As a broad field, science and technology cover a breadth of disciplines, including biotechnology, life and physical science, animal and plant science and information technology. Science and technology professionals can be found in almost any sector, from government to manufacturing to pharmaceuticals. The following guide offers a high-level overview of the various degree programs and employment avenues within science and technology, details the major areas of opportunity, discusses common skillsets, and provides insight into education, employment and potential earnings.

Science & Technology Degrees and Career Paths

Those interested in science and technology have an opportunity to work on some of the most pressing issues of today (e.g. climate change), in cutting edge research (e.g. drug development), and at the forefront of technological innovation (e.g. mobile applications). Below is a review of some of the major career pathways within science and tech:

Biotechnology

Biotechnology is a professional field that spans an array of industries, including agriculture, human health, biofuels, industrial products, environmental protection, and pharmaceuticals.

Pathology Laboratory Technologist Pathologic technologists work in laboratory settings, performing tests on biological samples, such as cells, fluids and body tissues. A diverse profession, technologists may work in areas ranging from oncology (cancer research) to immunology (immune system research). They work with sophisticated testing equipment, are responsible for tracking and logging data, and collaborating with physicians and other researchers. Approximately half of all technologists work in hospital laboratories, while others work in private physician offices, university research laboratories, and diagnostic laboratory settings. An aging population, along with greater demand for health services through the Affordable Care Act is expected to spur employment growth of 22 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022.

Education requirements

Although an associate degree in human biology or clinical laboratory science can open the door to a career, most pathology technologists hold a bachelor’s degree. Certification and licensure is required by most states to work in the field.

Biological Science

Biological science is an interdisciplinary area of study that has applications in multiple areas, such as biology, ecology, neuroscience, immunology, medicine and conservation.

Environmental Science Technicians are research specialists tasked with investigating the sources of environmental hazards, such as pollution and water contamination. Typically working under the supervision of an environmental scientist, technicians are responsible for a variety of tasks. Responsibilities vary from collecting samples to analyze water quality in a lake to performing scientific tests to identify radon in a commercial building. Increased public awareness of environmental concerns, coupled with the loss of natural resources through population growth is expected to generate a 19 percent increase in employment opportunities nationwide between 2012 and 2022.

Education requirements

Environmental science technicians are generally required to have an associate degree in environmental science, public health or related field. However, some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

Aviation

Aviation is an industry that deals with the design, production, operation and maintenance of aircraft and their systems.

Avionics and Aircraft Equipment Mechanics handle two similar but distinct roles: aircraft mechanics typically work on aircraft, diagnosing and repairing electrical and mechanical problems, while avionic mechanics test, install and maintain the electronic equipment on aircraft. They are tasked with keeping aircraft flight worthy and participate in Federal Aviation Administration Inspections. The occupation provides for multiple entry points, including on-the-job training and trade school training programs. A specialized field, nearly 140,000 individuals work in aircraft and avionic mechanics throughout the United States.

Education requirements

A high school diploma and on-the-job training or a certificate from an FAA-approved training program are the typical educational requirements for employment.

Aviation

Aviation is an industry that deals with the design, production, operation and maintenance of aircraft and their systems.

Avionics and Aircraft Equipment Mechanics handle two similar but distinct roles: aircraft mechanics typically work on aircraft, diagnosing and repairing electrical and mechanical problems, while avionic mechanics test, install and maintain the electronic equipment on aircraft. They are tasked with keeping aircraft flight worthy and participate in Federal Aviation Administration Inspections. The occupation provides for multiple entry points, including on-the-job training and trade school training programs. A specialized field, nearly 140,000 individuals work in aircraft and avionic mechanics throughout the United States.

Education requirements

A high school diploma and on-the-job training or a certificate from an FAA-approved training program are the typical educational requirements for employment.

Information Technology

Information technology is a professional industry that deals with the use of computers and networking to create, process, and store electronic data.

Software Developers use programming languages (e.g. C+, Python) to design, develop, code and build software programs and applications that run on computers, websites, mobile devices, networks, and other computing systems. A highly technical field, the field is generally divided into two specialties: systems/software development and application development. Developers may choose to concentrate in a certain programming language (e.g. PHP) or technology – such as databases or mobile applications. Demand is surging nationally for skilled professionals in the field, due to growth in information technology, particularly mobile device use, big data analytics, and cybersecurity. Job opportunities are projected to surpass 20 percent nationally for both specializations.

Education requirements

Software developers typically need at least an associate degree in computer science or related field. However, other degree options – including bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are traditionally recommended by employers in a growingly competitive space.

Natural Science

Natural Science is a broad area of practice that covers several disciplines including chemistry; geology; physics; astronomy; atmospheric science; and oceanography.

Geographer Geography has two distinct branches: physical and human geography. Geographers use quantitative and qualitative research methods to gather and analyze geographic data as it relates to physical characteristics (e.g. climate patterns, soil, water, vegetation) or human elements (e.g. economy, health, and environment). Using advanced technical equipment such as GPS, geographic information systems (GIS) or remote sensing, geographers seek to identify trends, patterns and relationships in geographic data in the form of maps, satellite images, charts, and photographs. Although it is a small field, geographers are expected to see 29 percent job growth between 2012 and 2022. Factors driving this growth includes the greater adoption and need for geographic technologies, as well as increased research into environmental change.

Education requirements

Although a bachelor’s degree can lead to entry-level positions in the profession, a master’s degree is typically required for employment. For research positions, a master’s degree with multiple years of experience or Ph.D. is traditionally the minimum educational requirement.

Veterinary Science

Veterinary science is a branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries in animals.

Veterinary Technologist Working under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, veterinary technologies perform a range of tasks in the medical care of animals. For example, they may help collect laboratory samples for testing, assist in medical examinations, administer anesthesia, take X-rays, and prepare animals for surgery. Veterinary technologists work in a range of settings, including animal hospitals, private offices, and laboratories and with a variety of animals—from small (cats) to large (horses). A growing career field, the skills of technologists are in demand as the need for animal care in areas such as public health and animal safety increases. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 30 percent job growth for the profession between 2012 and 2022.

Education requirements

Veterinary technologies must complete a four-year program that culminates with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. They must pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination and meet state licensing requirements in order to practice legally.

Did You Know?

The US tech industry employed approximately 6.5 million people in 2014.

Source: CompTIA

Components of a Successful Science and Technology Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools, and Technology

Skill

The ability to think analytically, problem solve and work independently are highly valued in the workplace today and serve as the foundation for any career in the science or technology fields. To be successful, prospective science and technology students and professionals should possess strong skills in the following areas:

Mathematical skills

Although some careers only require a basic understanding of mathematical concepts, most occupations in these industries require individuals to have an advanced knowledge of math and the ability to handle calculations and measurements.

Organizational skills

Scientific research requires the management of information and individuals in this space should be able to gather, collect, maintain and process data from different sources in an organized fashion.

Technical skills

An understanding of computers and software, along with the ability to troubleshoot technical issues are valued skills across multiple occupations in these industries.

Scientific knowledge skills

Science and technology are dynamic fields with a continually changing knowledge base. Individuals in these career paths should be able to critically evaluate the specialized knowledge of their field and identify potential new areas to explore.

Research skills

Research skills, including competencies in designing studies, collecting data, and statistical analysis are vital throughout science-focused careers. To that end, organizational and record keeping skills, along with the ability to think creatively and develop innovative approaches to both research and solutions are also valued.

Communication skills

Writing, editing, speaking and presentation skills are central to scientific- and technology-based occupations. Because of the complex nature of each field, successful individuals in this field should be able to communicate clearly and effectively to both technical and non-technical audiences.

Management skills

Individuals in these fields should be detail-oriented with good time-management skills. They need to know how to plan and organize projects, delegate responsibilities and work with others.

Credentials

Within the science and technology industries, earning a professional certification or credential can expand employment options by demonstrating the candidate’s applied scientific knowledge and skills. Certifications are voluntary and help individuals stay up-to-date on the latest changes in their field as well as develop advanced competencies in both general and specialized areas of practice. Certifying programs are available across individual sectors and are offered through different groups, including industry associations, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and even academic institutions.

The list below is a snapshot of the different types of certifications open to science and technology professionals.

Certification Organization Description
Certified Food Scientist Institute of Food Technologist The CFS certification is designed for food science professionals. To earn the credential requires meeting work experience requirements and passing a 120-question exam that covers topics such as Quality Assurance & Control and Product Development.
Certified Environmental Scientist National Registry of Environmental Professionals The CES certification is open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree related to environmental science with at least three years of professional experience. The certification exam is 1.5 hours and tests the candidate’s knowledge in multiple areas, such as chemistry, biology, industrial hygiene, and risk assessment.
Certified Professional Soil Scientist Soil Science of America The CPSS certification is available to individuals who hold a BS in soils or related field and have either 5 years of professional experience or 3 years of experience for those with a master’s or doctorate. Candidates must pass a multiple-choice examination to earn the designation.
Medical Laboratory Scientist American Society for Clinical Pathology The MLS certification has five different routes for eligibility, based on professional experience and the candidate’s academic degree. The examination includes 100 questions and covers topics ranging from blood banking to urinalysis.
Aircraft Electronics Technician Aircraft Electronics Association The AET certification was developed by the National Center for Aerospace and Transportation Technologies. It is the industry standard and requires a passing score of 70% on an examination to earn the credential.
Cisco Certified Network Professional Cisco The CCNP designation is part of a certification path that requires passing several examinations, including one on routing, one on switched networks and one on troubleshooting and maintenance.
Tools and Technology

Scientists use a variety of tools to conduct research and experiments, depending on their specific tasks and responsibilities. These tools are used for collecting data, making observations, and taking measurements. Specific occupations may use more specialized tools and technologies, but, in general, most professionals will likely encounter the following:

Microscope

Device used to magnify objects

Balance

A tool used to measure an object’s mass

Thermometer

A tool used to measure temperature

Hand lens

A device used to view objects up close

Magnifying Box

A box used to contain and magnify small objects

Barometer

An instrument used to measure air pressure

Spring Scale

A tool used to determine the pull of gravity on an object

Petri Dish

A dish that is used to grow and test mold or bacteria

Anemometer

A tool used to measure wind speed

Science and Technology Career Salaries

Earning potential in science and technology is as varied as the career avenues themselves. Most technical fields, however, tend to pay above-average salaries. A review of Bureau of Labor Statistics earnings data for 72 science and tech-related careers revealed that 83 percent paid an annual salary of $50,000 or more.

In 2014, scientists earned an average salary of $99,011, according to The Scientist’s annual salary survey. The highest-paying fields included: biotechnology ($114,084), biochemistry ($100,433), oncology ($101,732), and cell biology ($79,069). Earnings in technology careers – specifically information technology – continue to tick upwards, notes ComputerWorld’s 2015 IT Salary Survey and Robert Half Technology’s 2016 Salary Survey. Salaries across multiple disciplines, such as software engineering, are reaching six figures and growing.

The table below outlines some of the top-paying careers in the industry as of May 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

$109,600 Physicists
$108,360 Computer and Information Research Scientists
$105,410 Astronomers
$102,880 Software Developers, Systems Software
$98,430 Computer Network Architects
$95,510 Software Developers, Applications
$91,980 Materials Scientists
$89,910 Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers
$87,980 Atmospheric and Space Scientists
$84,940 Biochemists and Biophysicists

Science and Technology Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook

The demand for scientific minds is being led by major scientific industries –biotechnology, bioservices, pharmaceutical – which are also driving innovation into new areas such as tissue engineering, biomedical research, and computer-assisted surgery. Additionally, increased global demand in other areas, such as agricultural and food production are driving innovation in fields such as genetic engineering.

This interconnected, technology-driven economy is creating new opportunities within the tech sector. And, the industry doesn’t show any signs of slowing. According to CompTIA, the tech industry in the US accounted for more than 11 percent of the country’s private sector payroll and nearly 130,000 new tech jobs were created nationally between 2013 and 2014. In an age of mobile devices, cloud computing, social media, and the Internet of Things, the future looks bright for technology professionals.

State Growth
Utah 24.4%
Colorado 23.9%
Texas 22.3%
Louisiana 19.6%
North Dakota 18.6%
California 18.1%
Oregon 17.3%
Montana 16.7%
North Carolina 15.9%
Florida 15.8%

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Projections Central

Related Occupations & Salaries: What You Need to Know

There is no shortage of potential career paths for individuals with degrees in science- or tech-related fields. Across nearly every sector, from agriculture to information security, increased demand is leading to a long list of well-paying careers.

The table below details sample career paths available within science and tech with academic training at all levels – from high school diplomas to doctoral degrees.