Career Profile:


Basic researchers and translational researchers are involved in the research process within science and medicine through the study of ‘science for science sake’ to determine general scientific principles without involving clinical trials. Other researchers extend research by applying it directly to medical practice through clinical trials or working with samples taken from patients on clinical trials.

Basic researchers are critical members of research teams.  As a basic researcher, you will work in laboratories, university libraries, and in various medical settings to conduct research within a specific field. You may work on model organisms such as worms, fish or yeast to evaluate a biological problem. As a translational researcher, you will conduct research in similar settings.  You will develop clinical trials or work with a clinician who writes clinical trials to test your findings in medical settings.  From there, your findings will be utilized in medical practice with the expectation of generating real world health outcomes in the form of new medicines and innovative treatments, diagnosis, or prevention. You may work directly with a pharmaceutical company and provide results from the clinical trial for new medications to that company.  As a principal investigator, you may obtain a grant to perform your work and need to abide by specific regulations or guidelines. You may also need to document goals met at specific intervals and be held accountable by the grant issuing agency.  As the principal investigator, you may lead a team of researchers.  You will break down the research project into smaller tasks and assign tasks to researchers.

Where You Work

As a basic researcher, you may work in a lab in a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company, office, or university setting.  As a translational researcher, you will work in a lab in a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company,  a university setting, a clinical setting, or a hospital.

How You Help

As a basic researcher, you will work with other scientists and research staff in your day to day career. As a translational researcher, you will work with scientists, research staff, and doctors to help “translate” research findings into effective treatments for cancer patients.  As a researcher, your work will contribute greatly to the larger body of medical knowledge and impact patient treatment, prevention, and diagnosis in a meaningful way. Unlike physicians who treat a limited number of people who are seen in their office, researchers can help a large number of people when their work is applied around the world.

Helpful High School Courses

  • Medicine
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Statistics

Skills to Build

  • Ability to think critically, analyze details and dissect information
  • Strong background in science and medicine
  • A team player with strong communication skills
  • Ability to focus and concentrate for long periods


  • Making a difference in the lives and wellness of others
  • Making significant discoveries in health and medicine that are long lasting
  • Solving complex world problems in medicine


  • Requires patience, diligence, and a willingness to take risks
  • Long working hours
  • Competition among peers
  • Difficulty acquiring funding for projects

Education You Need

A PhD in a science and medical related field is required to do research. A training period known as a postdoctoral fellowship lasting 2-6 years is done to become a principal investigator.

A Day in the Life

  • 8:00
    Prepare slides for an upcoming presentation to graduate students
  • 9:00
    Hold a research meeting with members of your lab to discuss results and challenges in a specific project
  • 10:00
    Contact collaborator from another institution for a new project
  • 11:30
    Strategize and communicate research plan for self and team on the new project
  • 1:00
    Meet with graduate student in lab to track progress and troubleshoot a difficult experiment
  • 1:30
    Develop outline for a manuscript being prepared by a lab member
  • 2:00
    Conduct on-line literature search related to the new project
  • 3:00
    Review current grant project requirements to measure accountability
  • 4:00
    Attend your weekly institute-sponsored seminar by a world-renowned scientist
  • 5:00
    Submit abstract to be presented at a national meeting

Average Annual Salary Range

  • Basic Research Scientist is $59,000-$94,000*
  • Principal Investigator Research Scientist is $82,000-$120,000*
  • Translational Researcher is $66,265-$100,470*

Learn More

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* Actual salary dependent on education, experience, location, and other variables