Moving from the Bunsen burners of high school chemistry to high-tech, multi-million dollar laboratories, scientists take a love for science and apply it to a career. A principal scientist works in all different types of industries including agriculture, food, environment, medical, technology, life sciences and physical sciences. The number of female scientists varies depending on the industry, with women making up only 25 percent of environmental scientists but over 50 percent of medical scientists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Medical and Health Sciences
Principal scientists in the medical and health sciences can serve in a variety of sub-specialties, ranging from pharmacology to toxicology to histology. The exact duties depend on the type of science she’s studying, but general job duties include studying the causes of human diseases and developing cures and treatments for diseases. As a medical principal scientist, you may also study current drugs to make them more effective or create new medications. Other job duties include writing grant proposals, applying for funding, training other scientists and maintaining a clean and sterile lab environment.
Agriculture and Food Sciences
In the agricultural and food sciences, principal scientists still work in a lab setting performing research but the subject matter changes to food and crops. Principal agricultural scientists try to improve crop and farm animal output by developing hybrids and new methods of growing crops and raising animals. In the food industry, a principal scientist comes up with new food products, as well as ways to create, package and ship them. In agriculture and food, there's typically more travel time, visiting farms and food factories to do hands-on projects at those facilities. As the lead scientist, you’ll also be responsible for staying up-to-date on the laws that regulate your industry and assure your company adheres to the rules.
Technology and Information Sciences
As a principal scientist in the technology and information sciences, you’ll analyze the ways people use technology and attempt to improve on those methods. You’ll solve complex computer issues, invent new computer languages and create software systems. Often, you’ll publish your research findings and write papers and reports on the experiments you conduct and the technology you develop. Because technology research comes at a large price tag, you’ll help develop research budgets and make sure teams stick to them as best as possible.
Physical and Life Sciences
Another major area where a principal scientist does research and development is in the physical and life sciences. The physical and life sciences include areas like chemistry, biology, environmental and conversation. Job duties for physical and life principal scientists are similar to those for other scientists and include research projects, experiments and report finding. You’ll also have responsibilities specific to your field. For example, as an environmental principal scientist you’ll collect and analyze soil, air and water samples, looking for problems and coming up with solutions to fix those issues.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: 2012 Household Averages Annual Data
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Medical Scientists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Agriculture and Food Scientists
- TIC Gums: Principal Scientist Research
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Computer and Information Technology Research Scientists
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Environmental Scientists
- Rochester Institute of Technology: Principal Research Scientist
Lindsey Thompson began her writing career in 2001. Her work has been published in the Cincinnati Art Museum's "Member Magazine" and "The Ohio Journalist." You'll also find her work on websites like Airbnb, Chron.com, and USAToday.com. Thompson holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.