Research scientist: job description

Research scientist: job description

Research scientists are responsible for designing, undertaking and analysing information from controlled laboratory-based investigations, experiments and trials.
You could work for government laboratories, environmental organisations, specialist research organisations or universities.

What does a research scientist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Research scientists work in almost every area of science imaginable. They plan and carry out experiments and investigations in a range of areas, including geoscience, medical research, meteorology and pharmacology. These are broad research areas; a research scientist will most likely be working on a much more specialist topic, such as gravitational waves or stem cell biology. If your specialism is likely to be chemistry-based, take a look at our research chemist job description.

A research scientist's work is almost entirely laboratory-based, with responsibilities that include:

  • planning and conducting experiments
  • recording and analysing data
  • carrying out fieldwork, eg collecting samples
  • presenting results to senior/other research staff
  • writing research papers, reports, reviews and summaries
  • demonstrating procedures
  • preparing research proposals and funding applications/bids
  • supervising junior staff including technicians
  • organising product/materials testing
  • ensuring that quality standards are met
  • liaising with research and/or production staff
  • developing original solutions to problems
  • keeping up to date with relevant scientific and technical developments
  • teaching

Typical employers of research scientists

  • Government laboratories
  • Environmental agencies
  • Utilities providers
  • Specialist research organisations and consultancies
  • Public funded research councils
  • Universities
  • Private food companies
  • Materials companies
  • Consumer products companies
  • Pharmaceuticals producers
  • Chemical companies

Research posts, particularly those with permanent contracts, attract strong competition. Vacancies are advertised via the internet, by careers services, in national newspapers, in relevant scientific publications such as New Scientist, Science, Nature, Chemistry World and in journals published by the professional institutions. Speculative applications are advisable, for which directories such as Current Research in Britain may be useful.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a research scientist if you have a good degree (a 2.1 or above) in a science subject.

A relevant postgraduate qualification (a PhD/research-based MSc) is also normally required, particularly for permanent positions. Post-doctoral research and/or practical research/laboratory work experience is also beneficial, and frequently required for academic posts. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options and visit the science section of TARGETpostgrad for lots more advice.

Key skills for research scientists

  • Patience
  • Determination
  • Scientific and numerical skills
  • Flexibility
  • Decisiveness
  • A logical and independent mind
  • Meticulous attention to detail and accuracy
  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Teamwork skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Written and oral communication skills

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