When it comes to pursuing a career as a scientist, not even the sky is the limit. You could qualify to fly aboard the international space station 250 miles above Earth. Or explore the depths of the oceans in exotically equipped submersibles. Scientists apply their knowledge to solve crimes, help protect the environment, and cure diseases.
Scientists are in demand in nearly every field - with the possible exception of "mad scientists," who've had a harder time finding work since Hollywood stopped making drive-in movies. Higher education, typically a master's degree or PhD, is a must to reach the pinnacle of the scientific field you choose. However, there are a number of opportunities that can be tapped with as little as a two-year degree.
Here are some hot job markets in the sciences that are expected to see strong demand for the next decade.
Environmental Health and Safety
Undergraduates wishing to pursue a career in science may want to consider the growing field of environmental health and safety. Specialists in the field identify and reduce environmental and safety risks in a wide variety of organizations. A recent report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said job growth within the field should hover around 20 percent through 2010.
The more we become aware of how the environment affects our daily lives, the more demand there is for specialists who can certify the safety of workplaces, schools and public buildings, according to Dr. Richard Levinson, associate director of the American Public Health Association in Washington, DC.
It's an interdisciplinary field, and can range from checking how a factory is affecting the local environment and its employees, to making sure office workers have ergonomic keyboards, computer screens and chairs so they don't suffer from ailments like repetitive stress disorder.
Public Health departments, both federal and local, are the traditional employers for environmental health and safety specialists, but more private-sector companies are hiring as well to ensure the safety of their workers, while improving productivity.
"The demand for this kind of expertise is very large, growing, and will grow further as our understanding of the environment increases," Levinson notes.
With the popular CBS drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" drawing millions of viewers every week, forensic scientists are more high profile than ever. Forensic scientists help the judicial system by providing impartial information for both prosecutors and defense attorneys so juries can make appropriate decisions.
"Forensic science gives back to our communities by applying the principles of science and technology for the purposes of justice," says Jim Hurley, director of development at the American Academy of Forensic Studies in Colorado Springs. "It's a field that has, unfortunately, a never-ending lineup of activities."
For example, the emergence of DNA as a tool to solve murders or exonerate convicted criminals means qualified forensic technicians will have backlogs of work for years to come, according to Hurley.
Forensic science covers a variety of fields from toxicology to odontology, the study of teeth to identify victims. An emerging field is wildlife forensics, where scientific sleuths are brought in to solve poaching problems, wildlife trafficking or violations of the Endangered Species Act.
A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement to become a forensic scientist. A handful of California universities offer undergraduate courses or certificates.
Becoming a lab tech may be the easiest way to launch a science career. Two-year technical schools and community colleges offer certificates for different types of lab work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 10 to 20-percent growth in demand for laboratory technicians in all fields through 2010. Average hourly salaries start from $13 for agricultural and food science technicians to $28.50 for a nuclear technician. (Who knew Homer Simpson made that kind of money?)
There may even be some lab openings for those with only a high school education, notes Brian Margarita, business development manager for TalentLab, a San Diego-based headhunting firm.
"That might be something like cleaning out the cages of research animals," he concedes, adding that starting wages for such a position might still be in the neighborhood of $13 per hour. For someone on a career path, a bachelor's degree in biology or chemistry is a must, he says.
Anyone who reads a daily newspaper knows the biotechnology industry is exploding. Headline-grabbing, high-profile areas like DNA mapping, stem-cell research and cloning are controversial, exciting fields.
A slightly less glamorous pursuit - drug manufacturing - is also booming. Jobs in the pharmaceutical field are expected to increase by about 24 percent in this decade, compared with 16 percent for all industries combined, according to the BLS.
The industry is considered largely "recession proof." People don't stop being sick during hard economic times, and there are unfortunately a multitude of life-threatening diseases out there for researchers to help diagnose and treat.
The industry not only hires qualified scientists, doctors, pharmacists and researchers, but also salespeople and factory workers. Location is everything though, so you may be required to move. Just as the information technology industry is primarily located in Silicon Valley, biotech companies are concentrated in Boston, Chicago and San Diego, Margarita says. About 70 percent of all the biotech jobs are in these areas. There are, however, expanding areas of companies in South San Francisco, along the I-80 corridor around Vacaville, and by UC Davis, which has a number of biotechnology programs and research centers.
San Diego, however, is the West Coast's hot spot. "There are thousands of jobs open down here," Margarita reports. One San Diego-based biotech company went from 10 employees to 220 in the span of two and a half years.
"It's a good profession to get into," he declares, "and demand for qualified workers is only going to grow."
For more information on...
- HireRX.com - Job search, resume posting, newsletter and links to career resources and industry news.
- PharmaceuticalJobsUSA.com - Job search, resume posting and links to industry news and resources.
- PharmaJobs.com - International Pharmajobs Ltd is an Internet-based job board specializing in the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industries. Current job opportunities cover research to marketing, entry level through upper management.
Environmental Health and Safety
- Nature.com/NatureJobs - Job search engine of Naturejobs, a worldwide career magazine for scientists.
- recruit.sciencemag.org - Affiliated with Science, the official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the website is a comprehensive recruitment site, offering jobs, career advice, a resume database, meetings and announcements, and more.
- ScienceJobs.com - Job search engine for chemistry and bioscience-related positions. Website also offers e-mail alerts and has links to other science-related websites, including newsletters, journals and events.
- LaboratoryJobs.com - Job search, resume posting, job search agent, and links to resources and information. (part of HealthcareJobStore.com.)
- LabTechnicianJobs.com - Job search, resume posting, job search agent, and links to resources and information.