Research Team

Today due to the increasing complexity of scientific research problems, research is often carried out by several individuals working together as a team. All the members of your team will not necessarily be scientists or engineers though they likely have a strong background in a science of technology-related field. You may find yourself working closely with graphics designers, accountants, lawyers, etc. You will find good people skills and good communications skills important assets when involved in team efforts.

Your research advisor is the person who will oversee your project in the research laboratory. Frequently students are involved in undergraduate research experiences that take place in colleges or universities. There, your advisor is most likely to be a professor, a faculty member affiliated with a specific academic department. However, you may be supervised by a postdoctoral student, graduate student or a laboratory technician. If you are involved in a research experience at a government laboratory or at a company, you are likely to work as a member of a team that is supervised by several individuals at different levels within the organization. Your immediate supervisor most likely has some advanced degree - a M.S. or Ph.D.

Professional titles are not simply for "show." A title tells you a great deal of information concerning the level of experience, professional reputation, and the responsibilities that an individual has within an organization. In this section we will discuss the significance of the titles of some of the individuals you are likely to encounter during an undergraduate research experience.

Articles on Research Team

Analyst

Analysts are responsible for the statistical analysis of the data generated by the discovery and research & development scientists and work collaboratively with these individuals and research teams. They may use existing statistical algorithms or techniques or they may develop new algorithms or techniques allowing the analysis of large and/or complex data sets. The analysis they carry out may take several hours or even days to complete so analysts may work on several projects at the same time. Analysts often have a have bachelor’s or graduate degree in mathematics or computer science and/or a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering with a concentration in mathematics or computer science.

Industrial Lab Technicians

Lab Technicians play a vital role in discovery and research & development research teams providing scientists with the needed technical support to accomplish their work. Under the supervision of scientists, lab technicians carry out the bulk of the routine experimental tasks that need to be performed on a day-to-day basis in the research laboratory. These individuals usually have an Associate of Arts degree from an accredited training program.

Operator

Operator is a title unique to the Manufacturing or Operations unit in a private company. In a biotechnology company, this unit is responsible for the scale-up of the synthesis process for any promising candidate drugs and to streamline these processes for environmental impact, efficiency, and cost savings. Operators are engineers with a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in engineering. Manufacturing or Operations Managers are usually engineers with a doctorate degree in engineering whose job it is to oversee the work of the operators and ensure that the unit meets its deadlines.

Professors

Depending on the type of academic institution at which your faculty mentor works, he/she may be more or less involved in certain kinds of activities. Of course, every individual and every academic institution is unique so take our comments with a grain of salt!

In general faculty who work at community colleges, primarily undergraduate institutions and comprehensive universities spend the majority of their time and effort on student instruction while faculty who work at graduate research universities tend to spend a significant fraction of their effort in research related activities in addition to student instruction at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. Faculty salary, teaching and service assignments, and workloads are often determined by academic rank. There are three academic ranks: assistant, associate, and full professor.

Assistant Professor

For the first six years of a faculty member's career they are Assistant Professors. They are generally regarded as probationary faculty members. Their teaching, research, and service accomplishments are usually evaluated annually by the other tenured members of their department. Faculty at the rank of Assistant Professor usually do not have tenure.

Tenure

Normally during the sixth year a probationary faculty member's teaching, research, and service contributions to his/her department and discipline are evaluated by his/her peers both inside and outside the university. The particular process is somewhat unique to each institution but in general involves some form of evaluation at all levels of the institution from the faculty member's own department all the way up to and including the Board of Trustees of the college or university. If the accomplishments in each area are determined to be strong, the faculty member is awarded "tenure" by his/her institution. This means that unless the faculty member commits a grievous act, they will hold their position at the college or university until they choose to leave. Tenure is truly a unique academic phenomenon. Tenure allows a faculty member the freedom to share their ideas, pursue research projects, etc. that may test current societal norms or theories and which allow both the individual, the university, and society to make significant advances that might otherwise not be possible.

Associate Professor

Upon receiving tenure, at most institutions faculty are also promoted to Associate Professor. Some graduate research universities will recognize probationary faculty at an earlier stage however. So, the rank of Associate Professor does not necessarily mean that the person is tenured.

Full Professor

Unlike promotion to the rank of Associate Professor, promotion to Full Professor does not occur at any set time. When an Associate Professor achieves international distinction in their discipline, they may apply for promotion to the rank of full professor. The evaluation process for promotion is very similar to that for tenure - the faculty member submits a dossier documenting his/her record of accomplishments in teaching, research, and service. The dossier is evaluated first by the individual's colleagues in the department who hold the rank of full professor. Upon a positive vote, the dossier is then evaluated at increasingly higher levels of the college or university. The rank of full professor is the highest academic rank that is accorded a faculty member at any college or university.

Scientists

Scientists are generally the individuals carrying out the day-to-day research in the Discovery, the Research & Development, and the Quality units (Quality Control and Quality Assurance) in a private company. Depending on the individual’s education and work experience, there are several different titles for scientists such as:

Undergraduates working in the private sector usually assist a scientist in the day-to-day conduct of their work carrying out experiments, learning how to properly document experimental results, and participate in writing reports about the findings and in oral presentations to their group.


Assistant Scientist or Research Associate

Assistant Scientist or Research Associate is the title often associated with entry-level positions at the bachelor’s level. These individuals work under the supervision of senior scientists to carry out experiments, collect and analyze data, and present research findings to their team leader and/or in more formal settings to other groups.


Senior Scientist or Principal Scientist

Scientists with a M.S. and some work experience or with a Ph.D. are usually referred to as Senior Scientists or Principal Scientists. Senior Scientists are usually responsible for the design, implementation, and execution of research projects and the preparation and delivery of oral conference presentations and peer-reviewed technical papers. They typically supervise one or more scientists and/or lab technicians who carry out the actual research work.


Research Fellow

Many companies reward/recognize their most accomplished, productive scientists and engineers formally through membership in a select society and with a title such as “Research Fellow.” These individuals are usually found in the Discovery or Research & Development units and are involved in cutting-edge research projects of vital interest to the company.

Postdoctoral Students

Postdoctoral students or "post docs" as they are frequently called are recently graduated Ph.D.'s who wish to acquire additional research experience before beginning their scientific careers in academe or industry. Often post docs are students who are interested in pursuing a career in academe for which experience as a post doc is generally perceived of as a prerequisite. Post doctoral students typically identify a mentor and research area based on their past and current interests and technical expertise. Two or three year appointments are the norm for these positions. In some fields such as biology postgraduate students may pursue two or more post doctoral fellowships before starting their own independent research careers. In other fields such as chemistry, postgraduates usually complete one postdoctoral fellowship before looking for full time employment. Although there are teaching postdoctoral fellowships, the majority of postdoctoral students spend most of their time working on one or more research projects with a strong interest in bringing their projects to full fruition - presenting and publishing as much of their work as possible in the highest quality technical journals.

Graduate Students

Students who have successfully completed their undergraduate study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics frequently continue their education for two or more years in order to obtain an advanced degree. There are two advanced degrees commonly awarded in this country the Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. An important component of most M.S. and Ph.D. programs is the completion of a thesis or dissertation that documents the completion of an original research project.

M.A. or M.S

The Master of Arts and the Master of Science degrees can be awarded either for coursework study or for completion of a program of study that includes some coursework and a thesis. These programs of study are typically two years long. In some fields of study such as engineering, the masters degree is normally considered the terminal degree while in other fields of study such as the physical sciences the doctoral degree is the terminal advanced degree.

Ph.D.

This is the highest degree awarded for scholarly study in any field of study carried out at a university today. The Ph.D. is the normal prerequisite for those individuals who wish to pursue a career in academe. The Ph.D. degree is awarded for demonstration of aptitude and ability to carry out and effectively communicate independent research in one's chosen field of study. The program of study usually includes completion of a minimum of a year of advanced coursework, passing a series of examinations often referred to as cumulative exams or "cumes", and the successful completion of a written dissertation describing an original series of investigations in one's field and the oral defense of this work before a committee of one's peers. Unlike the bachelor's and master's degrees, there is no set period of study for the Ph.D. degree. Currently in the physical sciences, the average time-to-degree is approximately five years.

Teaching Assistantship (TA)

In the sciences and engineering students pursuing an advanced degree often receive financial support in the form of a teaching assistantship. This form of financial support is often awarded to students entering a doctoral program for their first year of study. Students supported on a teaching assistantship receive a stipend in exchange for teaching one or more sections of a recitation (problem solving session) or laboratory section of one or more courses each semester. Some graduate students beyond the first year of study are also supported on teaching assistantships. The disadvantage of being supported on a teaching assistantship beyond the first year of study is that the student must balance the demands of their teaching assistantship with those imposed by their graduate research advisor in the laboratory in order to make adequate progress on their thesis research project.

Research Assistantship (RA)

The other common form of financial support is a research assistantship. Students supported on a research assistantship receive a stipend in exchange for performing research that is frequently related to their thesis research. The advantage of being supported on a research assistantship is that it often allows the graduate student the time and energy needed to focus on their thesis research project. However, depending on the source of the financial support, the student may be required to work on a research project that will not contribute toward their thesis. If the source of the support is a private company then there may be confidentiality issues that may limit or even prohibit the presentation and publication of the research findings. Consequently, it is important for a graduate student accepting a research assistantship to inquire in advance concerning the issue of confidentiality in order to determine whether or the not research, in part or in whole, can become part of their thesis, to determine whether or not it can be presented publicly by the student at conferences, and to determine whether or not the work can be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Lab Technicians

In larger research groups and in certain disciplines, your research group may include one or more technicians. These individuals are often responsible for student training and/or routine maintenance of sophisticated instrumentation and or the execution of advanced research protocols. In some laboratories, these individuals may carry out their own research projects in addition to performing the aforementioned duties. They often have a bachelor's degree but may be Ph.D. scientists, too.