Careers for People Who Like Science
Do you enjoy science? Do your chemistry, biology, and physics classes entertain and engage you? Are you interested in exploring how science can be used to improve modern life? If you answered yes to any of these questions, a career in science may be a good choice for you.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s website provides a wide range of information about careers that align with your interests. The following selection describes three career paths in the field of science: chemists and materials scientists, environmental scientists and specialists, and physicists and astronomers. Keep in mind that there are many additional science careers to consider.
If chemistry is an area of enjoyment, then you might consider a career as a chemist or materials scientist. People with these careers study substances at the atomic and molecular levels as well as the ways in which substances react with each other. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.
Chemists and materials scientists work in laboratories and offices. They typically work full time and keep regular hours.
What kind of education would you need to be a chemist or materials scientist? You would need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or a related field. However, a master’s degree or post-graduate Ph.D. is needed for many research jobs.
The job outlook for chemists and materials scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this growth rate is slower than the average for all occupations. However, chemists and materials scientists with an advanced degree, particularly those with a Ph.D., are expected to experience better opportunities.
Chemists and materials scientists typically plan and carry out complex research projects such as the development of new products and testing methods. They direct technicians and other workers in testing and analyzing components and the physical properties of materials. They also instruct scientists and technicians on proper chemical processing and testing procedures, such as ingredients, mixing times, and operating temperatures.
In addition, chemists and materials scientists prepare solutions and compounds used in laboratory procedures, and analyze substances to determine their composition and concentration of elements. They conduct tests on materials and other substances to ensure that safety and quality standards are met. Chemists and materials scientists write technical reports that detail methods and findings and present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues.
Many chemists and materials scientists work in basic and applied research. In basic research, chemists investigate the properties, composition, and structure of matter. They also experiment with combinations of elements and the ways in which they interact. In applied research, chemists investigate possible new products and ways to improve existing ones. Chemistry research has led to the discovery and development of new and improved drugs, plastics, cleaners, and thousands of other products.
Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials to develop new products or enhance existing ones. They determine ways to strengthen or combine materials or develop new materials for use in a variety of products. Applications of materials science include inventing or improving superconducting materials, ceramics, and metallic alloys.
Chemists and materials scientists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instrumentation for modeling, simulation, and experimental analysis. For example, some chemists use three-dimensional (3D) computer modeling software to study the structure and other properties of complex molecules.
Most chemists and materials scientists work as part of a team. An increasing number of scientific research projects involve multiple disciplines, and it is common for chemists and materials scientists to work on teams with other scientists, such as biologists and physicists, computer specialists, and engineers. For example, in pharmaceutical research, chemists may work with biologists to develop new drugs and with engineers to design ways to mass produce the new drugs.
If you are enjoying your classes about the environment and human health, then you might consider a career as an environmental scientist or specialist. People with these careers may clean up polluted areas, advise policy makers, or work with industry to reduce waste.
Typically, environmental scientists and specialists work in offices and laboratories. Some may spend time in the field gathering data and monitoring environmental conditions firsthand. Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time.
To become an environmental scientist or specialist, you would need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science or science-related field for most entry-level jobs.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the job outlook for environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, is expected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists.
Environmental scientists and specialists typically determine data collection methods for research projects, investigations, and surveys. They collect and compile environmental data from samples of air, soil, water, food, and other materials for scientific analysis, and they analyze samples, surveys, and other information to identify and assess threats to the environment.
In addition, environmental scientists and specialists develop plans to prevent, control, or fix environmental problems, such as land or water pollution. They provide information and guidance to government officials, businesses, and the general public on possible environmental hazards and health risks. They also prepare technical reports and presentations that explain their research and findings.
Environmental scientists and specialists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions. For example, many environmental scientists and specialists work to reclaim lands and waters that have been contaminated by pollution. Others assess the risks that new construction projects pose to the environment and make recommendations to governments and businesses on how to minimize the environmental impact of these projects. Environmental scientists and specialists may do research and provide advice on manufacturing practices, such as advising against the use of chemicals that are known to harm the environment.
The U.S. federal government and many state and local governments have regulations to ensure that there is clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and no hazardous materials in the soil. The regulations also place limits on development, particularly near sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands. Many environmental scientists and specialists work for the government to ensure that these regulations are followed. Other environmental scientists and specialists work for consulting firms that help companies comply with regulations and policies. Some environmental scientists and specialists focus on environmental regulations that are designed to protect people’s health, while others focus on regulations designed to minimize society’s impact on the environment.
If you enjoy studying the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact, consider a career as a physicist or astronomer. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Physicists and astronomers in applied fields may develop new military technologies or new sources of energy, or monitor space debris that could endanger satellites.
You will need many years of education to pursue these careers. Physicists and astronomers need a Ph.D. for most research jobs. Many physics and astronomy Ph.D. holders typically begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. Physicists and astronomers spend much of their time working in offices, but they also conduct research in laboratories and observatories. Most people with these careers work full time.
Employment of physicists and astronomers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Expected growth in federal government spending for physics and astronomy research should increase the need for physicists and astronomers, especially at colleges, universities, and national laboratories.
Typical physicists and astronomers develop scientific theories and models that attempt to explain the properties of the natural world, such as atom formation or the force of gravity. They plan and conduct scientific experiments and studies to test theories and discover properties of matter and energy.
In addition, they do complex mathematical calculations to analyze physical and astronomical data (such as data that may indicate the existence of planets in distant solar systems); design new scientific equipment, such as telescopes and lasers; and develop computer software to analyze and model data. Physicists and astronomers write scientific papers that may be published in scholarly journals, and present research findings at scientific conferences and lectures.
Physicists explore the fundamental properties and laws that govern space, time, energy, and matter. Some physicists study theoretical areas, such as the fundamental properties of atoms and molecules and the evolution of the universe. Others design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers. Through observation and analysis, they try to discover and formulate laws that explain the forces of nature, such as gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear interactions. Others apply their knowledge of physics to practical areas, such as the development of advanced materials and medical equipment.
Astronomers study planets, stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies. They use ground-based equipment, such as radio and optical telescopes, and space-based equipment, such as the Hubble Space Telescope. With these they make observations and collect data on the motions, compositions, and other properties of the objects they study. Some astronomers focus their research on objects in our own solar system, such as the sun or planets. Others study distant stars, galaxies, and phenomena such as neutron stars and black holes, and some monitor space debris that could interfere with satellite operations.
Many physicists and astronomers do basic research with the aim of increasing scientific knowledge. These researchers may attempt to develop theories that better explain what gravity is or how the universe works or was formed. Other physicists and astronomers do applied research. They use the knowledge gained from basic research to develop new devices, processes, and other practical applications. Their work may lead to advances in areas such as energy, electronics, communications, navigation, and medical technology. Because of these workers, lasers can now be used in surgery and microwave ovens are in most kitchens.
Astronomers and physicists typically work on research teams with engineers, technicians, and other scientists. Some senior astronomers and physicists may be responsible for assigning tasks to other team members and monitoring their progress. They may also be responsible for finding funding for their projects and therefore may need to write applications for research grants.
To learn more about these careers in science, or careers in many other fields, visit the U.S. Department of Labor website.