When we think of a researcher, most of us imagine a sleep deprived scientist in a lab coat and goggles, hunching over a desk while carefully adding drops of green liquid into a vial. Although not far from the truth, a career as a research scientist entails a whole lot more, and that’s not just in terms of education.
As someone who enjoys reading data-driven articles, I have often come across the phrase “in a research conducted by So-and-so University." In fact, I judge the credibility of any claim based on whether they can cite a research paper or not. With research being such an essential part of data and fact representation, one has to wonder about the science behind the, well, science.
Sabrina Wadood, a research assistant and Science and Math Centre Coordinator at Asian University for Women who's currently working on two projects, describes it to be "fullfilling, but not lucrative." “It gives you certain credibility over other professions. Researchers have a better sense of perception as they have greater analytical and quantitative skills when it comes to problem solving." So, what does it take to be a researcher?
A career in research requires perseverance. It is entirely based on trial-and-error. Unlike other occupations, there are no particular work hours, as it is hard to correctly pinpoint when a project will end. “There will be a lot of obstacles in the way," Sabrina explains, “You have to run tests and not all of them will provide the results you expect. You have to keep a record of everything that you do in the lab, meaning it will take a lot of sustained effort on your behalf."
What about the academic background of a research scientist? With so much of our day-to-day life depending on the accuracy of their work, it is only natural that the knowledge that they have should be comprehensive enough. As an undergraduate, you get little to no research exposure. In the context of Bangladesh, you could work as a research assistant if you have connections in the industry, but cases like that are rare and few in numbers. The proper way to gain a research opportunity is to complete your master's. While studying for a master's degree, you are going to complete a research thesis, providing you with a sophisticated research experience. Afterwards, you can get a lectureship or work as a teacher's assistant, or research assistant at a institute. At this point, you can expect a pay scale of around 50,000 BDT per month on average, depending on the research institute. The higher the reputation of the institute, the greater the pay scale.
Most postgrads go on to receive a PhD. As a PhD holder, you become qualified enough to conduct independent and original researches. You have the opportunity to work at highly ranked research institutes, universities and hospitals where you'll have your own lab with other PhD holders, postgrads and undergrads working under you. Some PhD students choose to work at universities as academicians or assistant professors, and then work their way up the ladder. A number of PhD holders join research institutes, where you can work as a principal investigator, and eventually become a senior investigator. Your pay scale increases too, as researchers at this level can earn from 100k BDTor more on average monthly. PhD grads also have the option to complete a Post-Doctoral, the highest educational achievement in the field of research. But to reach such positions in your career, you need to first build up your reputation as a research student.
In order to stand out and increase your employability chances, employers expect you to start publishing early in your career. Academic publishing is the act of authoring or co-authoring a paper which shows your progress in research within your field. Even if you have not completed an original research, you can still have publications under your name in the form of secondary literature which is based on other published works.
Another important part of research is grant writing. A majority of the funding for research work comes from grants, which basically means writing a research proposal and competing for funds from companies, institutions or the government. However, accepting a grant means you have to tailor your research to the specifications of the grant provider. After the funding is taken care of, the next line of obligations for a successful research are adequate resources, facilities and multi-disciplinary knowledge; which is why researchers often have to collaborate with different departments, institutes and organisations. For example, for a successful research in biology, it needs collaborators from environmental science, public health and computer science backgrounds.
After reading through these you may find yourself asking, “Is it really worth it to devote so much of your time and energy towards research?" Here's what Sabrina has to say about that - “As a researcher, you're at the forefront of problem solving. If you're persistent enough, you really have a chance to leave an impact and create a major breakthrough for humanity." In the cases of epidemics, natural disasters, economic crisis, and security attacks, policy makers and government officials turn to researchers for solutions. So don't shy away from this profession if you are truly passionate about it, because it's worth it in the end.
Samiha recently completed her A levels. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.