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Scientific Research Training and Qualifications

Scientific research and development services rely heavily on workers with extensive postsecondary education. Those with bachelor’s or higher degrees held 72 percent of jobs in the industry, compared with only 30 percent in all industries. The difference is particularly great for those with graduate degrees, who account for 37 percent of workers in scientific research and development services but only 10 percent of workers in all industries.

Science and engineering technicians may enter the industry with a high school diploma, some college, or an associate degree, but some bachelor’s degree holders begin as technicians before advancing to become researchers or pursuing additional education. Technicians usually begin working directly under a scientist, engineer, or more senior technician and advance to working with less supervision. Continuing on-the-job training is important in order to learn to use the newest equipment and methods. Some technicians become supervisors responsible for a laboratory or workshop.

For other science and engineering occupations, a bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum level of education, and a master’s or Ph.D. degree is typically necessary for senior researchers. Some fields require a Ph.D. even for entry-level research positions, particularly in the physical and life sciences. A bachelor’s degree is sufficient for many types of work in development outside of the life sciences, but a master’s degree is also common. Continuing training is necessary for workers to keep pace with current developments in their fields. It may take the form of on-the-job training or formal training, or it may consist of attending conferences or meetings of professional societies. Workers who fail to remain current in their field and related disciplines may face unfavorable job prospects if interest in their specific area declines.

For those with a Ph.D., a period of academic research immediately after obtaining the degree—known as a “postdoc”—is increasingly preferred by employers. These postdocs may last several years with low salaries and little independence, effectively increasing the cost of doctoral degrees in time and forgone income. Once in the industry, workers with doctorates typically begin as researchers, conducting and designing research projects in their field of expertise with a fair degree of autonomy. With their research training and specialized expertise, scientists or engineers with doctoral degrees design, conduct, and analyze experiments or studies. To keep current in their fields, researchers often attend conferences, read specialized journals, and confer with colleagues in industry and academia.

As scientists or engineers gain expertise in a particular field of R&D, they may advance to more senior research positions or become managers. Those who remain in technical positions may undertake more creative work, designing research or developing new technologies at a higher level. Those in science and engineering management usually coordinate work in several disciplines or components of a project. As their careers progress, they manage larger projects and ensure the work aligns with the strategic goals of their organization. Nearly all managers are responsible for some aspect of funding and for meeting deadlines.

Self-employment is uncommon in scientific research and development services because of the high cost of equipment, but opportunities to start small companies do exist. These opportunities are particularly prevalent in rapidly growing fields, partly due to the availability of investment capital. Self-employed workers in scientific R&D typically have advanced degrees and have worked in academia or other research facilities and form companies to develop commercial products resulting from prior basic or applied research

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

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Scientific Research Job Outlook     Scientific Research Income

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