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What Does a Scientist Do?

By Eugene P.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A scientist is a person who explores and examines aspects of the physical world to better understand how they function. It is a generic term encompassing a wide range of fields. All scientists have some type of specialization, such as the human body or the oceans, which provides them with a more formal and specific title. The process of exploration and discovery for a scientist follows a strict set of rules known as the scientific method. This method ensures that new discoveries are confirmed as factual and not just speculation.

The primary duties of a scientist in any field are exploration and research. In different settings, this can mean different things. A scientist who specializes in microbiology could study new bacteria, while a scientist who studies the atmosphere could research the patterns of the wind. The ultimate goal is always to add knowledge to the larger scientific community and help to fuel new discoveries in the future.

Some scientists, such as geologists, spend most of their time outdoors, physically exploring the target of their research. Other scientists, such as a physicist studying how particles interact, spend most of their time in a laboratory. There also are fields where both are required.

Depending on the field of study, the actual job a scientist performs can vary greatly. Doctors studying a new illness will be treating patients and performing studies on cultures and blood samples. An astrophysicist will spend time performing calculations and constructing computer models.

While a scientist can work in any field of study, they also can work for a range of employers. There are large companies that hire scientists to help with their products and projects. There also are governmental organizations that require scientists. Universities and colleges employ scientists to teach and research. Some scientists are able to secure research grants independently or join a funded scientific project and spend their time working toward a defined goal.

Being a scientist requires a very good education. This usually means a earning a doctorate in the chosen field. In many cases, it also means finding internships during school that can provide hands-on experience with the equipment and data that will eventually be the tools of the trade. Many scientists regularly publish their findings or notes from their work, adding to their credentials.

Some scientists, such as a clinical pathologist, might require official certifications. Others might only need membership in a professional association. The requirements and duties of scientists are as broad and diverse as the areas in which they study.

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Discussion Comments
By snickerish — On Sep 27, 2011

I had a teacher of anthropology in college, who also was a lead researcher/scientist in the anthropology field at the university. He was from South America, so we learned much about his culture through him, which was very interesting.

He is one of the teachers I remember well. He was just so knowledgeable and such a great teacher. I really looked up to him and his professionalism. He was so intelligent, yet seemed so humble. He would give us difficult books that made little sense to me to read though! We would have in class study sessions, which was nerve-wracking and helpful.

It also probably helped that I was really into anthropology then and was thinking of being an anthropologist. I still dream of what it would be like to study cultures and answer questions that I and others may have about each other.

By geekish — On Sep 27, 2011

A scientist in any field seems to be very rewarding. It would be awesome to be able to have your own questions answered, and be able to inform the world as well.

We often think of doctors as the one's who save lives, but scientists do too. They are the ones working day in and day out to find a cure for many diseases.

Scientists also help educate us, and education is very important. Without scientists working long hours to find answers to relevant and sometimes life threatening questions, there would be far less of us on earth and far less of us would be highly educated.

By ceilingcat — On Sep 27, 2011

@JaneAir - I have a friend who is a chemist, and she does have a very inquisitive mind!

I think it's cool that scientists can work somewhere besides academia. I always picture a scientist working at a college or something, teaching classes and doing research at the same time. I never imagined businesses would hire scientists. But I guess some scientists have inquisitive minds and also like to make a good live. Nothing wrong with that!

By JaneAir — On Sep 27, 2011

Whenever I think of a scientist, I always think of the scientific method. I remember learning about it in school. It is the proper way to conduct an experiment so you get results that are true. I believe all scientists use the scientific method.

The scientific method makes a lot of sense too, because it begins by asking a question. I think that's really what motivates most scientists: they have questions about things and they want to find some answers!

By cloudel — On Sep 27, 2011

As a child, I wanted to be a scientist one day. At the time, I had no idea that I would have to choose a certain field of study. I simply loved playing with microscopes and telescopes.

I loved outer space, so for awhile, I wanted to be an astronomer. My science project involved botany, so I went through a phase where I thought I wanted to be a botanist. I grew out of it and eventually studied graphic design instead.

Although I abandoned my childhood dream, I have a friend who did become a scientist, and she went to school for many years. Once she got her degree, she still couldn’t find a job anywhere but at the university where she studied, and it didn’t pay a lot.

The problem was that she wasn’t willing to move to another state. Our area doesn’t have a demand for scientists, and though she could have gotten a high paying job elsewhere, she didn’t want to leave her family.

By seag47 — On Sep 26, 2011

My brother-in-law is a scientist, and his field of study is marine biology. He loves his work, and he often has to travel to conduct research.

After catastrophes like oil spills, he has to go to the scene of the event and gather marine species to study. He observes and records the effects that the oil is having on the different creatures.

He says he never gets bored with his job, because he is always doing something different. He gets to visit new places and study creatures native to those places. His years of study and experience have given him the knowledge he needs for a wide array of situations.

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