Scientific Research Job Outlook
Employment change. Wage and salary employment in scientific research and development services is projected to increase 9 percent between 2006 and 2016, compared with 11 percent employment growth for the economy as a whole. Biotechnology and nanotechnology will continue to attract research funding and generate employment growth. Increased demand for medical and pharmaceutical advances also will lead to growth in these areas as the population ages. While demand for new R&D is expected to continue to grow across all major fields, this industry will continue to experience rapid productivity growth as a result of advances in computer and communications systems, reducing employment opportunities. Increasing international competition should also dampen employment growth.
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Some of this slower job growth rate is attributable to the stagnation of the office and administrative support occupations, which are expected to see only modest employment growth as technology leads to greater efficiency in general office functions. Similarly slow growth is expected in other major occupational groups within the industry, but many new jobs will be created in professional occupations.
Significant job growth is expected among computer specialists, scientists, and engineers—particularly those in the life and medical sciences. With the aging of the population, the demand for lifesaving new drugs and procedures to cure and prevent disease will drive this demand. Biological scientists, for example, may be employed in biotechnology or pharmaceuticals, both growing areas. Many other scientists and engineers will be employed in defense and security R&D, also a growing field. As information technology continues to be an integral component of R&D, employment of computer specialists is expected to grow rapidly, particularly for those with some biological science background working in bioinformatics.
Job prospects. Opportunities for both scientists and engineers are expected to be best for those who have doctoral degrees, which prepare graduates for research. However, competition for basic and applied research funding is expected to be keen in all fields. Creativity is crucial, because scientists and engineers engaged in R&D are expected to propose new research or designs. For experienced scientists and engineers, it also is important to remain current and adapt to changes in technologies that may shift interest—and employment—from one area of research to another.
Most R&D programs have long project cycles that continue during economic downturns. However, funding of R&D, particularly by private industry, is closely scrutinized during these periods. Since the Federal Government provides a significant portion of all R&D funding, shifts in policy also could have a marked impact on employment opportunities, particularly in basic research and aerospace.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition
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