Degrees Needed for Science Careers

Science careers can be found with all levels of education. However, more and more scientists are finding that advanced degrees, either master’s or doctoral degrees, are necessary to do the type of work they want.

If you are happy working in a lab under the supervision of a scientist with a higher degree, an associate’s degree for a lab tech might be your best goal. Science careers in industry, government, companies, or manufacturing can be found for a person with a bachelor’s degree. If research or teaching at the university level is your goal, you will have to advance through to the PhD.

Another factor to consider is the amount of time to receive the degree. Associate’s degrees can be earned in about two years, while a PhD can take up to six years.

Of course, whatever degree you start with, you can always work on a higher degree later. Some companies will pay for an advanced degree while you continue to work for them. This is an excellent benefit to consider when choosing a job. Also, you might start work in one field of science and decide to change to a different area. This may require another degree or at least some additional study for you to continue your science careers.

Degrees Needed Science Careers

Associate’s Degree

Science careers as science or engineering technicians are desired goals for many people. Science and engineering technicians can find jobs with an associate’s degree. The degree takes about two years to finish, and programs can be found at community colleges, technical colleges, or universities.

The work for an associate’s degree includes basic science and math classes with advanced courses in the area of concentration you choose. You will also have hands-on training on laboratory equipment and computer programs and carry out research projects.

The courses you take will depend on the specialty you choose; you might decide on becoming a biological or food science tech, a chemical tech, a forensic tech, or you might take an environmental position.

Receiving an associate’s degree takes a shorter time than a bachelor’s degree, so you will be entering the workforce sooner. As a science tech, you will continue with hands-on lab work, which is what many people want.

Before beginning a program for an associate’s degree, you need to have graduated from high school or received your GED. Your high school classes should include as much science and math as possible. If you have not taken the required science and math classes in high school, you may need to take basic courses in your associate’s degree plan. This may lengthen the time of your schooling.

Some schools offer a one-year certification course, but most science techs work for an associate’s degree in applied science or science technology. Programs are also available in the specialties mentioned above.

Bachelor’s Degree

Many people start out in science careers with a bachelor’s degree. It is the basic requirement for most entry-level science jobs. The four-year program leading to a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree is offered at most colleges and universities. Some schools also offer a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in biology or chemistry. The BS degree usually requires more science courses than the BA, and it is preferred for most research positions or jobs in industry and manufacturing. The BA degree is perfect for a person who hopes to work in science communications.

Prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree include high school graduation or a GED. The prospective student should have taken as many high school science and math classes as possible. If some classes have not been taken, they may have to be added to the college course load.

Courses taken will vary based on the science specialty. For example, a biology major will be required to take multiple biology courses, such as microbiology, virology, and immunology. A chemistry major will have classes including organic, analytical, and physical chemistry. Engineering students will have classes geared to their engineering specialties. Students will also be required to take several math classes, usually through at least one semester of calculus. General education courses, such as English, history, and sociology, as well as computer classes, will also be required.

Most science students will have lecture classes as well as laboratory classes. Many people working toward science careers will be required to do some basic research and write lab reports and papers on their progress.

Doctoral Degrees

A doctorate will probably be necessary for people in science careers who wish to work as independent researchers or as professors at the college and university level. For many programs, a student with a bachelor’s degree can be accepted into a PhD program. The total time to earn a PhD from a bachelor’s is five to six years. If a student already has a master’s, the time could be shorter.

For the doctoral degree, you take graduate-level classes and engage in laboratory work. The classes will be in the field in which you are concentrating. After several credit hours, you need to find an advisor professor to guide you in independent research. PhD candidates are required to perform research and write dissertations. Most PhD students also prepare papers on their research as they continue the degree. It is a prestigious honor to present a paper on your research at a conference or have it published in an academic journal.

Many universities require candidates to pass an oral examination conducted by professors in the field. The professors ask questions from within their specialties and measure your performance. After the dissertation is written, you also have to defend it before a committee of professors.

After receiving a PhD, many students go to another school to perform more research in postdoctoral positions. Solid research and publication of a dissertation and other papers improve your chances of being hired as a professor or independent researcher.

Master’s Degree

Some people in science jobs will advance to the master’s degree level. Many of them will start working at a job after receiving a bachelor’s degree and realize that they would like to move up or change to a more advanced degree. Often, the company or agency where they work will reimburse them for school costs while they work on their master’s degrees.

Prerequisites for a master’s degree include a bachelor’s degree. If the bachelor’s is not in science, the student will usually have to take extra classes in the science field.

Most students pursuing a master’s degree will specialize in certain scientific fields. A person working on an MS in chemistry might concentrate in analytical, physical, or polymer chemistry. A student in a master’s biology program might specialize in microbiology or botany. In a similar way, engineering students narrow their focus. A computer engineer might study and research hardware or software, while a civil engineer may concentrate on water resources or bridge building.

The courses taken by a graduate student will depend on his or her concentration. Most will continue to take core classes in their specialty, more advanced math, and instruction in research techniques. Laboratory classes are also required. Most people working on a master’s are required to do original research and write theses.

If a person is working on an MS and he or she already has a BS, the master’s degree program will normally take two years.

Last Updated: 06/05/2014

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