Principal scientists lead scientific teams, conducting research and analyzing results. The goals of this research vary according to the field and industry in which the principal scientists are employed. For example, principal scientists working in commercial manufacturing and other fields within the private sector typically look for ways to improve products or create new products or technologies. Principal scientists n academia seek to build on existing knowledge or technology; their aim is generally the advancement of the science itself versus improving a company’s commercial advantage.
Regardless of the field, most principal scientists perform many similar functions. These include coordinating the actions of the scientific team, training new team members, carrying out performance reviews of team members, and acting as a general expert and source of knowledge in their lab. Principal scientists work full-time, and they often work more than 40 hours per week in a combination of desk work and lab work.
Principal scientists must be analytically minded, with a strong commitment to the scientific process, sound research methodology, and mathematically based reasoning. They must be capable decision-makers, as they guide the efforts of the research team. Principal scientists must also have detailed knowledge of relevant technology and equipment. For instance, principal scientists working in manufacturing often must be able to test materials with centrifuges, radiological equipment, lasers, and related equipment. Some knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD) is also usually necessary for manufacturing.
Most often, employers require that their principal scientists hold a doctoral degree in a related scientific field , such as molecular biology or chemistry. Some employers consider individuals for principal scientist roles with only a master’s degree if they have significant experience in the field. Most often, principal scientists work first as senior scientists before becoming principal scientists.
Principal Scientist Tasks
- Monitor staff performance and conduct annual performance reviews.
- Lead a team of researchers, and coordinate work activity and training sessions.
- Provide technical guidance on area of expertise and respond to internal and external queries.
- Conduct quantitative and qualitative research to improve existing products or develop new ones.
- Coordinate with other departmental team leads to produce effective business solutions, and provide updates to project managers.