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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
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
Find related resources below:
Scientific Research Job Outlook Scientific Research Income