Job Profile: Researcher


Not everyone who goes into the field of medicine is a doctor, nurse, or other practitioner. Many people select the valuable profession of medical researcher. As a scientist in a lab, you can study the effects of drugs, strive to determine the characteristics of disease-causing organisms, and even seek to create gene therapies that correct many of the inherited illnesses that plague the people of America. Prospective researchers should have well-developed critical thinking skills and possess a talent for both analysis and extrapolation. They must also have exemplary writing skills and be able to communicate effectively in both the written and the spoken word. Strong organizational skills are also a must, particularly when it comes to grant writing and publishing your findings. You have to be able to cope with 99 percent failure as part of the scientific method just to achieve 1 percent success. If you have all of these qualities, you might be a good candidate for a job as a medical researcher or scientist.

Average Salary

In 2015, the median salary for medical scientists was $82,240. The low end of the spectrum was $44,510, and the high end was $155,180.

Starting Salary

The starting salary for medical researchers in 2012 was between $35,000 and $61,000. Usually, where you work was the biggest differentiator.

Key Responsibilities

These will vary by the type of research you do and your job title. If you're an immunochemist, for example, your research will be different than that of a cancer researcher or clinical pharmacologist. In all cases, however, there are several things researchers do in the interests of science. They include:

•Designing and implementing studies that test hypotheses pertaining to your field of study

•Read and analyze the work of other researchers as part of your own research

•Perform invasive procedures, such as drawing blood or excising tissue for study

•Exhibit leadership over their research teams

•Write both research proposals and grants

Necessary Skills

As stated, medical researchers need a wide variety of skills to be successful in the profession. They don't just need critical thinking and analytical capabilities. They should be the consummate team players. Even Watson needed Crick; even Marie needed Pierre. They must be keen observers and also be thoroughly uncompromising when it comes to both their own data and that of their colleagues. When working upon topics and experiments that might result in the saving of lives, accuracy is paramount. Patience may be considered a virtue in society at large, but it's obligatory in a researcher. Breakthroughs take time, and a researcher should "enjoy the trip" as much as the breakthrough itself.

Degree and Education Requirements

At a minimum, a Bachelor of Science is required. This degree is usually in biology, chemistry, or a related field. Undergraduate students would also benefit from studying composition to bolster their writing prowess. To introduce themselves to the world of research, courses in the physical sciences would also be useful. Graduate students will begin to conduct extensive research on existing projects and, at the end of their tenure as students, possibly original research as part of a dissertation and oral defense for an advanced degree. Many researchers strive to earn a Ph.D. before venturing into the world of research jobs, largely because one is required a great deal of the time within a certain period after you get hired. Some researchers also earn a medical degree, such as an M.D. or D.D.S., so that they can apply their research in real-world situations as well as in the laboratory.

Rewards and Challenges of Such a Position

Imagine, if you will, that you get the kernel of an idea that will cure some terrible disease. You present your proposal for a study and get the go-ahead from the institution where you work. You write the grant proposal and get approved. Then, you get to work. Now, imagine that, years later, you achieve a breakthrough! You've discovered a cure for that terrible disease. The cure might even be named for you. This alone drives many researchers. Not all of the benefits of the job are so fantastic. Small victories are usually the order of the day. Along the way, there are buckets of mindless, painstaking drudgery as a precursor to many failures. It's useful to emulate Thomas Edison, who once said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Perhaps the least known benefit of the job is that your failures will always be useful to others because it will save them time and effort when it comes to their own research. The same holds true of you benefiting from others' failures.

Getting Started

Even when you are still in high school, bone up on the scientific method. Don't blow off your chemistry and biology classes in high school. Practice developing hypotheses, no matter how silly or outlandish, and testing them. Write all the time. Submit essays for publication even if it's just your local paper. Read anything and everything about any field that interests you. Go to the local library and look through Dissertations Abstracts International. Read what people have written in the past, both about your chosen field and other fields. Be curious! Strive to understand the world. Talk to existing researchers for advice and to "get the skinny" on the job. If a researcher is willing, present him or her with a small experiment you've performed and ask for that person's opinion on your methodology. Be creative with your preparations.

Future Outlook

The forecast for job growth in the field of medical research shows that it will grow at roughly the same rate as other jobs. The latest predictions cover the period between 2012 and 2022. The aging population of the United States will create fertile ground for new research as they live longer and experience more conditions and illnesses. Recent problems, such as drug-resistant bacteria, demand more and better research than ever before.


Medical research offers the right people a rewarding career that will benefit society as a whole while still providing personal fulfillment. So, grab a test tube, fire up the Bunsen burner, and get to researching. You might find yourself in the same breath as Salk and Löffler one day.

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