Military field work often involves travel to distant locations, living under primitive conditions and extreme weather, and working in a hostile location. It also requires conforming to strict rules, codes, and honor systems. Many see a career as a military scientist as more rewarding—and offering better job security—than a career as a civilian scientist.
Typical Job Functions
Military research focuses on solving specific problems and needs of the military forces. This often involves developing new weapons and protective gear, but it also delves into a wider range of topics. Scientists and engineers working for the military:
- Develop pharmaceuticals and medical treatments
- Combat corrosion and microbial contamination
- Preserve food supplies for soldiers in remote locations
- Design portable energy sources for power equipment and vehicles
Work environments vary widely, depending on the field of specialization and the specific project. Many military scientists work in a typical laboratory environment at a military facility. Some specializations require working in the field (e.g., on board ships or onsite) during military operations.
Typical work duties include:
- Conducting laboratory research in military or academic laboratories, as an active military member or reservist, civilian government employee or contractor, or grant recipient
- Developing a product, piece of equipment, or method as a part of a funded program or contract
- Performing environmental and field studies to assess pollution levels at ordnance dumpsites
- Designing protective clothing for use in extreme weather or hostile environments
- Interacting with officers and enlisted persons to learn about their daily operations; identifying areas that could be addressed using technological improvements
- Contributing to educational programs for college and pre-college students
Military field work often involves travel to distant, sometimes remote, locations and living and working under primitive conditions and extreme weather. Working in a hostile location may involve physical hardship or danger. Foreign operations may require an ability to interact constructively with people of other cultures. An ability to make intelligent decisions quickly under stress is important.
Scientists may enter the field of military research with military or civilian backgrounds. They might work full-time on military projects, or have a military grant as one component of their funding portfolio. Undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs can work on military-funded research while they are still in school.
Career paths vary widely for military science and technology professionals. The “enlist and train” path for military science would entail enlisting, then specializing in science or engineering, based on the needs of your military branch. A different path might look like this:
- In high school, you participate in a military-funded summer program.
- The high school summer program leads to acceptance to an undergraduate summer internship at a military lab.
- The summer internship leads to acceptance to a graduate research program.
- The graduate research program is followed by a postdoctoral fellowship working on a military project.
- This could all lead to a position managing a research program or consortium, and eventually to an executive position at a laboratory or research funding agency.
Professional licenses may be required for certain specialties, but are not a general requirement. Scientists working at military facilities or on sensitive or classified projects may be required to maintain an active security clearance. Other qualification guidelines include:
- Technicians and analysts require a bachelor's degree in a relevant scientific field.
- Research and program leadership positions require a Ph.D. (or M.D.) and postdoctoral work.
- Program managers for grants and contracts usually have an advanced degree in a relevant field.
For some positions, additional specialized training is required. This could include CBRN defense procedures and toxic agent training or a HAZMAT Operations Certification. Medical workers may need training as first responders or in medical field laboratory procedures.
For high-level positions (program directors or executives), specialized knowledge of a specific field may be required (e.g., medicine, environmental science, or alternative energy sources). Experience in managing projects and people, budgeting, and speaking with members of the media or government is also needed. Knowledge of how to work with government agencies, legislative bodies, academic institutions, and grant-making agencies is helpful.