perform experiments and conduct research according to their projects or goals.

The scientific method means:

  • Making a hypothesis or guess about something
  • Designing a safe and testable experiment to see whether your hypothesis is correct
  • Carrying out and observing the experiment’s results
  • Adjusting your hypothesis if it was incorrect

Scientists work at universities, research institutions, private corporations, and other organizations.

What Do Scientists Do?

At their core, scientists conduct research. For example, biological scientists study cellular life, genetic therapy technology, how medicines interact with the body, and more. Astronomical scientists, called astronomers, study different stars, how astronomical bodies move, and so on.

All scientists conduct experiments so that all of society can better understand the natural world and how it works. Scientific advancements are critical for education, sociological understanding, psychology, industry, art, etc.

These professionals generally work at research universities where they teach one or more classes. At the same time, they perform research. Some are more field-based, however. They may spend more time “out in the field” collecting data or conducting experiments. For instance, archaeology is a science using tools and techniques to understand remains like bones or artifacts.

Ultimately, all scientists have important and meaningful jobs. They get to carry out experiments and make discoveries over their professional careers.

Top Skills for a Scientist

Scientists must be intelligent and willing to learn a great deal to succeed. But beyond academic acumen, these professionals also need a handful of top skills to thrive in their careers:

  • Communication. Even the best scientists don’t work alone. At a minimum, they will work with research assistants or other subordinates. Many work in teams and collaborate. Good communication skills, therefore, are vital.
  • Teamwork skills for the same reasons described above. Scientists with poor teamwork skills will not receive as many research opportunities as their collaborative counterparts.
  • Business skills. Most scientists must write grant proposals to acquire funding for their experiments. Grants require some knowledge of finances and returns on investments.
  • Self-motivation. Scientists are often required to be self-starters and have the intrinsic motivation to go out and discover things.
  • Adaptability. The best in this field can adapt to changing situations or difficult challenges, especially in the field, or if an experiment does not go the way they predict
  • Management skills. These professionals have to manage projects, experiments, and classrooms full of students.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills are necessary so scientists can both design and carry out experiments, analyze their results, and find how they measure up to their hypotheses.

Scientist vs. Engineer

Although scientists and engineers seem similar, and some use the terms interchangeably, they are different professions.

Scientists are all about exploration and discovery. They conduct experiments to understand the natural world and its laws. On the other hand, engineers come up with solutions to present-day, real-world challenges.

For example, a scientist might discover a physics principle that impacts manufacturing plant safety. An engineer might then design a tool or machine that uses that physics principle to ensure the manufacturing plant is as safe as possible.

Scientists and engineers often have overlapping skill sets, however. Many scientists need to know mathematics and some engineering principles. Engineers must often understand scientific principles to design solutions and build complex things.

Types of Sciences

Scientists can pursue many different types of sciences. These include but are not limited to:

  • Biology, which is the study of life and organic materials
  • Chemistry, which is the study of elements and how those elements change and interact with each other
  • Physics, which is the study of physical laws, such as gravity or how light acts
  • Astronomy, which is the study of astronomical bodies such as stars and planets
  • Geology, which is the study of geological materials or how the Earth changes with time
  • Meteorology, which is the study of climate and weather

Types of Scientists

In general, scientists are described according to their focuses or specialties. For example, a scientist who carries out astronomical research is called an astronomer. A scientist who works in a microbiology lab designing gene therapy solutions is a microbiologist.

These professionals are rarely, if ever, generalized. Instead, scientists become specialized based on their degrees and personal interests.

How to Become a Scientist

Becoming a scientist takes a while, but it is relatively straightforward. Here are the steps:

  1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree
  2. Complete a master’s degree
  3. Gain Experience
  4. Pursue certifications
  5. Consider a doctorate

Step 1 – Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

First, you must attend a bachelor’s degree in your area of interest. Suppose you want to become a chemical scientist or chemist, for example. In that case, you need a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or materials sciences. Your bachelor’s degree should be from a well-known and accredited university. The better your university is, the more opportunities you’ll have for mentorship, networking, and research projects.

Step 2 – Complete a Master’s Degree

Then you’ll need to complete a master’s degree. Most high-quality science positions require graduate degrees. Your master’s degree should also be in your study area. Still, it may allow you to concentrate your academic efforts more directly. For instance, you can study microbiology at the master’s degree level instead of just biology.

Step 3 – Gain Experience

After graduating, you’ll need to gain experience in research and laboratory environments. You should work as a research assistant to understand how laboratories work, how to use research equipment, and so on.

Step 4 – Pursue Certifications

Many scientist positions require you to pursue and earn certifications related to your field. Some jobs don’t, but earning certificates will bolster your resume or qualify you for higher-paying positions at well-known organizations.

Step 5 – Consider a Doctorate

Over time, you might consider earning a doctoral degree. Doctorates are necessary for the most competitive and important science positions. Furthermore, you’ll need a doctorate if you want to become a tenured professor at your university of choice.

Doctorate degrees often take place part-time and usually take several years to complete. They culminate with a research project and dissertation, which you must develop and get approval from a faculty advisor.

Education

To become a scientist, you must acquire certain educational credentials. The exact credentials depend on which type of scientist you want to become and the industry you plan to enter.

Scientist Requirements

The majority of scientist positions require a graduate degree. While some can find employment with just a bachelor’s, opportunities open up much more if you have a master’s degree.

Scientists also have other academic requirements, including but not limited to:

  • Completion of some research projects. Fortunately, most science programs require students to complete a thesis project, which you can put on your resume.
  • Some work experience in a laboratory or research-oriented environment related to your field. For example, suppose you want to be a biologist. In that case, you need to have some experience working under the supervision of a full biologist.
  • Recommendations from your professors, peers, or former bosses

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Scientist?

Generally, it would be best if you had a bachelor’s degree or more to be a scientist. You can work as a research assistant with an associate degree. At the same time, you should pursue a bachelor’s or higher degree.

A master’s degree is best for most positions in this career field. Only at the graduate level do you start doing your own research. At the Ph.D. level, you’ll design and carry out your research paper. All Ph.D. students expand their fields in some way. They have to write a dissertation, present it to an administrative board, then defend the dissertation against criticism.

If you want to pursue a career in this field, aim to acquire a master’s degree rather than a bachelor’s degree. Alternatively, you can look at the specific career requirements for a position or scientist type you want to become. Then you can design your professional steps according to those needs.

What Does it Take to Be a Scientist?

All scientists need to have professional drive and ambition. They also need to have a deep inner curiosity about the world or, at the very least, their areas of interest. For example, if you want to become a physicist, you must have a deep and abiding interest in physics.

When you become a scientist in a certain area, that topic or subject area dominates your professional life. You’ll need to be willing to work long hours, particularly at the beginning of your career.

Most scientists work long hours at labs and schools, so they don’t have much free time, especially at the master’s or doctoral levels. Even after graduating, these professionals work long hours to earn higher positions or acquire tenure at a university.

Furthermore, scientists must constantly chase research grants and apply for new experiment permits. Those in academia must regularly produce new research if they want to hold their positions and maintain their standing.

Despite the challenges, being a scientist can be very rewarding. These professionals have a lot of peer and public respect. They also have the opportunity to make real discoveries and change how others see the world.

Scientist Qualifications

Scientist qualifications commonly include:

  • An accredited degree from a well-known university in one’s area of interest
  • At least a few years of work experience in a laboratory or research environment.
  • Some letters of recommendation from peers or professors
  • Completed research projects or papers related to one’s area of interest

How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Scientist?

It usually takes between eight and ten years to become a scientist from start to finish. For example, it will take at least six years to earn a master’s degree from scratch. Then it will take at least four years to complete a Ph.D. However, many scientists spend more than ten years before earning their ultimate desired positions.

Do You Need a Ph.D. to Be a Scientist?

No. However, many scientists do earn a Ph.D., at least eventually. You don’t need to earn a Ph.D. immediately to get a job. But you may be pressured or required to earn a Ph.D. at some point if you want to get a promotion, acquire tenure at a university, etc.

Certifications & Licenses

Getting a degree isn’t always enough to acquire a competitive scientist position. In fact, many positions at highly regarded labs or universities require additional certifications and licenses. Certifications and licenses showcase that you know a specific skill, how to use a specific school, or are extra specialized for a specific task.

Many worthwhile science programs, particularly at the graduate level and beyond, offer ample opportunities to pursue different certificates. Some are even attainable with the courses you’ll take in a science program.

However, there’s no set list of certifications and licenses you should pursue to become a scientist. Instead, you should pursue certifications and licenses for your chosen specialty or field. Some of the most popular certifications and licenses include:

  • Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP)
  • Clinical Research Assistant
  • Certified Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC)
  • Professional Researcher Certification (PRC)
  • Associate – Data Science Version 2.0
  • Certification in General Surgery
  • Registered Geologist
  • Certified Crop Advisor

How Much Do Scientists Make?

Because of their extensive schooling and real-world experience, scientists earn high salaries regardless of their positions. Note that scientists make a lot of money while research assistants or laboratory assistants do not.

Here are a few example positions and their average salaries:

But there are many scientific positions and associated salaries. Generally, scientists earn more than $50,000 a year, and many approach the $100,000 mark. Here are a few more examples:

  • Biochemists and biophysicists earn $102,270 per year
  • Atmospheric scientists like meteorologists earn $94,570 per year
  • Geoscientists earn $83,680 per year
  • Microbiologists earn $79,260 per year
  • Anthropologists and archaeologists earn $61,910 per year

Ultimately, these high salaries are necessary so science graduates can repay their student loans. Over time, however, even exorbitant student loans are worthwhile; most scientists earn more money over their lifetimes than those without degrees for these positions.

Scientist Career Paths

Scientists can pursue a wide variety of career paths depending on their degree concentrations and their work experience.

For example, a scientist, student, or graduate can enter the biochemical or biotechnical industries. They can operate as a medical scientist or biochemist. Alternatively, a graduate could enter the archaeological sector and work as an archaeologist or anthropologist.

Regardless, by definition, every professional in this field carries out projects, writes research papers, and applies for grants to carry out new projects. Those projects focus on their specialties.

Many also work as college professors. They often work primarily as college professors but carry out research projects and publish papers between their classes. This path is the standard academic career path for most researchers these days.

Top Scientist Employers

The top scientific employers are universities. They employ scientists to work as teachers, at least part-time. But they also carry out research projects that the universities can then publish to maintain their high standing in academia.

Other top employers include major engineering, chemical, and manufacturing corporations. These corporations may employ scientists to conduct research projects to improve their engineering or machines.

The computer industry also employs computer scientists quite regularly. They are needed to develop algorithms, understand machine learning, and bolster cybersecurity experts. But no matter what, all scientists carry out research projects based on their focuses or specialties.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for scientists of all stripes is bright. As the world becomes more advanced, we require ever-increasing tools and medical understanding to maintain our way of life. Furthermore, some scientists work in industries projected to grow more quickly than average.

For example, environmental scientist and specialist positions should grow by 5% until 2031, resulting in 7800 new job openings. Medical scientists are similar. This occupation is projected to grow by 17% and result in 10,000 new job openings by 2031.

On the other hand, computer scientists are highly in demand over the next decade. Computer and information research scientist positions should grow by 21%, resulting in 3300 openings per year. Chemists and material scientists are projected to grow by 6% by 2031.

Bottom line: practically all scientists should find ample employment opportunities after graduating from an accredited university and acquiring credentials and work experience.

Professional Organizations & Associations

As a science student or professional, you should consider these professional organizations and associations for networking and career advancement resources:

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
  • Botanical Society of America
  • American Association of Bioanalysts (AAB)
  • American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
  • Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (SIMB)
  • American Astronomical Society (AAS)
  • American Chemical Society (ACS)
  • Society for American Archaeology (SAA)
  • Ecological Society of America (ESA)

FAQs

What qualifications do you need to be a scientist?

You generally need a bachelor’s degree or higher (usually a master’s degree) to pursue this career. Furthermore, specific certifications or licenses and experience as a research or laboratory assistant may be required.

Is it hard to become a scientist?

It is academically challenging to become a scientist. Scientists must be very intelligent and understand a wide range of topics to succeed. However, scientists don’t have to be geniuses; almost anyone can become a scientist with the right drive and ambition.

How long will it take to become a scientist?

It will take between eight and ten years from start to finish. This time includes the years spent at school and acquiring experience as a laboratory or research assistant.

Who was the first scientist?

Many historical figures are counted as the first-ever scientists. Aristotle, for instance, was active in the fourth century BC and was one of the first people to use the scientific method. Other potential candidates for the first scientist include Euclid, the father of geometry, and Ptolemy, an early astronomer.

Start Your Career Today!

All in all, you can become a scientist by pursuing the right degree and credentials. Next, by working in a lab for a few years and building up your experience until you run a research job in your chosen field. Becoming a scientist takes a while, but it can be gratifying, personally and professionally.

GetEducated.com can help you find the right online degree program for your needs in no time. Check out our resources today!

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