31 of the Highest-Paying Science Jobs You Can Get
Can you guess which careers are among the highest-paying science jobs in America? You might be surprised at the range of specialties that come with stellar incomes. The top-paying science jobs list includes positions in physics, chemistry, pharmacology, genetics, microbiology, geology, medical research, forensics, and more than half a dozen other areas. So if you're interested in scientific careers, you have plenty of lucrative possibilities to consider.
And contrary to what you might expect, not all of the best-paying science jobs require a PhD. In fact, many of the science careers with the most impressive paychecks are available to people with bachelor's or even associate degrees. There are well-paying options at all education levels.
The list of science jobs below is divided into those that require a bachelor's degree or higher and those that can be had with less than four years of college. Use these ideas as starting points for your own career exploration and planning. (And if you're still deciding on a focus for college, you may want to check out our section on the highest-paying science degrees.)
Read on to learn about a variety of rewarding options!
(Unless otherwise indicated, earnings represent average salaries and are based on May 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All salary figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.1)
- 24 of the highest-paying science jobs you can get with a bachelor's degree or better
- 7 science jobs that pay well with less than a 4-year degree
- The highest-paying science degrees
24 of the Highest-Paying Science Jobs You Can Get With a Bachelor's Degree or Better
Many people assume that the top science careers are reserved for those with advanced degrees. After all, it's certainly true that with a PhD or Master of Science degree, jobs in research and management become more available to you. But, sometimes, four years of college is all it takes to land one of the highest-paying careers in the science field. Here are two dozen of the top-paying careers in science at the bachelor's level or above:
1. Natural sciences manager: $136K
Natural sciences managers are in charge of coordinating scientific research and development projects. They set goals, establish budgets, and direct the work of developers and researchers. They also keep labs stocked, oversee production activities, and review research results. This is one of the best jobs in science in terms of earning potential; you'll need several years of research experience to get into it.
2. Physicist: $122K
This is one of the most common jobs that come to mind when people think of scientists. Physicists aim to understand the workings of the natural world. They conduct research into and develop theories about the fundamental principles governing the interactions between energy and matter. There are many specialties available in this field.
3. Pharmacist: $120K
Dispensing medications and teaching people about the potential side effects of their prescriptions is one of the best-paying jobs that use science. Most pharmacists work in community pharmacies, but some work in hospitals and clinics, advising health care personnel about drug dosages and interactions. Others are involved in pharmaceutical research. You'll need a Doctor of Pharmacy degree for this career.
4. Astronomer: $110K
Focusing on the far reaches of space can come with a hefty paycheck. Astronomers seek to understand how planets, stars, and galaxies form and evolve. They use powerful telescopes and satellites to observe celestial bodies and make predictions about the future of the universe. A PhD is usually required for these research positions.
5. Chemical engineer: $105K
Want to use chemistry to solve problems? Chemical engineers develop the manufacturing processes and equipment that turn chemical materials into commercial products. They're involved in the creation of anything from food and fuel to plastics and pharmaceuticals, and they are often employed in processing plants, research labs, and oil and gas refineries. A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering can get you started.
6. Materials scientist: $102K
Drawing on their knowledge of chemistry, physics, and biology, materials scientists analyze the properties, structure, and performance of different materials in order to adapt them for specific uses. They look at how processing changes each type of material and how materials can be combined to create products with specific characteristics. This is a multi-disciplinary field that generally requires an advanced degree.
7. Pharmacologist: $97K2
How do medications and drugs affect the organs, tissues, and cells of the human body? That's the main question pharmacologists try to answer. They study the properties, effects, and therapeutic uses of different chemical compounds. While pharmacists are typically involved in patient care, pharmacologists generally focus on research. Most of them work in labs.
8. Medical research scientist: $95K
Broadly speaking, medical research scientists seek to find new ways to improve human health. They study the underlying causes of different diseases and try to come up with methods of treating and preventing such problems. This is an in-demand area of science: Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow faster than average between 2016 and 2026.3
9. Meteorologist: $95K
Studying atmospheric phenomena in order to make predictions about future climate and weather conditions is among the highest-paying science careers. Jobs for meteorologists are available with broadcasters, utility companies, and agricultural organizations. You can get into the field with a bachelor's degree in physics or atmospheric science.
10. Geophysicist: $92K2
Geophysicists focus on the physical structure and properties of the earth. They study our planet's shape, its magnetic and gravitational fields, and its interior composition. They might concentrate on finding hidden reserves of oil and minerals or determining the best location for power plants or dams. Opportunities are available in construction, mining, land development, and environmental protection.
11. Computational scientist: $90K2
If you can create computer models that simulate complex physical phenomena, you can carve out a well-paying career in the science field. Jobs for computational scientists involve using high-performance computers to further scientific knowledge. For example, that could mean investigating how cancer might affect the mutations of human cells or how turbulence might influence the flight of an aircraft.
12. Biomedical engineer: $90K
Designing and building devices and equipment to solve problems in medicine is the job of biomedical engineers. They use their engineering expertise and in-depth understanding of biological systems to create anything from artificial organs and imaging machines to surgical lasers and radiation therapy equipment. Many well-paying positions are open to candidates with bachelor's degrees.
13. Hydrologist: $84K
Without water, life on earth would cease to exist. Hydrologists study the quality, quantity, and availability of this precious resource. They measure water volume and flow, investigate pollution levels, analyze the impacts of flooding and erosion, and look for ways to manage the water supplies of different communities. Training in earth sciences will serve you well in this field.
14. Chemist: $81K
Fundamentally, chemistry is about the study of matter at the molecular and atomic levels. Chemists might analyze the composition of different substances, create new compounds for specific purposes, or evaluate the purity or quality of chemical products. Opportunities abound in the petroleum, food processing, environmental, and pharmaceutical industries.
15. Epidemiologist: $78K
Examining how diseases are caused and how outbreaks spread among human populations is the focus of epidemiologists. Their ultimate goal is to find ways to prevent, contain, and treat issues of public health. Many epidemiologists work for hospitals, government agencies, academic institutions, and humanitarian organizations. You'll need at least a master's degree for this career.
16. Geneticist: $77K2
Geneticists study how biological characteristics and traits are passed from one generation to another. They also examine the role that genes play in health and aging and investigate how environmental factors affect the way genes are expressed. Some geneticists evaluate and treat people with hereditary conditions or genetic disorders; others focus on conducting laboratory research.
17. Microbiologist: $77K
Are you fascinated by tiny organisms that can't be seen by the naked eye? Microbiologists seek to understand how bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses interact with the things around them. They might use this knowledge to analyze biological specimens for signs of disease, design safer food production processes, or develop new medicines or vaccines.
18. Environmental scientist: $75K
As an environmental scientist, you could concentrate on protecting people from environmental hazards or minimizing mankind's impact on the earth. The idea is to identify environmental threats and develop plans for dealing with them. That could mean conducting environmental impact assessments, monitoring air and water quality, or overseeing the cleanup of contaminated sites.
19. Neuroscientist: $73K2
Studying the structure, development, and behavior of the human nervous system can be a rewarding way to make a living. Neuroscientists research the functions of the brain and investigate neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease. They conduct experiments and develop clinical procedures. Depending on your focus, you may need either a PhD or an MD degree.
20. Food scientist: $71K
Do you want to be on the front lines of food safety? Food scientists may monitor production methods, figure out better ways of processing and packaging foods, analyze the content of different foods for labeling purposes, or enforce regulations governing sanitation and waste management. Industry certifications can boost your employment prospects.
21. Wildlife biologist: $65K
Observing and studying the behavior of animals in their natural habitats can come with a comfortable income. Wildlife biologists conduct surveys of wildlife populations, examine how animals reproduce and interact, and investigate how diseases spread among wild animals. They also study the impact of humans on both animals and ecosystems. Fieldwork is a big part of this role.
22. Medical lab technologist: $62K
When a health care professional orders laboratory tests, it's up to medical lab technologists and technicians to collect and analyze the required samples. These professionals use sophisticated microscopes and other lab equipment to examine blood, tissue, and cell samples for abnormalities or signs of illness. You'll need a bachelor's degree to do the more advanced work of a technologist, but you can become a technician with just an associate degree. In some states, lab technologists must be licensed.
23. Forensic science technician: $61K
Supporting criminal investigations can be an exciting way to put your scientific knowledge to work. Forensic science technicians collect physical evidence at crime scenes and analyze it in laboratories. They might specialize in areas like blood patterns, DNA, toxicology, or ballistics. You'll need excellent communication skills to testify in court and write reports.
24. Oceanographer: $59K2
Do you dream of unraveling the mysteries of the deep sea? Oceanographers study everything from ocean currents and marine life to coastal erosion and plate tectonics. You could collect water samples for chemical analysis, examine footage from deep-water cameras, or track the movements of marine animals. An advanced degree is typically required.
7 Science Jobs That Pay Well With Less Than a 4-Year Degree
Want to make a decent income in the science field without spending umpteen years in school? You're in luck. You don't have to spend an extended amount of time in school to find success in any of the following careers. With science training of just two years or less, you can qualify for these well-paying positions. Check out these examples of science-related jobs that pay well and don't require spending four years in college:
1. Nuclear technician: $78K
Monitoring the radiation levels in and around nuclear power plants is one of the highest-paying science jobs you can get with a two-year degree. Nuclear technicians adjust and repair reactors to keep them operating safely and instruct workers about safety protocols and decontamination procedures. Be prepared to undergo extensive on-the-job training.
2. Nuclear medicine technologist: $76K
Administering radioactive drugs in order to find abnormalities in lungs, brains, livers, kidneys, and other areas can also lead to a satisfying paycheck. Nuclear medicine technologists conduct specialized procedures like computed tomography (CT) scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans to help doctors diagnose and treat different diseases. An associate degree can get you started in this field. You can also earn a degree in radiologic technology, followed by a certificate in nuclear medicine technology.
3. Diagnostic medical sonographer: $72K
Sometimes known as ultrasound technicians, these health care professionals use high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of patients' bodies. They may focus on anything from muscles and joints to bodily tissues and internal organs. Most employers look for sonographers with associate degrees and professional certification.
4. Registered nurse: $72K
Working closely with doctors, registered nurses use their scientific expertise to evaluate the health of patients and explain how to manage different illnesses or conditions. With an associate degree in nursing, you can qualify for entry-level positions. All states require registered nurses to be licensed.
5. Geological technician: $62K
This is one of the best-paying entry-level science jobs. Geological technicians collect and analyze rock and soil samples to help scientists determine if a piece of land is suitable for mining or oil and gas exploration. They also identify and map the geological features of different areas. Most technicians specialize in either lab work or field work.
6. Chemical technician: $50K
Chemical technicians support the work of chemists and chemical engineers in scientific research and product development. Typical tasks include setting up lab equipment, preparing solutions, conducting experiments, and interpreting results. It's important to follow all safety protocols when processing chemicals. Two years of post-secondary training can prepare you for this career.
Identifying and preventing environmental contamination is the main goal of environmental science and protection technicians. In this role, you could inspect public places for environmental hazards, collect and test air and water samples, conduct impact studies of new development projects, or help develop plans to clean up contaminated sites. An associate degree is typically required.
The Highest-Paying Science Degrees
As you can see, high-paying jobs with science degrees are available in a variety of areas. But which science-related degrees can lead to the highest earning potential? In a 2015 report, the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University analyzed the median salaries of full-time workers between the ages of 25 and 59 who graduated from different college programs. Based on the results, here are 10 of the highest-paying science majors at the bachelor's level:4
- Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and pharmaceutical administration—$113K
- Geology and earth science—$69K
- Food science—$67K
- Atmospheric science and meteorology—$66K
- Nuclear, industrial radiology, and biological technologies—$66K
As you might expect, median earnings were generally higher for those with graduate degrees:
- Pharmacy, pharmaceutical sciences, and pharmaceutical administration—$118K
- Biochemical sciences—$97K
- Nuclear, industrial radiology, and biological technologies—$97K
Of course, each of these majors can lead to numerous careers, and salaries vary widely depending on the specific position as well as your level of experience and education. So be sure to keep the salary figures in proper perspective.
Aim for Success
It's clear that the highest-paying science jobs require varying levels of education. Are you prepared to take advantage of such lucrative opportunities? The career-focused training available from vocational colleges and technical institutes can set you up for success in many different science-related occupations. Just enter your zip code into the following search tool to start discovering convenient programs near you!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on February 5, 2018.
2 PayScale, website last visited on February 5, 2018.
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, website last visited on February 5, 2018.
4 Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce, The Economic Value of College Majors, website last visited on February 5, 2018.