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What does a Research Scientist do?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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A research scientist is a scientific professional specializing in laboratory research. Other scientists are involved in specific applications for their particular branches of science. For example, most scientists involved with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) deal with the maintenance of such devices and analyzing the data on individual patients. An MRI research scientist, by contrast, might focus on all MRI patient data in an attempt to improve the device’s design or look for trends in certain kinds of patients. Research scientists work in specific areas of knowledge and are found in all fields of science.

The research scientist represents the classic image of the scientist, wearing a white lab coat and working in a sterile laboratory, examining samples under a microscope. This is, of course, a generalization; many research scientists do not work in such an environment, while others will clock numerous hours in such a lab. Many of the great scientific minds of history have been research scientists. Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Jonas Salk all fit the modern definition of a research scientist, although they may have had different professional titles. Albert Einstein, like many scientists, was a college professor and theorist in addition to his work in the field of scientific research.

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Research scientists plan and conduct experiments, many times if necessary, and gather the resulting information, called data. By careful examination of the data and comparison with similar experiments or established knowledge, they seek connections and relationships that may have not been previously observed. For example, exposing test animals to certain chemicals and then carefully observing the animals’ health for days or weeks can reveal toxins or carcinogens that were previously unknown.

Research scientists may compare data with their colleagues in different locations or even with studies carried out in seemingly unrelated fields. The work of the research scientist may seem tedious and repetitive, but the results can include vital advances in fields such as medicine, chemistry, and environmental science. Those who have significantly advanced their fields can be rewarded with research grants, book publications, or even merit awards such as the Nobel Prize.

Increasingly, the work of the research scientist involves computer analysis of data. Computers can greatly increase the efficiency of such work, discovering trends and hidden connections that may have taken much longer or eluded discovery otherwise. Those working in academic settings may present their findings as independent research papers or articles in science publications. Research scientists in private industry may be required to share their discoveries only with their employers.

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David09
Post 4

@NathanG - Your wife might want to consider becoming a clinical research assistant, if she’s not on a career track to become a research scientist just yet.

These people usually work alongside the scientists in the laboratory setting and help them conduct the research. Since she has some laboratory experience, this might be an ideal job for her to pursue.

NathanG
Post 3

My wife graduated with a degree in biochemistry. She eventually worked in the pharmaceutical industry, mainly as a technician, but she did consider pursuing a degree as a research scientist.

She had plenty of lab experience when she was a student and I think that it would have been an ideal career path for her to pursue.

What I like most about it is that you can be on the cusp of some thrilling discoveries, as the article points out. There is a certain thrill to looking at something under a microscope and discovering something that you had not seen before.

Even if you are doing some of the more mundane tasks like MRI research, I think it can still be very rewarding.

SZapper
Post 2

@ceilingcat - Your friend is pretty brave to go into infectious disease research. Or maybe I've just seen too many disaster movies where someone makes a mistake in a lab an unleashes a killer virus on themselves and everyone else!

Based on this article, it seems like researchers definitely need to know how to work a computer and use computer programs. I bet it would be helpful for someone who wants to be a research scientist to get a minor in computer science or something like that.

ceilingcat
Post 1

I actually didn't know this until recently, but some people who go to medical school end up working as research scientists! A good friend of mine from high school just started medical school, and her eventual goal is to research infectious diseases.

I suppose this makes sense, because in medical school you learn all about the human body and disease. So if you want to do research on those topics, medical school probably provides and excellent foundation.

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