Scientific research and development advances understanding of the workings of the world and contributes to the latest technologies. From identifying how cells in the body interact to designing faster and quieter cars, scientific research and development positively affects all people in their daily lives. The field of scientific research and development can be broken down into three basic aspects: Basic Research, Applied Research, and Development.
Basic research involves conducting experiments to prove or disprove a theory without any direct application. Not all experiments will yield the desired results, and so basic research can often be challenging.
Applied research involves using information gathered through basic research and applying it to real world situations in order to improve or solve a certain situation. For example, applied research may involve using information about antibodies in order to help the eventual creation of a vaccine, although this research will not ultimately generate a final product.
Development takes applied research one step further by using the information garnered from applied research to create a product that is immediately usable. For example, a private industry may fund a development task to create a small MP3 player given information reaped from applied research in the field of electronics.
Scientific Research and Development can be conducted for any number of purposes. The government, hospitals, universities, nonprofit organizations, private industries, and any other company involved with science or technology may fund a research and development project. Ultimately, scientific research and development serves the community by advancing knowledge of medicine, technology, and the world in general.
What They Do:
There are many different roles involved in scientific research and development depending upon the project goal and individual’s expertise. Some scientific research and development projects will result in compiling data, while others will complete the project with the creation of a tangible product. Furthermore, some individuals are hired to physically conduct experiments while some are hired to oversee the progress of the research project.
Scientific research and development teams conduct experiments and complete studies to advance the knowledge of a specific field, product, phenomenon or object. It ultimately results in the creation of new technologies that improve the understanding and quality of life. For every scientific field there is specific research and development. Most individuals involved in R&D work with teams in offices or laboratories; however, the environment in which an experiment must be conducted may vary in both location and time. For example, biomedical research is typically conducted in a hospital.
Roughly 20% of the industry is involved in the management and business aspect of R&D as opposed to the physical science.
- Biotechnology - Work in this field studies the basic processes of cellular life to advance the knowledge and technologies of medicine and other biological products and processes.
- Nanotechnology - Nanotechnology studies molecules, such as DNA tagging. In this field an R&D team can experiment with structures of molecules to create new ones.
- Medical R&D - Scientists in this field research diseases and health problems to create better means of disease prevention and treatment.
- Pharmaceutical R&D - Work in this field leads to the discovery of new pharmaceutical drugs such as antibiotics and vaccines.
- Chemical and Materials Science R&D - This field of R&D attempts to create or design new molecules for the purpose of making new chemical structures that can aid materials development. This research can advance the technologies used in a variety of fields from environmental science to computer manufacturing.
- Electronics R&D - This field involves advancing understanding of electric systems that can advance technologies that rely upon electric circuits such as telecommunications and medical sensing.
- Aerospace R&D - Aerospace R&D studies the processes involved in all components of aeromechanics and designs. The majority of this research is federally funded by the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
- Automotive R&D - This field of R&D attempts to integrate new technologies with existing knowledge of vehicles and vehicular components to create more efficient systems.
Experience in the field is key to landing a job in this industry. Hopkins undergraduates, while in college, may gain relevant experience by working in labs on-campus, at the medical institutions, the JHU Applied Physics laboratory, or as interns at organizations in the scientific research and development services industry. Individuals may enter the field as technicians with the option of advancing to a position with less supervision.
Senior Researchers head research projects of their own design. A senior researcher is responsible for devising the objective for and design of an experiment.
Scientists complete the physical task of the experiment according to the guidelines set by the Senior Researcher. This may involve any number of general lab skills and the scientist must focus on minimizing the margin of error.
Science and engineering technicians work directly under a scientist, engineer, or other senior researcher. Science technicians, also called research assistants, aid scientists in the physical aspects of research that may include recording results, monitoring experiments, of collecting data from a variety of sources. Engineering technicians work in the design aspects of research, be it designing molecular structures or research equipment.
Computer specialists work with new and existing theories of computing to create more efficient computer programs and operating systems.
Engineering specialists work with an R&D team to create and assemble efficient equipment or processes for the experiment.
Natural Science and Engineering Managers oversee research projects to keep the team focused and on schedule. Natural science managers may oversee basic research while engineering managers typically monitor development projects. Both types of managers may develop a budget or use their knowledge to act as a go-between for the scientists and top management.
Self-employment is less common in this field simply because of the sheer cost of research and development tools and resources.
What Employers Want:
More than anything else, employers look for creativity in potential employees. New researchers are often expected to conjure up new research projects or designs.
Depending upon the type of scientific R&D, employers may look for specific lab skills that relate to the research such as experience with cell culture and analysis for a biology position, or experience using CAD for a design position. Working in a lab is the best way for an undergraduate student to get exposure to and develop a variety of general lab, technical, and data analysis skills employers want.
Along with keen teamwork and leadership skills, knowledge of other fields related to scientific R&D such as business and marketing is desirable. In addition, good oral and written communications are integral to this field for the publication of completed research. Other skills and characteristics that employers value include patience, perseverance, and ability to work independently.
Over 70% of individuals in the field have a bachelor’s degree or higher. In most cases; however, the position of senior researcher may only be obtained by an individual with a Ph.D. degree. Ph.D. degree holders are encouraged to complete a post-doc, a period of academic research that immediately follows the attainment of the degree. These individuals typically enter the field as senior researchers who design their own experiments.
Furthermore, throughout a person’s career in an R&D team, continued training in new technologies is a necessity. This training may include attending conferences, reading journals regularly, or on-the-job training.
Scientific R&D teams exist in all states and within all industries; however, California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, and Michigan house the vast majority of R&D work. Great growth is expected in this field within all sections, but especially in information technology and biological sciences.
Susan Herman- Assistant Professor of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Classics and Biology, Class of 1989
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I was somewhat interested in entering medicine when I started at Hopkins, but wanted to make sure that I got a broad education, not just pre-med. I therefore chose to major in Classics, an excellent decision. I chose to go to medical school after an elective junior year in pediatric urology at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I obtained my MD at Columbia University. I had a work study job in the Neurology Department doing data entry and chart reviews, which led to my participation in a study of spasmodic dysphonia and several publications. I chose Neurology as a field because of the potential for clinical research, and because of opportunities for long-term relationships with patients.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Neurology resident at Columbia University - yes.
- What advice do you have for current students? - Keep your eyes out for new opportunities - sometimes the unexpected path turns out to be the best!
- What is your typical day like? - I spend about 50% of my time in direct patient care. My subspecialty is in epilepsy, so I make rounds in an inpatient epilepsy monitoring unit, see patients in clinic, and read electroencephalograms. I spend 20% of my time doing administrative work and teaching. I run the EEG lab and epilepsy monitoring unit, and am the associate director of the neurology residency program. Finally, 30% of my time is in clinical research. So, my typical day is long and busy!
- What’s most rewarding about your field? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: The ability to teach neurology residents and fellows, and the opportunity to make research breakthroughs in epilepsy. Challenging: Competing demands on time from clinical and research areas.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - Many premedical students work as clinical research assistants or in a research laboratory to gain experience in the field. Medical school, residency, fellowship. Sorry!
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Many new drugs and treatments, increasing the emphasis on patient outcomes.
Theodore R. Carski- Corporate Medical Director, Becton, Dickinson & Co.Chemistry, Class of 1952, M.D. 1956
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Parental influence (father was a chemist) Entered as pre-med, graduated as pre-med with acceptance to med school.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Military deferment during school and internship then US Public Health Service for 3 years. Then R&D job with Becton Dickison. Promotions and increasing responsibility over 34 years with same company.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - Medical school immediately after college.
- What advice do you have for current students? - Get your parents money's worth. Sit in the front of the classroom. Participate and learn all you can. Get the best grades possible. Might not be fun but it will be worth it in the long run.
- What is your typical day like? - No typical day. Variety of domestic and foreign travel, scientific and company meetings, preparation of publications, interface with employees, government authorities and customers.
- What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? Rewarding: Responsibility for quality of products that improve the health of the world - with income that provided a comfortable life for my family. Challenging: Unsolved medical and scientific problems.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Stay in school as long as you can. If you must work go to school part time. Get advanced degrees. Always tell the truth.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Medicine and science are here to stay. Both will continue to provide opportunity and growth.
Sofia Lizarraga- Postdoctoral Scholar, Harvard Medical School Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology, 1996, PhD, 2003
- How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Yes, I always wanted to do research in developmental biology.
- What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I did undergraduate research, then took time off to go to the NIH to do research for a year and got into graduate school.
- What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I was a research assistant at the NI. It was in immunology, not my current field.
- What advice do you have for current students? - To explore as many career options as they can by attending workshops, getting informed and to always believe in themselves.
- What is your typical day like? - I am a postdoc right now, so its long days in the lab with a 70% component of bench work and the rest is reading and writing.
- What's most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - Rewarding: learning new things and being creative with my science. Challenging: getting funding and publishing papers.
- What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Entry level positions for people without a PhD are usually research assistant positions. I would advise students to work hard and be enthusiastic.
- Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - I think towards the systems biology and synthetic biology fields and of course neuroscience.
- What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Take graduate classes in your field of interest and do research in a lab.
Additional Alumni Profiles
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Industry /Professional Organizations:
Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.
Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.
If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.