Love Science? : Career Paths in Research

An in depth analysis of the different roles, expectations, and career paths involved with research. 

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In the field of STEM, there are many different avenues to explore when becoming a researcher. The variety of styles and methods used in scientific research can allow for a more broad spectrum of applicants to find their footing in the scientific community. Though the positions available to researchers vary quite a bit in regards to their duties and expectations, it can be easy to confuse the different career options. Hopefully the following will help to clarify some of the ambiguity regarding the proximity and boundaries of the roles carried out by the particular class of researcher. 

One common position that can be held in research is that of a professional research assistant. Research assistant positions often require applicants to hold at minimum a bachelor’s degree in their field, with some even preferring as much as a master’s degree. As a research assistant, you are expected to have a great deal of organizational ability as the position requires you to be able to balance multiple tasks at once. For example, a few tasks that a lab assistant may be in charge of might include scheduling meetings, analyzing lab data in a cohesive manner, dealing with patient interaction if the lab requires it, making sure that lab supply material is available, and orienting new lab members.  Research assistants work closely with the lead investigator of their lab and usually have their own personal research that they are working on as well. 

 Salaries can vary based on location and the education of the researcher. For example, in Houston, research assistants normally make  between $56,700 and $76,300 with a median income of $66,000. For comparison, research assistants in Los Angeles make between $62,600 and $84,200, with a median income of $72,900. In New York, researchers make between $66,600 and $89,500, with a median income of  $77,500. The increase of salary in larger cities no doubt to reflect the cost of living in those more populated areas. 

Another position in research is that of a research associate. Just like research assistant positions, research associate positions require at minimum a bachelor’s degree. Positions vary from entry level to some requiring a few years of previous experience. Research assistants are designated tasks by the lead researcher and research assistant of their lab which heavily involves analyzing data created by the lab and creating an organized manner to view it, along with including new research data as it is created. Along with analyzing and organizing new data, research associates also typically have their own research that they are doing. In Houston, research associates make between  $56,878 and $72,059 with a median salary of  $64,155. Again using the same cities as an example, researchers in Los Angeles make between $62,759 and $79,509 with a median income of $70,788. In comparison, research associates in New York make between $66,755 and $84,573  with a median income of $75,296. 

Unlike research associates and research assistants, the academic requirements for clinical research coordinators (CRC) vary from different positions. Some positions require a minimum of an associate degree, while other positions require a bachelor’s degree with a preference for a master’s degree.This vast difference in educational requirements is based on what kind of research is taking place in the lab.  Clinical research coordinators work in tandem with the lead investigator to create a more efficient workspace. While the lead investigator is in charge of the creation, design, and overall management, the clinical research coordinator assists and organizes the majority of lab duties. Examples of this include the coordination of clinical trial patient appointments, weekly meetings, and ensuring that all lab members are apprised of new developments in the research. The clinical research coordinator is also in charge of reporting to their sponsors and institution various financial and legal compliance related issues. In Houston, clinical research coordinators make between $56,677 and $76,225 with a median income of  65,990. Comparatively, clinical research coordinators in New York make between $66,519 and $89,463 with a median salary of $77,449. 

Research scientists require the most academic requirements, as the majority of positions require a minimum of either a doctoral degree in their field or a medical degree and/ or 1-2 years of research experience. Research scientists, also known as lead investigators or principal investigators are designated with the tasks of independently designing and running experiments, analyzing data, present research, managing orientation of new lab members, as well as other duties. Research scientists are the most important part of a lab as they are the creative mind behind the research topic. Without them, the lab will have no direction and experiments to complete. In Houston, research scientists make between $85,951 and $118,144 with a median salary of 99,112. In comparison, research scientists in Los Angeles make between $94,838 and $130,359 and a median salary of 109,360. In New York, research scientists make between $100,877 and $138,660 and a median income of  116,324. 

As you can see, the various responsibilities and tasks delegated to the various research positions differ quite a bit. These careers allow for a variety of research to take place in all fields of science as they are the framework of any good research lab. They facilitate the pursuit of knowledge by ensuring the proper collection and documentation of research. Each member contributes a great deal to the lab and without each member, running a lab would be immensely difficult. 

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