The term “scientist” was coined by a philosopher and historian of science, William Whewell, in 1833. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that this term came into regular use.
A scientist is a professional who makes careful observations and conducts research to advance knowledge in a field of interest. They play a very important role in society, helping people understand Earth, life, and physical sciences.
What do scientists do?
A scientist performs a series of tasks to develop a better understanding of the diversity and nature of various science disciplines. This involves:
- Formulating hypotheses through inductive reasoning based on observations
- Conducting measurement-based tests and experiments on deductions drawn from the hypotheses
- Refining or eliminating hypothesis based on experimental findings
While technical processes vary from one scientific inquiry to another, the underlying principle usually remains the same.
As of 2015, nearly 4.7 million people with science degrees worked in the US, across all branches and employment sectors. Of that total, 59% were employed in business or industry, 17% worked at undergraduate institutions and universities, 6% worked in non-profit positions, 5% worked for the federal government, and 3.5% were self-employed.
Today, various industries utilize scientists to gather and test data that will further enhance the growth of that industry. The following are some of the many different types of scientists working in distinctive fields. Below, we have elaborated everything you need to know about scientist job profiles and the type of work they do.
Table of Contents
What they do: Study sustainable ways to make soils and plants more productive
Average base salary: $52,000 per year
Agronomists study different ways to cultivate and genetically engineer plants. They spend their workdays conducting experiments on plants to enhance their longevity, durability, and crop yield. The aim is to achieve the most lush, disease-free crops possible.
Agronomists also spend a significant amount of time traveling and meeting with farmers, working with them to solve issues related to planting, harvesting, storage, and distribution.
They also analyze soil to check whether it contains nutrients essential for plant growth. More specifically, they look for common macronutrients, which include compounds of sulfur, magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, nitrogen, boron, and zinc.
The proportion of Soil pH, organic substance, and soil cation-exchange capacity are analyzed in a local lab. Agronomists then interpret these lab reports and make necessary adjustments for optimal plant growth.
12. Computer Scientist
What they do: Apply concepts from computer science to create efficient solutions
Average base salary: $105,000 per year
Unlike computer engineers who mainly focus on hardware, computer scientists usually work on the theoretical side of computer systems. They validate and develop models for interaction between software and devices or end-users and computers.
Computer scientists may also focus their research on particular fields, such as data structure design and development, computational complexity theory, computer graphics, programming language theory, software engineering, and information theory.
Most computer scientists are hired by software development companies, where they solve problems, develop applications, and create new theories around technology development.
Ecologist Tony Wileman performing a transect survey of the anthill meadow
What they do: Assess the interrelationships between organisms and their environments
Average base salary: $78,000 per year
Ecologists are specialists who survey ecosystems and analyze the profusion, diversity, and behavior of various organisms within them. For example, they may study how the creatures in wetlands, deserts, forests, and other ecosystems interact with each other and their environments.
They analyze how the absence or presence of apex predators affect other organisms in the region, or what are the advantages and disadvantages of invasive creatures against native species.
Ecologists usually work for research institutes, government agencies, conservation charities, or environmental trusts. They spend a lot of time out in the field, classifying animals, plants, and other organisms, and gathering data.
Once they collect enough data, they spend time in the office or laboratory, conducting scientific research. The findings are then used to improve environmental policy and provide expert advice to town planners, architects, and engineers.
What they do: Study seismic activity such as energy waves that occur inside the Earth
Average base salary: $60,000 per year
A seismologist is an Earth scientist specialized in geophysics. He/she studies the origin and propagation of seismic waves in geological matter. This geological matter can range from a tiny lab sample to the Earth as a whole, from its core to its surface.
Seismologists investigate earthquakes and their following events, such as landslides and tsunamis. They use various computer equipment and seismographs to gather and interpret data on seismic events.
The vast majority of seismologists work in petroleum exploration, where they produce, trace, and examine controlled seismic waves from explosions and vibrations caused by trucks. The data gathered from the movement and interactions of waves help them figure out where gas and oil may be found.
A few seismologists work for intelligence agencies, where they analyze underground nuclear test explosions. Some perform theoretical research on the geological makeup and Earth’s structure.
9. Marine Biologist
What they do: Study organisms and ecosystems in the ocean and other saltwater environments
Average base salary: $55,000 per year
Marine biologists keep a close eye on organisms living in the ocean. They analyze the behaviors or physiology of a specific population, assess the condition of habitats, and the effects of human activity on those animals.
Marine biologists study everything from the largest whale down to tiny plankton and microbes, as well as the ocean water, sometimes 10,000 meters or more beneath the ocean’s surface.
The ocean and animals living in it are facing the challenges of coexisting with commercial shipping, chemicals, plastics, recreational boating, and other issues associated with human activities. Marine biologists spend their time studying how such activities affect marine life, and offer effective alternatives to prevent or minimize them.
Some specialize in marine biotechnology. They analyze the adaptations and benefits of water species and how they could be applied to industrial processes. For example, a team of marine biologists has been able to develop a doorknob material that can mimic the structure of shark skin to repel germs and viruses.
Geneticist Irma Andersson in her fern glasshouse | Image credit: Wikimedia
What they do: Study genes and perform experiments in model organisms
Average base salary: $80,000 per year
A geneticist analyzes genes to understand how they are inherited, mutated, activated or deactivated, and what role they play in certain diseases.
Some geneticists carry out studies, tests, and counsel patients with hereditary conditions or congenital malformations. They use advanced tools and techniques to assess things at a molecular level. This includes DNA analysis, protein synthesis, and exploration of biological processes and tissue nutrients.
Many perform experiments in model organisms, such as Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, rodents, zebrafish, or humans, and inspect data to understand the inheritance of biological traits.
An environmental geneticist specializes in assessing the interactions between genes and environmental factors that cause severe disease and health effects.
Paleontologist Bernardo Gonzalez Riga working on a dinosaur skeleton in the field | Wikimedia
What they do: Study fossilized remains of living things and their evolutionary significance
Average base salary: $59,000 per year
Paleontologists are interested in knowing the history of organic life on Earth. They study fossilized remains of many different organisms, including animals, bacteria, fungi, single-celled living things, and plants.
Most paleontologists investigate fossils to identify organisms, their age, method of formation, and how they interacted with their surroundings. The oldest fossils are anywhere between 3.48 to 4.1 billion years old. Examples include exoskeletons, bones, or stone imprints of animals.
A paleontologist may use specific tools to locate and excavate layers of sedimentary rocks to find fossils and gather crucial data. He/she then evaluates the discovery and compares new data to existing ones using specialized computer programs.
Paleontologists are employed by oil corporations and federal agencies to identify fossils; by museums to prepare and care for fossil collections; and by universities to generally work as instructors and researchers.
What they do: Study astronomical objects like planets, stars, black holes, pulsars, etc.
Average base salary: $115,000 per year
Astronomers focus on the study of space, which includes planets, asteroids, stars, and galaxies thousands of light-years away. They try to figure out how various celestial bodies formed and how they evolved over millions of years.
Astronomers use both ground and space-based telescopes and other instruments to make observations and gather data. They usually track composition, movements, and other characteristics of space objects and phenomena. While some study nearby bodies like the Sun, asteroids, planets, and comets, some specialize in analyzing distant and far complex objects such as galaxies, black holes, and pulsars.
An astronomer’s work also includes developing and testing scientific theories, carrying out complex calculations to examine data, developing or using computer programs to model data, and writing proposals and papers for publication in scholarly journals.
What they do: Detect anomaly in cells due to infections, diseases, and cancers
Average base salary: $73,000 per year
Cytologists are lab professionals who examine human cells using advanced microscopes. They specifically look for cellular anomalies that indicate the presence of infectious agents, or cancerous or precancerous lesions.
Cytologists obtain cell specimens from different parts of the body and place them on slides using specialized methods. They then examine the slides at molecular levels and mark irregularities that indicate any specific disease. This is how they identify disease while it is still at a treatable stage.
As new screening and identification methods for tumors are developed, cytologists will continue to play a crucial role in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Geologists at work in the Bhilwara region of Rajasthan, India
What they do: Study Earth processes such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes
Average base salary: $69,000 per year
Geologists work to understand the history of Earth. They examine the solid, liquid, and gaseous substance that constitutes our planet, as well as the series of event that shape them.
Geologists not only investigate minerals and metals but also look for natural gas, oil, and water, as well as techniques to extract them. They typically focus on changes in the planet’s internal structure that results in landslides, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. Their findings are used to warn the public of the occurrence of such events.
Some geologists work exclusively for government agencies that conduct data analysis for gas and oil mining. They use advanced computer software to generate digital databases of acquired field data and accurately model geological processes for research.
Nowadays, climate change has become a great concern. New findings can help us better understand how our current climate is changing and what the outcomes might be.
What they do: Study plant kingdom and how they affect the environment
Average base salary: $70,000 per year
A botanist is a plant scientist who studies physiological processes like photosynthesis at the molecular level and performs tests to improve disease resistance, yield, and nutritional value of crops.
Their research involves finding new uses for plants as remediations tools, medicines, fabrics, or biofuels. Professional botanists specialize in one specific area, such as the biochemistry of photosynthesis, the evolution of the angiosperms, or the cultivation of roses for the wholesale market.
Today, botanists study more than 400,000 species of land plants, of which nearly 369,000 species are flowering plants and 20,000 are bryophytes (non-vascular land plants).
They are employed by the government to perform field studies or compare crop planting systems; by pharmaceutical companies to find new sources of plant-based medicines; by agricultural industries to breed new types of plant varieties; or by universities as professors or researchers.
What they do: Study the composition of matter and its properties
Average base salary: $81,000 per year
Chemists examine the characteristics of matter at atomic and molecular levels. They analyze proportions and reaction rates to better understand unknown compounds and their interactions with other substances. To do so, they utilize advanced analytical tools and techniques, including spectroscopy and chromatography.
Generally, chemists specialize in biochemistry, theoretical chemistry, nuclear chemistry, or neurochemistry. In nuclear chemistry, for example, chemists deal particularly with radioactivity and other processes and properties of nuclear matter. They investigate the effects of radiation on different things to develop effective medical treatments as well as new technologies that could harness radioactive power.
The most popular subfield is the pharmaceutical industry, where chemists study the properties of various drugs to determine the stability and effectiveness of medicines. Some even work in forensic labs to verify pieces of evidence in criminal investigations.
Physicist Vern Ehlers adjusts the atomic-beam machine | Photo taken in January 1960
What they do: Explores the laws that control our natural world
Average base salary: $120,000 per year
Physicists develop theories about the properties of matter, space, energy, and time and conduct experiments to test scientific theories. They also design and develop machines to perform complex experiments, such as particle accelerators and electron microscopes.
Physicists usually work across a broad range of research fields, spanning all length scales — from cosmological to sub-atomic length scales. They play an important role in advancing humanity’s understanding of the way our universe works.
The field typically includes two types of physicists:
- Theoretical physicists: employ mathematical models and abstractions of physical systems to describe and estimate natural phenomena.
- Experimental physicists: are concerned with data-acquisition techniques, detailed conceptualization, and the realization of lab experiments.
The third branch of physics has emerged in the past decade: Computational physics. It involves utilizing high-performance computers to perform complex calculations that cannot be done analytically, and to simulate experiments that are very difficult or next to impossible to perform in the laboratory.
While most physicists work in academic institutions, laboratories, and industrial sectors, some are employed by government agencies to explore radioactive materials in highly secured facilities.
Frequently Asked Questions?
What are the skills required to be a scientist?
Although specific skills required to become a scientist vary based on the industry, there are some common traits that you must have to be successful.
Curiosity: Having curiosity is what prompts students and researchers to ask questions in the first place. Also, one should be naturally driven to learn and able to seek out information himself.
Problem-solving skills: Solving tricky problems is often the kernel for new research and innovative ideas. Problem-solving ability is connected to a number of skills, such as creative thinking, a lateral mindset, adaptability, and analytical skills.
Time management: Although many people juggle dozens of tasks and projects at the same time, it is very important to minimize procrastination, avoid distractions, and stay focused on a single task as long as possible.
Awareness: If you want to be a successful scientist, you must learn to be aware of the commercial implications of your project and how your work fits into the bigger goals of your organization.
Who is the father of science?
Galileo Galilei is considered the father of modern science. He moved human knowledge forward against outstanding prejudice and persecution. He is known for his incredible contributions to scientific methods, observational astronomy, and physics.
Which country has the most number of scientists?
The number of scientists vastly differs from country to country. As of 2021, the United States is the most prolific publisher of high-quality science in the world. However, China is closing the gap with startling rapidity.
According to the Statista report, South Korea had the largest number of scientists and researchers in 2019. The country had 16 full-time scientists per 1,000 workers. Sweden ranked second with 15 scientists and researchers per 1,000 workers.
Who is the richest scientist in the world?
James Dewey Watson is currently the world’s richest scientist. The billionaire geneticist played a crucial role in the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Watson has also written numerous science books, including The Double Helix (1968).