Life Physical And Social Science

This occupation category encompasses a vast and extensive amount of careers. If it can be studied, there will be a need for qualified professionals to tackle the job. This area of study, includes the physical, cultural, and biological agents and processes that make up life and earth. If that seems like an overwhelming task requiring endless years of science classes, it doesn't have to be. Naturally, a solid education in the sciences is the foundation of any career in this category, but there are many opportunities to contribute to research, preservation, and understanding of our world.

Scientists and technicians in every scientific field work towards thorough and practical understanding of everything from earthquakes to microorganisms to political systems. Biologists, historians, conservationists, psychologists, urban planners, and so many more! These professionals are responsible for the research and knowledge that contributes to everyday life, directly or indirectly. People who pursue these careers often have an innate sense of curiosity, a desire to explore and understand, to further our common knowledge. They use complex and sophisticated tools and technology; work in research labs, universities, institutions, and in the field; and they rely on solid educational foundations for their work.

A critical aspect of their work, if not the most critical, is gathering and recording data, theories, and any proof that can be found to demonstrate and explain how physical, biological, and cultural systems operate. Because so many subjects and careers belong to this category, it is difficult to accurately generalize about them. For more information on careers in this category, check out the individual career pages in our database.

Responsibilities for these careers may include:

  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Researching histories, precedents, articles, essays, publications, and other information
  • Writing academic articles for publication; proposing, presenting, and arguing hypothesis, theses, and conclusions
  • Planning studies and research projects
  • Reviewing and critiquing other research and proposals
  • Applying for grants and other sources of funding for research and development
  • Teaching and advising students in the same discipline or area of study


For even entry-level jobs as scientist and professionals, a bachelor's degree is usually the minimum accepted. Entry-level jobs tend to be very competitive, though, which is where a master's degree can be useful (although not always! Be sure to research the specific discipline you are interested in before making the decision to apply for grad school). Graduate degrees can be useful even when they are not mandated because they provide further opportunity not only for focused academic study but participation in science laboratories and training in sophisticated technologies and methodologies. For a career in research, a doctorate is usually mandated.

Another option, requiring less intensive education, is becoming a technician in one of these scientific fields. In a few cases, only a high school diploma is needed for an entry-level position, with the expectation being that much of the career training will happen on the job. Associate's degrees in the relevant subject are the most common path, but for highly technical and advanced work a bachelor's degree may be needed in order to get important, in-depth training. Community colleges and technical schools offer certificates and degrees, usually comprising relevant science and technology courses, and often math as well. Technicians with degrees may further train with more other technicians who have extensive experience so that the career education is an ongoing process.

Other experience is valuable-internships, research positions, field work, and volunteer work are all beneficial and provide practical experience that will be useful for job applications and employment. And even when certification or licensing is not required, pursuing it can be a good way to demonstrate knowledge and competence to potential employers.


  • Analytical skills Critical analysis is one of the most important abilities for someone wanting a career in the sciences. It is the job of the scientist or technician to create plans for research, observation, and data collection in ways that are effective and accurate. They must also analyze the information they collect to create broader theories and understandings that align with other known data and knowledge.
  • Communcation skills. What use is knowledge if no one but you can understand it? Scientific knowledge is meant to be shared and built upon, and crucial to that purpose is the ability to communicate data, reports, theories, and research in clear and logical fashion.
  • Computer skills. Much of the work requires research and data collection, which must then be analyzed. Computers are a critical tool in daily work. Scientists and technicians must research archives, write papers, construct models and renderings, make plans, and so much more. Fundamental computer skills are required, as are the computer applications and tools used specifically for work in their designated industry.
  • Research skills. Although the kind of research varies widely depending on the subject (research in microbiology is very different than that required in political science), being able to search for, compile, and analyze information is important; you need to be accurate and comprehensive, and these skills are typically part of formal education.
  • Organization skills. Research and data collection can take years and involve entire teams of people in the process. Keeping data and information cleanly organized is imperative to success.


The number of positions available often depends on funding; the amount that a federal, state, or other organization budgets for projects will limit opportunities. Because those decisions are influenced by competing contemporary interests, it is difficult to predict more than general industry trends. Additionally, even when there substantial growth is projected, there may still be fierce competition for jobs because that field may produce more scientists and researchers than it can actually employ. For more precise estimates, check out our individual pages for occupations in this category.

  Occupation Description Entry-Level Education 2012 Median Pay
Agricultural and food science technicians Agricultural and food science technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists by performing duties such as measuring and analyzing the quality of food and agricultural products.'

Associate's degree $34,070
Agricultural and food scientists Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and food scientists work to ensure that agricultural establishments are productive and food is safe.'

Need at least a bachelor's degree $58,610
Anthropologists and archeologists Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.'

Master's degree $57,420
Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists Atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists

Atmospheric scientists study the weather and climate, and how it affects human activity and the earth in general.'

Bachelor's degree $89,260
Biochemists and biophysicists Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, and heredity.'

Doctoral or professional degree $81,480
Biological technicians Biological technicians

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.'

Bachelor's degree $39,750
Chemical technicians Chemical technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, and produce chemical products and processes.'

Associate's degree $42,920
Chemists and materials scientists Chemists and materials scientists

Chemists and materials scientists study substances at the atomic and molecular levels and the ways in which substances react with each other. They use their knowledge to develop new and improved products and to test the quality of manufactured goods.'

Bachelor's degree $73,060
Conservation scientists and foresters Conservation scientists and foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage overall land quality of forests, parks, rangelands, and other natural resources.'

Bachelor's degree $59,060
Economists Economists

Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues.'

Master's degree $91,860
Environmental science and protection technicians Environmental science and protection technicians Environmental science and protection technicians do laboratory and field tests to monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution, including those affecting public health. Many work under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists, who direct the technicians’ work and evaluate their results.' Associate's degree $41,240
Environmental scientists and specialists Environmental scientists and specialists Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policy makers, or work with industry to reduce waste.' Bachelor's degree $63,570
Epidemiologists Epidemiologists Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.' Master's degree $65,270
Forensic science technicians Forensic science technicians Forensic science technicians help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Most forensic science technicians spend some time writing reports.' Bachelor's degree $52,840
Forest and conservation technicians Forest and conservation technicians Forest and conservation technicians measure and improve the quality of forests, rangeland, and other natural areas. ' Associate's degree $33,920
Geographers Geographers

Geographers study the earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures as they relate to geography. They study the physical and human geographic characteristics of a region, ranging in scale from local to global.'

Bachelor's degree $74,760
Geological and petroleum technicians Geological and petroleum technicians

Geological and petroleum technicians provide support to scientists and engineers in exploring and extracting natural resources, such as minerals, oil, and natural gas.'

Associate's degree $52,700
Geoscientists Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.'

Bachelor's degree $90,890
Historians Historians

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying a variety of historical documents and sources.'

Master's degree $52,480
Hydrologists Hydrologists Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They can use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.' Master's degree $75,530
Medical scientists Medical scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.'

Doctoral or professional degree $76,980
Microbiologists Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.'

Bachelor's degree $66,260
Nuclear technicians Nuclear technicians

Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.'

Associate's degree $69,060
Physicists and astronomers Physicists and astronomers Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Physicists and astronomers in applied fields may develop new military technologies or new sources of energy, or monitor space debris that could endanger satellites. ' Doctoral or professional degree $106,360
Political scientists Political scientists Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.' Master's degree $102,000
Psychologists Psychologists

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and human behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments.'

Doctoral degree or specialist degree in psychology $69,280
Sociologists Sociologists

Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions, and processes that people develop.'

Master's degree $74,960
Survey researchers Survey researchers

Survey researchers design surveys and analyze data. Surveys are used to collect factual data, such as employment and salary information, or to ask questions in order to understand people’s opinions, preferences, beliefs, or desires.'

Master's degree $45,050
Urban and regional planners Urban and regional planners

Urban and regional planners develop plans and programs for the use of land. Their plans help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities in towns, cities, counties, and metropolitan areas.'

Master's degree $65,230
Zoologists and wildlife biologists Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats. '

Bachelor's degree $57,710

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