What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Research Scientist?

To effectively plan for the future, it’s not enough to simply decide on a college major. Students should also have an idea what they plan to do with their major and how to get into their desired career path. A student interested in chemistry may choose to become a research scientist, which is among the top paying careers for physical and biological science majors, with experienced professionals earning a median annual salary of $77,300. You might be a good candidate for a career as a research scientist if you have a naturally curious and analytical mind and enjoy the challenge of solving problems. However, your critical thinking abilities and your thirst for knowledge aren’t themselves enough to prepare you for this occupation. To become a research scientist, candidates must first pursue a rigorous college education.

Beginning a Research Scientist’s Educational Path

All research scientist positions, even the most entry-level, will require that candidates hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject. Chemistry is obviously a popular undergraduate college major among aspiring research scientists, especially those interested specifically in chemical research studies. Materials science, biology, physics and even engineering can be suitable alternatives to majoring in chemistry. In addition to fundamental science courses like physical, analytical, organic and inorganic chemistry, common coursework for aspiring research scientists include classes in mathematics, and computer science, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Hands-on research work is an integral part of preparing for a career as a research scientist, so students should expect to learn as much important information in laboratory projects as they do in classroom lectures. Taking advantage of internship opportunities can also help students develop their skills and their résumé.

The Value of an Advanced Education

Earning your bachelor’s degree is a milestone to celebrate, but for aspiring research scientists, it’s only the first step toward completing their formal education. While some entry-level jobs may exist for candidates with only a bachelor’s degree, most research scientist positions – and all high-level positions – will require an advanced degree. Master’s degrees may be sufficient for many positions with private companies or government agencies, but positions at colleges and universities and any research leadership position is likely to require candidates to hold a Ph.D.

The high rate of pay isn’t the only advantage to working as a research scientist. In this career, you will have the opportunity to make discoveries and breakthroughs in important disciplines like chemistry, biological science, medical science and environmental science. The experiments you help develop and the information you glean from them have the potential to benefit society and our understanding of the natural world. Your findings can lead to new innovations to help people live longer, better lives. Though this career requires candidates to make a significant investment of their time, money and effort in attaining an advanced education, the potential for satisfying scientific curiosity and making a difference mean the preparation is worthwhile.

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