Career Spotlight: Computational Scientists

Adapted from and 

A computational scientist is someone who uses scientific computing in applied disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, or the social sciences to analyze, clean up and calibrate large amounts of data and create computer models or simulations to create artificial data to solve problems and inform decisions. Because computational scientists primarily work with data, models, and simulations, they can be scientists, statisticians, applied mathematicians or engineers. 

Job Duties  

Computational Scientists work primarily with research. Their job duties primarily involve 

  • Analyzing and interpreting data  
  • Applying computer science procedures to a variety of situations and recommending potential solutions 
  • Designing experiments and developing algorithms  
  • Identifying relationships and trends or any factors that could affect the results of research 
  • Coordinating with research faculty and other technical team members for needs assessment and to accomplish individual project and/or larger organizational goals 
  • Co-authoring papers, proposals, presentations and reports  
  • Maintaining external research collaborations 

Later into one’s career, computational scientists may take on more managerial and mentorship roles as they become in charge of projects and mentor others like grad students in academic settings or new hires in tech companies.  

Working Conditions 

Computational scientists are typically researchers at academic universities, national labs and tech companies because data analysis, creating computational models and simulations are all skills that can be easily used in multiple disciplines. Often, they will need to work with in academically or professionally diverse teams and communicate clearly with researchers from their own or other institutions or clients and executives with non-technical backgrounds if they want to talk about their results. When working for academia or in national laboratories, it may be necessary to travel to research conferences to present their research.  

Education and Training  

Depending on the work, the education requirements vary from a bachelor’s degree to a PhD in disciplines related to what you are applying for. For example, jobs that focus on modeling Earth Systems might require a PhD in either Earth Sciences, Oceanography, Computer Science or any related field. However, jobs that need computational scientists because they need someone to facilitate deeper understanding or shorter time for research then, at the lower levels, a bachelor’s degree may do. Financial companies may want an Economics or financial background. However, prior experience is strongly recommended, even at entry levels for most jobs. 

Pay and Job Outlook 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Research Scientist jobs are expected to grow by 22% and their median salaries were $126,830 in May 2020. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $72,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $194,430 with the top three industries being software publishers, research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences and computer systems design and related services. 

More Information 

Here is our list of sources you can go through, if you would like to know more: 

Department of Energy’s Career Map on Computational Scientists 

Computing in Science and Engineering Article on How to Become One