Leah Thomas
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What is an R&D scientist?

An R&D scientist stands for Research and Development scientist. Research and Development scientists work in many different fields, from physics to engineering to pharmaceuticals. Research and Development scientists conduct studies, test hypotheses, create new methods, perfect new technology and develop a better understanding of their specialization, always working to be innovative and stay competitive. 

Research and Development scientists may work for companies, organizations, universities and more. They help their employer remain competitive in their respective fields by continuing to push research and work on incomplete theories or ideas, preventing them from losing their edge against similar organizations and working toward a better and improved society altogether. 

Research and Development scientists can work in both public and private sector organizations. They spend their time at work with other R&D scientists. This position generally works both individually as well as with teams to carry out tests and experiments and other means of research. Additionally, this type of scientist presents findings to superiors within the company or organization — putting scientific research and data in easy-to-understand terms. 

How do you become an R&D scientist?

Becoming an Research and Development scientists requires a lot of schooling. Most Research and Development scientists will have an undergraduate degree in a science-related field, as well as a Master's of Science in something similar. Undergraduate and Master's degrees may include chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, pharmacology and more. 

Some positions and companies require their R&D scientists to have obtained a doctorate degree. Throughout their years of schooling, Research and Development scientists take courses like biology, chemistry, calculus, physics, anatomy, physiology and more, as well as research-based courses.

Those who want to become Research and Development scientists normally come into these positions having gained previous experience in labs in their desired field, either as an assistant or an intern. This experimental training helps with job applications and is compared to a post-medical school residency. 

Most research scientist positions do not require a license, but there are specific certifications one can complete within a specialized field of R&D science. For example, those interested in conducting trials on medication and researching pharmaceuticals will need to receive their medical license prior to entering the field. 

What skills are necessary to become a Research and Development scientist?

You'll need to be a:

1. Problem solver

R&D scientists are great at problem solving. They are able to use critical thinking in order to address a problem. They then conduct proper research and carry out experiments in order to solve a specific issue with an organization’s efficiency, its lack of progress, a medicinal need in society, etc. And as you probably know, problem solving is a highly applicable skill to have in essentially all fields. Most R&D scientists work to develop problem solving skills in their undergraduate science courses. 

2. Self-motivation

While Research and Development scientists do work with other scientists, a lot of their individual and group work is self-supervised. Employers need to know they will not have to send someone to the lab or to the field to ensure their employee is doing his/her job. They must be self-motivated and productive without being constantly hounded. And self-motivated employees are more likely to be viewed for a promotion as a potential lab director. 

3. Team player

While being self-motivated is important, it is also important to be able to work well in groups. R&D scientists work with other similar scientists on bigger research projects or experiments that require more hands and minds. Research and Development scientists must be able to put their ego aside and accept advice or help from other R&D scientists. 

4. Data analysis skills

Research and Development scientists frequently look through large sets of data in their daily problem solving. One must not be overwhelmed by large data sets and able to observe patterns or irregularities as needed. This is another skill that is normally built upon in undergraduate school. Courses like statistics help future R&D scientists to build these data analysis skills.

5. Comfortable with technology

R&D scientists need to be open to adapting with newer technology and software in order to stay up-to-date in their field. A reluctance to maintaining modern knowledge could cause one to fall behind in not only their research but their efficiency and their company or organization's progress related to the competition. 

What types of places can you expect to work:

Research and Development scientists can work for private companies, such as pharmaceutical companies, or public organizations like a college or university. They can work in areas like engineering, biotechnology, chemical sciences, aerospace, automotive, materials and more. 

R&D scientists can have different everyday duties based on which area they choose to specialize in. They can:

  • Design more efficient and safe vehicles
  • Work to make common products and technological advances more environmentally friendly 
  • Work on improving passenger aircrafts
  • Create vaccines, antibiotics and other medicine to prevent and/or treat infections, viruses and diseases
  • Carry out experiments analyzing data on product efficiency and accuracy
  • Manage a team of lab researchers

And more!

How much do R&D scientists make?

Like all careers, the salaries of different Research and Development scientists depends on which area they choose to go in and which company or organization they are employed by.

The average salary for an R&D scientist is $73,012 a year, with $52,000 being on the low side of the spectrum and $94,000 on the high end, according to Payscale.

Research and Development scientists also make more or less money on average based on where they live in the country or the world. Research and Development scientists in New York City make, on average, more money per year than R&D scientists in, say, Omaha, Nebraska.

According to Glassdoor, the average R&D scientist employed by Thermo Fisher Scientific makes $87,623 per year. An R&D scientist at PepsiCo makes $67,369. At Greek yogurt company Chobani, the average salary is $65,000, it’s $96,520 at Proctor and Gamble, and $56,718 at Pharmaforce International. 

Jobs in this field are primarily found in seven states: California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These states account for over half the jobs in the R&D science industry. And the industry is incredibly competitive, making it more necessary for those who want to pursue this field to obtain Master's and Doctorate degrees. 

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