When you think of research, what comes to mind? Scientists and doctors, people in white coats? It may surprise you to know that not every researcher has a background in the hard sciences and studies the physical world (or wears a white coat!). Instead, some researchers study “softer” subjects such as behavior, education, and economics.

It is always a good idea to take college courses in the subject you want to research. If you want to study behavior, for example, take psychology and sociology courses. If you want to research teaching trends, best practices, and outcomes, take education courses. English courses can help, too, because they teach you to analyze and organize information, then write clearly and concisely about it—skills any good researcher, regardless of discipline, must have in spades.

It is also important to study how to conduct research. If you do not know how to set up an experiment or study a subject scientifically, you will not end up with good results or be able to share your work with others through publication. Fortunately, there are books and courses available to familiarize you with the research process. You can also talk to a person who works as a researcher.

One of the benefits of becoming a researcher is that you can do the job part-time or full-time. Many educational and behavioral researchers, for example, work primarily as teachers and psychologists, but do research on the side. For others, research is their primary career.

With some jobs, you will be required to conduct research. Even if you do not have to do so, producing quality studies can only positively affect your work. If your research is published or referenced by other professionals, you can point to that when seeking a promotion or salary increase. Published research will also make you better known in your field, which can lead to more professional contacts and possibly a more prestigious position in the future.

It costs money to conduct a study, and researchers typically depend on grants to cover the costs of their work. Grants are financial awards issued by state and federal governments, organizations, businesses, or universities. They can be small awards that only cover a few expenses of your work, or they can be substantial to cover more or all the costs of conducting research. Some grants are so large they cover part or all of the researcher’s salary.

This wide variation in grant amounts causes a disparity between researcher salaries. A part-time researcher may make just a few hundred or thousand extra dollars per year, while a full-time researcher in a business-oriented field such as economics may earn a six-figure annual salary. This is where excellent writing skills can pay off. The grant process requires you to submit an application that articulates why your research project ought to receive the grant money. A well-written application will significantly increase your chances of receiving the grant.

In addition to the size of the grants you receive, your reputation will also affect how much money you earn as a researcher. A researcher with a good reputation for producing high-quality studies and well-written papers about her work will most likely be awarded the higher-value research grants. However, building a reputation takes time and most researchers work years, if not decades, in their field before their reputation translates into more money.

Researchers who make the most lucrative salaries tend to work for businesses or universities. These employers tend to be the most supportive of research because published studies can generate sales, contracts, and endowments. Universities are especially motivated to support research careers. The disadvantage to conducting research at a university, however, is that you usually have to first be hired as a professor and that hiring process can be highly competitive.

Most people think of researchers as people who work in a laboratory, conducting experiments using test tubes and Bunsen burners. Today, however, research careers are available in countless fields from education to media. You can work full- or part-time as a researcher, making a sizable salary or just supplementing your income. With so many ways to enjoy a career as a researcher, there is no reason to leave all the investigating to the white coats!


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