Jan 29 2020

What Do Life Science Researchers Do?




Life is an ongoing process that takes place at every conceivable level. Humans may be too busy to notice that life is always happening around them—from the microorganisms on their hands to the trees they pass by, and the animals that coexist with them. To fully understand how life on earth operates, life sciences are here to provide clarity.

Life sciences, as the name suggests, are concerned about every type of living thing in existence. From the most minuscule of organisms to the largest life forms that ever graced the earth, there’s a branch of life science that’s dedicated to studying them in great detail.

Various Fields in the Life Sciences

People typically just accept life as it is, but life scientists marvel at all the complex life processes that are particularly close to their hearts and their research interests. Their journey likely started at an early age, when the world around them piqued so much of their curiosity.

You probably won’t know what you really want to specialize in until after you finish your first year of undergraduate studies. In any case, applying and getting accepted in your dream university can make your choice a lot easier, especially if you’ve researched what their strengths are.

Listed below are some of the fields that life scientists get into. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are the most common paths they take:
1. Biochemistry

Biochemistry is the integration of life sciences and chemical sciences. It aims to study the various chemical reactions that occur at the cellular and molecular level. Here are some examples of what biochemists study:

  • How organisms convert food to energy
  • The chemical components of heredity
  • The essential chemical changes that occur when living things catch illnesses

If you’re interested in applying chemical concepts to the study of life, biochemistry may be a great subfield for you to get into.

2. Botany

Botany is a field of life science that focuses on plants. “Plants” refer to flowering plants, ferns, conifers, mosses, lichens, algae, and fungi. Because there’s so much to study about plants, like cell structures, emerging species, or their evolution, botany is one of those fields that have numerous subfields of its own.

3. Ecology

Ecology focuses on how every organism interacts with each other and their environment. It studies how each organism relates to its population and community, as well as to the entire ecosystem and the biosphere. Ecologists are concerned about how ecosystems operate and maintain their balance.

4. Entomology

Do you have an undeniable fascination for insects? If so, you’ll probably shine in the field of entomology, otherwise known as the study of insects. Some entomologists work closely with biologists, chemists, and agriculturalists to develop suitable substances for pest control. Meanwhile, others focus on the role of insects in various ecosystems.

5. Epidemiology

Epidemiology examines how diseases progress and how they affect various types of people. It also seeks to question why some communities are more prone to certain diseases compared to others. Research in epidemiology is aimed at creating long-term strategies to manage and prevent illnesses from further developing.

6. Genetics

Genetics examines heredity. It studies how particular traits are passed down from one generation to the next. It also includes the mechanisms that genes go through so organisms can aptly adapt to their immediate environment.

7. Microbiology

Microbiology studies living things that can’t be seen by the naked eye. Examples of which include single-celled organisms, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses.

Despite their microscopic size, microorganisms are vital for maintaining the balance of ecosystems. By carefully studying what they can do, people can seek their help for minimizing pollution or even creating revolutionary life-saving medications.

8. Paleontology

Paleontology studies fossils and examines clues on how these once-alive life forms lived their lives thousands or even millions of years ago. Although paleontology belongs to geology more than it does in life sciences, the way it studies rocks and the preserved remains of organisms gives humans a better understanding of how past eras on earth relate to what earth is today.

In having a clearer picture of the past, it becomes easier to understand why currently existing life forms operate the way they do.

9. Physiology

Physiology studies the processes that help life forms stay alive. It aims to understand how all the parts of an organism’s body or structure work together to keep it functioning properly. It also takes a look at how external environments affect these mechanisms.

10. Zoology

Zoology is the umbrella field that studies all of the members of the animal kingdom. Some zoologists choose to focus on certain animals and the communities that surround them, while others are interested in learning how new species emerge. Overall, they care to know how and why animals behave a certain way, and how it relates to everything else as a whole.

Life Science Research Interests

The fields listed above are the general paths of study in the life sciences, but you can further narrow down your research interests by getting into these subfields:

  • Biomedicine
  • Biotechnology
  • Cancer biology
  • Developmental biology
  • Genomics
  • Infectious diseases
  • Neurosciences
  • Pharmacology
  • Stem cell research
  • Structural biology
  • Virology

Aside from these traditional specializations, tech research has also now been added to the mix because of the roles technology now plays in life science studies and developments. This can be seen in how collaboration and data sharing has become a lot easier because of websites like ARTiFACTS.ai.

Where Do Life Science Graduates Usually Go for Employment?

Because life scientists can specialize in a variety of fields, you’ll also tend to find them in different settings. Generally, they work in classrooms, laboratories, hospitals, various animals’ natural habitats, and now, even in tech start-ups. The types of institutions that employ them include universities, government departments, pharmaceutical companies, research facilities, tech institutes, and food and beverage companies.

These days, there’s a growing need for life sciences to be integrated with data science because of the extensiveness of ongoing studies. As a result, some life scientists have begun teaming up with tech experts to solve issues about the storage of massive data.

Hence, if you’re interested in both life sciences and technology, you can also try getting into tech companies that focus on creating apps and software for data and life scientists. Your knowledge in life sciences will especially be invaluable not just to developers, but also to the various professionals in your field.

Although an undergraduate degree is typically enough to start with, most employers would look for a researcher who has a postgraduate degree or is currently enrolled in one that studies their preferred specialty—something that depends on the institution you’re applying at. Researchers would stand to benefit career-wise once they focus on a particular specialization.

Pursuing a Career as a Life Science Researcher

Life science researchers are responsible for creating research programs and overseeing experiments that aim to improve the lives of their target communities. Hence, most employers would prefer an applicant that already has a research-based master’s or doctorate degree, or is currently working to complete one.

Since higher-level roles typically require graduate studies, some employers may have slots for those who have a bachelor’s degree, provided that they study part-time for a graduate course so they can be qualified for promotion.

The starting salaries for a life science researcher in academia and in commercial settings are quite comparable. However, salaries of senior-level roles in the private sector are usually higher, especially if you’re working in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields.

Preferred Skills for Thriving in the Field

You already have the passion to succeed in your chosen subfield in life science, but that passion needs to be accompanied by various skills for you to thrive there long-term. Listed below are the skills that will help you have a fulfilling career in the life sciences:

  • Ability and confidence to work on tasks independently
  • Ability to analyze and process data in a methodical manner
  • Superb problem-solving skills, especially when proposing research and conducting experiments
  • Reliable time-management skills
  • Excellent organizational skills, which are particularly needed when it comes to presenting reports and important data
  • Interest in collaborating with researchers, both within their own field and in other subfields
  • Patience and dedication to start and finish research projects
  • Great writing and oral communication skills
  • Willingness to build solid networks not just with colleagues from the organization, but also those from external institutions

It’ll definitely be a plus if you already have all of these skills. However, if you realize that you’re lacking in some aspects, it’s time for you to work on those weaknesses so you can further enhance the strengths that you already have.

Knowledge and previous experience in laboratory settings will also boost your chances of getting accepted as a life science researcher. Gaining academic and industry experience is a good way for you to get accustomed to different working environments.

General Responsibilities

A researcher’s responsibilities may differ depending on their field, work position in the organization, or type of work environment. Generally, any type of life science researcher will have to do the following:

  • Be responsible for experiments and relay its results to their colleagues
  • Publish experiment findings in reputable journals
  • Collaborate with other experts to fine-tune the results of the experiment
  • Go on fieldworks
  • Create research proposals, or help colleagues and superiors to devise one
  • Perform peer reviews of published papers and test their frameworks and theories
  • Stay updated with the latest improvements in the field, as well as the ongoing work of other researchers
  • Attend field-related conferences locally and internationally

As you may notice, there’s a big need for life science researchers to be constantly updated with the latest advancements in their field, as well as in other related disciplines. That’s because the life sciences hardly remain static. Living things are always changing, and some do so at a much faster rate compared to others.

There will never be a shortage of new concepts to learn and experiment with. After all, nothing is totally absolute in science. Theories that were once true yesterday can eventually be disproven by a new phenomenon that has become more obvious to the life scientists of today.

The job of a researcher may seem boring on paper, but if you’re the type of person who finds joy in chasing new knowledge every day, then being a life science researcher may be something that you’d excel in.

Career Expectations

As a researcher, most of your work will be based in the laboratory, although some projects will require you to head into the field to gather the necessary data. If the projects you’re involved in are multidisciplinary collaborations, you may need to travel to and from your colleague’s offices.

Researchers are typically hired with a fixed-term contract that entails a fixed amount of funding. These contracts last for many years since the subjects of the research generally need long timeframes to produce results.

Overseas travel can be expected, especially if you’re employed in a life science company that has international universities and offices. In such situations, collaboration with researchers from other branches is common.

How your work plays out will ultimately depend on the demands of your chosen life science field. The life of a researcher will certainly not be easy, but as long as it remains fulfilling to you in some way, you’ll be able to rise above the challenges.

A Keen Interest in Life Makes a Great Life Science Researcher

Life on earth will continue to evolve even after this generation is long gone. And with that, humans will never lose their desire to understand how life on earth works—and how it once worked before. While life science researchers of today are studying all that they can for their passion’s fulfillment, they’ll also be leaving their legacies to the bright life scientists of the future.

No matter what level of life you’re interested in, there’ll be a field in the life sciences that you’ll thoroughly enjoy and feel at home with. If you can comfortably imagine yourself working in any of the fields listed above, and you also have this innate and constant desire to learn, you’ll have no trouble fulfilling the role of a life science researcher.