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Ask Slashdot: Scientific Research Positions For Programmers? 237

An anonymous reader writes "I recently (within the past couple years) graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and currently work as a programmer for a large software consulting firm. However, I've become gradually disillusioned with the financial-obsession of the business world and would like to work for the overall betterment of humanity instead. With that in mind, I'm looking to shift my career more toward the scientific research side of things. My interest in computer science always stemmed more from a desire to use it toward a fascinating end — such as modeling or analyzing scientific data — than from a love of business or programming itself. My background is mostly Java, with some experience in C++ and a little C. I have worked extensively with software analyzing big data for clients. My sole research experience comes from developing data analysis software for a geologic research project for a group of grad students; I was a volunteer but have co-authorship on their paper, which is pending publication. Is it realistic to be looking for a position as a programmer at a research institution with my current skills and experiences? Do such jobs even exist for non-graduate students? I'm willing to go to grad school (probably for geology) if necessary. Grad school aside, what specific technologies should I learn in order to gain an edge? Although if I went back to school I'd focus on geology, I'm otherwise open to working as a programmer for any researchers in the natural sciences who will take me."
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Ask Slashdot: Scientific Research Positions For Programmers?

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  • The term is usually "research programmer" or something similar. However they're often time-limited positions rather than indefinite. A common arrangement is that a university gets a big grant, and needs to bring in some extra programmers to help out on the project for the ~3 years of a typical grant. The best-funded labs do keep some programming staff on semi-permanent payroll, though, because they always get a new round of grants before the previous ones run out.

    I'd just start looking at job listings in the area you care about and see what skills or experience they ask for. Familiarity with data-analysis tools is often a plus, e.g. be conversant in R, be able to make some nice visualizations of data, etc. But that's only one area; there are plenty of others.

    • by korbulon ( 2792438 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:54AM (#44306505)

      One thing that should be clarified here: with these sort of programming roles there is no direct access to academia. In this way it's not like finance where, for instance, people can go from back office to front office if they show enough promise and interest: one does not simply go from research programmer to reseacher.

      From the sounds of it, OP would be best served by going into academia via a graduate program.

      • by tylikcat ( 1578365 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @07:00AM (#44306725)

        How exactly do you mean direct access to academia?

        You won't be able to bypass the traditional academic route, but from some of these positions you will be able to publish, and you might be involved in the interesting parts of planning. At the very least, this all will be very helpful if you do at some point want to enter a graduate program. (Or, conversely, it might be very helpful in giving you enough familiarity with the territory that you know you really don't want to enter a graduate program, ever.)

        • It should be noted that this could be a really good way to get enough of a taste for academia to see if you really want to pursue it as a career and a three year project is more than enough to get a taste for things. Plus, if you decide you don't want to do it, afterwards such things do look good on a CV or resume so returning from industry is not that difficult.
      • If you really want to make an extra contribution outside the business world you should probably start your own project(s). In the end your contribution will probably fuel the activity related to the "financial-obsession of the business world." This "financial-obsession" is just an aspect of nature which I'm sure would take the forefront in your mind should you lose your nice paycheck.

      • by flymolo ( 28723 )

        That really depends on the job and the institution. I am a research programmer and am being encouraged to be more independent. Write papers and come up with grant ideas in particular. I will most likely never be faculty with a B.S., but grad school is almost free while I'm in my current position and there are past and present faculty who only had/have a Masters.

        Get in the door any way you can. If you find a project and supervisor you can work with, doors will open. Most of the paths will be through gra

      • There are some programmer/IT people in my institution (a US National Lab) who want desperately to be real full-time scientists. They even have physics PhD's. They are from time to time given a bit of more direct participation, but it is clear that they will never be promoted into a regular scientist position, not while there are loads of PhD's coming off of 1 or 2 post-docs such that they have done nothing but hands-on research for the last 6-10 years.

        These guys live in a kind of scientific purgatory, a

      • PhD in physical chemistry, theory. All my research experience was computation. A full time coder is a huge asset in a computation research group. They quickly become versed in the sorts of things they need to know - science wise - and contribute in that way. Really, how can you write code to solve a problem you don't understand? They are part of the group, actively participate in research, and are acknowledged with authorship. And since their tenure isn't limited by graduation, the next postdoc, or a

    • Another option you may want to look into is working at a supercomputer centre. These are usually (semi-)independent organisations that maintain supercomputers and fast networks, and help scientists use them. Jobs there include technical sysadmin type work maintaining compute clusters, storage arrays, and networking equipment, programming with an emphasis on parallellisation, optimisation and visualisation, as well as more consulting-type work where you advise researchers on how to best use the available fac

    • Try SAS (www.sas.com). My wife programs that for Kaiser. So it's all medical research. But there are plenty of non-academic jobs in medical science.

      Outside of that... hmmm, Engineering? Not really science so much as applying science to solve problems.

      Geology will end you up with a big oil company searching for more oil, or other natural resources.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by datavirtue ( 1104259 )

      disillusioned with the financial-obsession of the business world and would like to work for the overall betterment of humanity instead.

      The business world IS engaged in an overall betterment of humanity. Generating economic activity is paramount to people surviving and having the extra time to sit around and whine about their great job as a software developer. I suggest a book by John Paul Getty called "How To Be Rich" where he lays this stuff out in simple terms that makes a lot of sense. To sum it up, the worst thing a company could do to its employees is not turn a profit~~roughly paraphrased. Meaning it would eventually go out of bu

      • by BVis ( 267028 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @10:15AM (#44308047)

        The business world IS engaged in an overall betterment of humanity.

        Sure, if you define 'humanity' as 'the leeches at the top of the org chart who don't do any actual work'.

        the worst thing a company could do to its employees is not turn a profit

        An oversimplification. You're not wrong, but the problem isn't that cut and dried. It depends on how they turn a profit. If they sacrifice long-term viability to make the quarterly statement look better, yes, they're turning a profit, but eventually the bad choices will catch up with the company - but by then the people who made the bad choices have long since pulled the ripcord on their golden parachutes and left the rank and file out of a job. I would argue that a better business model is not only to turn a profit, but give the employees a stake in the company's success beyond "you get to keep your job."

      • by doggo ( 34827 )

        "The business world IS engaged in an overall betterment of humanity."

        That is such bullshit.

        Business' main concern is profit. Any "betterment of humanity" is usually forced by market concerns (profit), or regulation reining business in from full-on exploitation and physical damage (of human & natural resources). Philanthropy is typically mis-direction to counteract bad reputation.

        For every business that strives to "do no evil", there are tens of thousands that couldn't care less about the "betterment of

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The OPs remarks resonated at about +110dB with me at the moment. I really wanted to be a radio astronomer when I was in high-school, but got a job with the local University as a programmer helping biology/zoology students automate their experiments, etc. I quickly got seduced by the "software side of the force", and have been in commercial software/tech-development for nearly 35 years.

      I've maintained my interest in science and scientific programming, and have made some small "splashes" in small-scale radi

    • I used to work in Geophysics programming geology models. It's really fascinating work, very enjoyable. Lots of maths of course.

      There is also good money in it, if you work for a mining company. I don't know if that satisfies your social conscience issues.

      In the end I got out of programming, partially due to the reasons you stated. I'm now a doctor.

  • Dichotomy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by korbulon ( 2792438 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:32AM (#44306431)

    I think a solution a lot of people find is to split their day: they pay their bills with a job they can (just about) tolerate, and then use their free time to focus on their passion, perhaps in a small community (cf. FOSS development).

    Also, academia is no paradise either: it's not so much about focusing on what you are interested in, but rather focusing on where there is funding, and where you can find your own niche. It's surprising and depressing how many niches are already filled: it's like trying to find an empty shell on the ocean floor.

    • The job I can tolerate to pay the bills takes most of my day and leaves me mentally too tired to focus on anything related to it.

      I would cut my salary in half to work half hours if I could. However, even smaller differences, like cutting 1/8th for one more free hour, as recent parents do, would cut my progression in the corporation by turning me into "those people who aren't compromised with the enterprise".

      Dichotomy is already a compromise, and having to sacrifice one's career for it is too expensive.

      I pre

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      well I think the question was "how can I get paid for betterment of society"...

      anyhow, if he wants to work in academia then going to academia is kind of a must. if he has means to make a living then just donating time could be better.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @05:34AM (#44306439)

    I can talk from my experience in Europe. Although you may have the experience and knowledge to do the research successfully; going to grad school will open many doors. You will have access to information about ongoing projects, publications, etc ... And by the way you will fill some possible weak points in your knowledge about the subject.
    About technologies; you must be flexible; just know how to program, not on a specific language. Anyway, I recommend you to get to know (and learn to love) Matlab.

  • You might be happy somewhere like http://crd.lbl.gov/ [lbl.gov]

  • I just completed a job search looking for basically the same kind of jobs as you as someone with a Ph.D (in physics, so slightly different, but still), and it seemed like there was a *lot* more out there for someone with only a BA/BS or masters and a few years of job experience than for someone straight out of grad school. The issue might be where you're looking for jobs. The DC area has tons of research positions, most supporting the federal government in some way (more than just defense contractors, and d
  • by biodata ( 1981610 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:03AM (#44306527)
    If you want to get into scientific research programming with big data, you are probably going to have to engage with statistical programming. R is probably the lang of choice at least in the biological arena, due to FOSS and all the prebuilt packages. People also I've seen using Matlab quite a bit, but I think you wouldn't go wrong with R. You might also want to get engaged in something like Kaggle or the DREAM challenges, build yourself a bit of a profile on those arenas, and eventually try to team up with some guys on one of the challenges there, as a way of making contact with people in the big data research area. Any graduate training (postgrad as it would be called in Europe), would only help - there are many positions that just won't be available to you until you have had a 'research training' which means Masters as a minimum or preferably a PhD eventually.
    • Depends on what level you are working at I guess. If you want to directly write the code that does science, then yeah analysis languages like R are quite useful. However, you can still support science and be involved in scientific programming without writing a line of code that applies only to science.
      My advisor in grad school's biggest contribution to scientific computing was designing and implementing(with some outside help) a distributed, POSIX-compatible file system specifically optimized for the sor
    • R for "Red Flag" (Score:3, Informative)

      by FluxTheCat ( 2987281 )
      Unfortunately, research groups that use R are often unwilling to commit the time and the expertise to their programming needs. R is a decent enough language, but it scales very badly with problem size and architecture complexity. Thankfully, plenty of other research groups have committed to using C or Fortran, with drastically better results. Those C/Fortran groups will be much nicer for an trained programmer to work in. My main point is the difference in work environments. An R lab will give you a lot
  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:06AM (#44306549) Homepage
    The NSA do all kinds of interesting mathematics. Betterment of humanity though? Eh...
  • by Bazman ( 4849 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:13AM (#44306569) Journal

    I reckon academia is heading towards hiring more programmers. We often have research grants where one of the employed researchers could be a statsy person with publications in the learned journals, or a computery person with lots of stuff shared in github and contributions to open-source projects and so on. The prof as PI on the grant is impressed by the former, I'm (as CI) impressed by the latter. Currently we tend to favour the statsy people, and they are often very poor programmers with little knowledge of version control, testing, Makefiles, awk, all that nerdy stuff that could make their life simpler. So I teach them...

    I can only really talk confidently about statistics here (sample size = 1) but I know a bit about other places. University College London has a Research Software Development Team, for example: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/research-software-development/ and the whole development of programming skills for researchers is being pushed by the SSI (software.ac.uk) of which I am a fellow.

    You might also want to look at Software Carpentry, a programme for training researchers in programming skills - there may be opportunities there.

    So currently there's a few opportunities, but its getting better. A final thought though - you want to leave "the financial-obsession of the business world and would like to work for the overall betterment of humanity instead". Hahahaahha rofl. Academia is just as financially-obsessed as any trading house. I'm spending today doing paperwork for expenses claims, travel, grant proposals... Its all about the money... Oh do I sound disillusioned? Okay, I have probably stopped some people catching malaria, but not today...

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      My impression is that it's been going the opposite direction in the U.S., but could change again. It used to be quite common for CS research groups to have substantial programming staff. That's what Richard Stallman's job was in the MIT AI Lab, for example, and he was one of a number of hackers from non-academic backgrounds on the AI-Lab staff (Richard Greenblatt and Russell Noftsker were two of the others). But in those days there was generous and fairly unrestricted funding, so folks like Marvin Minsky ha

  • How about looking at universities, and specifically fields where there is a lot of good to be done but aren't 'natural' homes for programmers? e.g. Life Sciences, agriculture, biology etc.

    Separately, there are all the @home projects, which can always use programmers (and do occasionally recruit from amongst their contributors).

    • by jellie ( 949898 )

      I agree. I would start out looking at university job postings first. My own field is genomics and bioinformatics, and there really is a huge need for programmers and data analysts. Actually, my first research assistant position was as a programmer in a lab in which I did MATLAB programming. MPI and GPGP programming is very useful too.

      As someone else mentioned, you can also work for the large national labs or supercomputing centers as well. A lot of the supercomputers are publicly owned, and there's a fairly

  • First comment from me, is that this is a laudable goal, and OP has my respect for wanting to help the world.
    Second comment is that, from my limited (Electronics, Integrated Circuit Engineering, Machine Vision/AI) experience in academia, most of the research there is commercially driven, either because a large corp has come along with a wad of money and asked the institution to research something specific, or because the institution has an eye toward commercially applicable research, via patents on something

    • This varies an awful lot by field. In my research career so far I've been supported mostly by NIH and some NSF grants, with computer time and hardware supplied at time by the DOE and Microsoft.* The more pure research grants are more competitive... but the coporate stuff is a lot skeevier, especially wrt ownership of intellectual property.

      * Kind of a funny situation. I had just left MS, was and thrilled to kick that windows dust off my boots... and then they were funding my research right out of the gate. W

  • No such thing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:33AM (#44306631) Journal
    Welcome to the club. Now get back in line. :p

    Seriously though, I think, with the exception of the "Alex P. Keatons" among us, virtually all programmers would rather work doing some sort of pure research for the betterment of humanity, than helping some sycophantic management team please the board/stockholders for yet another quarter.

    Reality of the situation, though, you (and I, and all of us) have chosen the very same thing you claim has disillusioned you. You have chosen to want a paycheck. Make no mistake, for every one software engineering job position you see posted, you can find a hundred good causes that need volunteer coders. Except, good luck getting a steady paycheck if you go that route - Short of actually becoming a professor, you very much need to treat it as an act of charity.

    Which leaves you to ask yourself: Can you really afford to live without a paycheck? If you can't answer "yes" without hesitation, hey, they don't call it "work" because we go there to have eight hours of fun every day.

    As a compromise solution many of us have taken, do your good deeds on the side. Get that paycheck, and put 10-20 hours a week into a FOSS project, or helping the local foodbank set up a useable LAN from their pile of 15 year old mostly-DOA donated junk, or if you still have a few "in"s at your university, ask a few of your favorite non-CS professors if they have any projects that could use your skills (almost all of them do). But make a living first and foremost.
  • From my experience (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I work at a large research organization. I'll tell you how it is here, it will be similar at other places:

    * We have research staff and non research staff (lawyers, personal assistants, software engineers, ...)
    * All research staff must have a PhD in the field of their research position. I.e. if you want to do research, do a PhD first.
    * Software engineers don't need a PhD, but we require a bachelors in IT or equivalent experience.
    * Software engineers assist in research, but do not lead it. I.e. you don't get

    • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:47AM (#44306677) Homepage Journal

      I work for a national research organization ( small country, higher-income part of Europe ). It is different here:

      * Research staff and non-research staff, here, too ( non-research = secretaries, lawyers... )

      * All software engineers are research staff

      * You must not have a PhD, although it helps

      * Software engineers can lead in research, especially in our dept., which focuses on networks, security and some types and aspects of software / programming

      * Direct connections to the good of mankind are not so rare. One of the specializations of this institute is environment; another one is crisis and disaster management

      * Most projects are, indeed, rather small. 2 - max. 5 people for about 1 - 2 years is the standard

      * You will mostly produce demonstrators / alphas. You will never produce software above TRL 6, for sure.

      * I second the part about financial obsession

      * It is NOT the same as working with Google, IBM, et al.: it is more laid-back here, you can actually take time to think, and although mgmt. is generally as stupid and incompetent as elsewhere, there is not as high a pressure upon programmers as elsewhere.

      • The parent post is much closer to my own experiences than the grandparent post. Programmers definitely count as research staff, and a Ph.D. is not required to get those positions, although it certainly does help. And although you will probably never be a PI, you can still have a lot of freedom and influence in terms of what you work on and how you pursue it.

        Academia is very different from the corporate world. For one thing, the management structure is very flat. Research staff report to professors, and

  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:50AM (#44306685)

    I can tell you that with out a PhD, your are viewed as little more than a trained chimp. Masters in both CS and Applied Math seemed to mean nothing, the fact that these so called doctors were incapable of writing more than 4 lines of intelligible code was beside the point.

    It was fairly annoying, and none of my work is cited in their papers.

    • I can tell you that with out a PhD, your are viewed as little more than a trained chimp. Masters in both CS and Applied Math seemed to mean nothing, the fact that these so called doctors were incapable of writing more than 4 lines of intelligible code was beside the point.

      It was fairly annoying, and none of my work is cited in their papers.

      This is like a walk down memory lane. Along the way in my journey from the research world to the programming world, I embarked upon getting a master's in CS. A colleague of mine said at the time, "Why would you want to do that? It's a totally worthless degree!"

      I'm not claiming all researchers are like this, but it is a de ja vu for sure.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I can tell you that with out a PhD, your are viewed as little more than a trained chimp. Masters in both CS and Applied Math seemed to mean nothing, the fact that these so called doctors were incapable of writing more than 4 lines of intelligible code was beside the point.

      It was fairly annoying, and none of my work is cited in their papers.

      I had the same experience at a major national lab. Because I didn't have a PhD, i.e. Post Doc, I felt like a dog's chew toy. They had a yearly "peer" review system, where the PhD's reviewed each other, and also the rest of the staff. Needless to say they were always at the top of the review, and we lesser folks were always at the bottom.

  • A friend of mine is a computational chemist. He comes from a chemistry background, but has for some years now been writing software for simulating cell receptors to help find matching proteins for them. He's even part authored 3(?) books on KNIME which is written in Java. In his experience skilled programmers with maths knowledge are hard to find in the field because most come from a chemistry background rather than a computer science background.

    That seems to be good match for you.

  • by NoseBag ( 243097 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @06:59AM (#44306721)

    Three words: Math, math, and math.

    If you don't have the advanced math skills, your use to a scientific research effort will be limited.

  • Consider climate research. In the US that might be NCAR or GFDL. Lots of FORTRAN but newer languages common, too. Use applied physics. World Class supercomputers. Parallel algorithms. Lower pay scale. Some, not all, scientists pigeon hole programmers and look down on them.
  • most definitely yes (Score:3, Informative)

    by darthsteve ( 1795384 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @07:02AM (#44306737)
    I recently shifted my career from microbiology to systems biology. The thinking end of biosciences in the UK is becoming dominated by computer science. Data analysis, modelling, simulation, and subsequent hypothesis generation are increasingly being given to computer science over biological sciences, who have allowed themselves to drop their numerical / analytical abilities. Linear algebra and quadrattic programming for skills such as flux balance analysis are hugely lucrative in biotech start-ups modelling metabolism. I think ordinary differential equation modelling of biological interactions isn't going anywhere, but statistical modelling for clinical trial design using non-linear mixed effects modelling is enormously lucrative. Optimization for data fitting is also a handy skill set to drop into these as well. Statistics, maths, and computer science graduates going into clinical research organizations can expect to earn 3x the salary of a biosciences graduate going into a lab, and the availability of jobs is significantly higher. Typically they're asking for programming skills in C, Matlab, R, Python, and Java. Bioinformatics roles mining databases is Java, Perl and R and involves database design and graph theory. Modelling and simulation is all C and Matlab, with Python gaining popularity over Matlab due to cost. I've used Mathematica a bit, but Matlab for most. My colleagues all code in Matlab, R or C. Image analysis is also becoming important as high throughput phenotypic screening is in vogue. The people I know in this area are using tools like Matlab and Definians. You will need a PhD in computer science to land the big paying jobs in pharma, and the PhD research will need to be based on biological data of some sort, but the association can be very loose as long as you can code and pick up basic biology along the way. Alternatively, a solid portfolio of projects is also tempting industry due to the lack of skills on the market, and could supplement an M.Sc instead of investing time in a PhD. Personally, I'm seeing a golden age for computer science and maths graduates earning £40-60k straight out of a PhD. Wet lab scientists are starting £16 - 23k, and are increasingly relegated to generating data for computer scientists who are leading the projects. If I had my time again I would train in computer science and see if I could get into the statistical modelling for clinical trials. Do that for a few years, then go freelance and watch the money roll in.
  • by RogerWilco ( 99615 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @07:52AM (#44306953) Homepage Journal

    There are definitely positions at the Bachelor and Master level (In Comp.Sci or equivalent) at universities and research institutes.
    Also don't forget large oil firms and the like.

    There are two types:
    - Scientific Programmers: Those that work on implementing, scaling and optimizing algorithms for number crunching purposes. Knowledge of the specific field is certainly an advantage here.
    - Generic Programmers: From lab automation to webpages, database backends, archives and various other things that organisations need to do their work.

    It's hard to get a permanent contract though, as a lot of the funding is on projects for 2-5 years.

    Job adverts might be on the sites of the organisations themselves and sometimes the employers have a combined website. In the Netherlands there is AcademicTransfer for example, where all publicly funded research organisations pool their job adds.

  • The so-called "interdisciplinary" research projects can benefit greatly from your programing skills, if you take them to a new field. I guess that you have already proven, through your co-operation with geologists, that you are able to grasp a new topic and reach a high level of competency in that field (as in being co-author in a paper in that discipline), so you should definitely play that card while applying, in my opinion.

    Traveling, as well as learning/using a new language should be considered. I tried

  • My PhD work required that I learn programming, I learned R. Now I'm starting to learn Python in addition to R.

    There's plenty of opportunities for someone who is a programmer that is interested in science, where I'm sitting. I just hired an MS level employee who had experience modeling but not with programming. I'm looking to hire one programmer to do some R package work for me shortly and another to do some "big data" sort of work. However, it's not always easy to find someone to fill these positions who ha

  • I worked as a research assistant for a professor for six years. It was a great job. The most rewarding part is that I worked on lots of different projects and most of them were cool and intellectually stimulating and fun. It was also fantastic going to conferences and presenting work. You can really push and challenge yourself. It feels a bit like working in a startup. Each professor has their own team and budget and grants and publications, so its like being part of a small company, except that there is a

  • All Science is computer science nowadays, and I'm not even a computer scientist. So yes, there are many fields that are in great need of computer scientists and/or programmers. For example this guy, who popularized the term "connectome":

    http://hebb.mit.edu/people/seung/ [mit.edu]

    And BTW, his excellent TED talk:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/sebastian_seung.html [ted.com]

  • Research is not just academic: there is a lot of research going on in biotech, pharmaeceuticals, defense, aerospace, and government. There are also think tanks and the like, which probably crunch a lot of numbers. In most cases, research laboratories and institutes are anchored near major universities.

    I would suggest you relocate to a geographic area where a lot of research gets done. Boston [wikipedia.org], DC, and the Research Triangle [wikipedia.org] spring to mind, but that's because I live on the East Coast. Los Angeles County has Ca

  • You sound a great deal like me, and -- speaking from personal experience -- what you want is possible. :-) I'd look within NASA, definitely.

    And ignore the bitter folks here who are whining about how they're looked down upon by the PhDs. That's certainly not a universal experience -- I have coded for PhDs at a couple of research institutions and always got along well with them. Just remember that you have to give respect to get respect, especially if you're the new kid in the lab.

    You'd probably want/need

  • Scientific Research Positions For Programmers?

    Those are few in existence. Unfortunately (and I speak from former experience) a B.S. degree in CS with experience exclusively in the "enterprise" does not lead itself to any research/R&D position of the sort. Plus, research and R&D positions typically go to positions titled as "engineers" or "architects", not programmers. Every good software engineer or architect is a programmer, and any good programmer is an engineer or architect. But sadly, labels rule the world, pigeonholing people in stupid, mu

    • Oh, and you will need flexibility to travel. It will be extremely hard (though not impossible) to get such a position without a willingness to travel to laboratories and/or field/test sites.
  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @09:32AM (#44307631) Journal

    So get an MS in Geology. You will find:
      1) you will be supported. I.e. people in the department or even unrelated departments will hire you as a student. They do it partly because they need your skills, partly because they truly want to see you succeed, people in academia like to see people succeed, and partly as a of self interest; if they hire you then if one of their students needs a job your adviser might hire them. Sort of a mutual support mechanism as well as professional courtesy. But what you will get is a well rounded education, references, and something for the CV.

    This is based on my experiences. I never went without a job while pursuing my MS, and had a job when I graduated.

    Also, I distrust anyone programming in a technical field like Geology without background knowledge. Sure the person might right great code, but is it the *right* code? Without domain knowledge they may go down the wrong road.

    The sciences need great programmers. I had a great experience doing it. So go for it.

  • by n1ywb ( 555767 ) on Wednesday July 17, 2013 @09:45AM (#44307765) Homepage Journal
    The scientific community is really coalescing around Python. I started working at UCSD-SIO in 2004 and sold my whole team on Python. In that time I've seen Python emerge as the accross the board standard in most research institutions. Although there's still heaps of legacy code written in Perl, C, Fortran, tcl, tcsh, insert language here, and there's always the holdout who will keep writing matlab code until you pry it out of his cold dead hands, so being a multilinguist helps.

    You see some programming jobs related to seismics (which is a branch of geology) pop up here from time to time http://www.iris.edu/hq/employment [iris.edu]

    You'll find some oceaongraphy related programming jobs pop up here from time to time. Note some of them require going to sea. You'll find marine geophysicists do a lot of seismics and geology: http://unols.org/jobs/jobs/index.html [unols.org]
  • You might be lucky to get a position in a research institute and/or university, but without at least a masters degree that will be very difficult. My advice? Apply for a graduate program in your chosen field. With a doctorate, or at the least a masters degree, your chances are much higher to achieve your goals, though success is never guaranteed! :-) Good luck!
  • Right now one of the easier fields to break into with only a Bachelors degree is bioinformatics and the Broad Institute [broadinstitute.org] in Cambridge, MA is always looking for programmers to come work for them in the various cancer research groups. As the others have already pointed out though, in research there is a ceiling in place if you don't have a Ph.D and realistically a research-based (i.e. thesis) Master's degree is going to be needed if you actually want to have career progression somewhere without having the Ph.D
  • Look into getting a PhD or at least an MS in the science you're interested in. In my (pretty limited, admittedly) experience, the developers who do the heavy lifting on scientific codes are PhDs. At the same time, very few (almost 0) freshly minted science or engineering PhDs have any experience developing software in a production environment, so as long as you aren't terrible at interviewing, I think you'd be a shoe-in at a national lab or a company that does this kind of work after you finish.

    FYI, becau

  • If your goal is to contribute to the "betterment of humanity" then I suggest you join the open-source community. You can probably make a bigger difference in that area then to try and find a job in the scientific community. It also sounds like your current placement may not be the best fit. Look for a job in the IT department of a University or at a company that embraces Open-Source. For instance I work at Novell, sister company to Suse Linux and the "corporate culture" is very different from the Insurance
  • I see a few mentions of FORTRAN, but they're all modded low. I've been working as a researchers/roll-your-own-code programmers for 40 years now. I've written so much FORTRAN code over that period that I pretty much dream in FORTRAN. Yeah, I'm a dinosaur. Anyway, if you want to do serious research support work you should learn FORTRAN in general and HPF (High-Performance FORTRAN) in particular. If you're any kind of a decent programmer you should be able to pick this up fairly easily, but for street cre
  • I had the same reasons as you have, though in my case, it was a disillusionment due to solving the same problems over and over again, with the solid knowledge that the kind of problems asked of me would be very similar in future too. I started with a bachelor's, and stayed in the industry working at one of the large behemoths for 10 years. When I realised that I am getting disillusioned, I took my masters via one of the universities offering remote campus, which gave me some confidence that I actually like
  • For 8 years I worked as a "Compuational Scientist" at 3 university supercomputing centers, helping students and faculty to use/program parallel computers. I don't have a PhD.

    I saw several kinds of computing staff in academia. Some assist in research; most don't. They are:
    - graduate students (CS, engineering, physical sciences, psychology, medical research, etc)
    - post docs (w/ same areas of research)
    - IT support staff (cluster or workstation or network admins, univ administrative app programmers, etc)
    - re

  • Make sure you really enjoy the research you'll be doing, because moving from a private programming position into an academic research programming position is going to come with a hefty pay cut.

    Unfortunately for my wallet, I *do* enjoy the research quite a bit and have co-authored more publications than most junior faculty PhDs, so it can be very rewarding in a non-monetary way.

    Though as others have said, if you're goal is to be conceiving of and performing your own research, you need to go through the
  • There are, indeed, scientific programmers. Consider environmental companies - they do a lot of engineering, in terms of finding and catagorizing and cataloging pollution. Or there are some engineering firms - think of aerospace. Or there's the biosciences, which are big these days. We have a lot of such programmers here (I work for a US federal contractor in the health and human services area[1]). In my division, we've got folks working on things like protein folding[2], which takes *days* on a good-sized c

  • Yes, it is realistic with your qualifications.

    Look for Big Data projects. Particularly in Physics (e.g. CERN), Astronomy (the new generation of instruments which will be coming onliny in the next few years are going to be churning out Terabytes of data per night, which cannot be analyzed in any way other than automatically - look at projects like LSST, organisations like ESO, or the Virtual Observatory projects around the world - look at the IVOA for an overview). Or Biology/Biochemistry/Medicine - Medical

  • Awwww, to be naive and idealistic. That is what I thought!! I have worked for the big corps, and yes they are evil but then they don't pretend to be anything else. They are out for the money, period. I thought ok I will endeavor to work for the greater good being a programmer at a cancer research center in the NW. OMG, what an eye opener that was. Worked there for over four years. Guess what, researchers only care about money!! They will do anything and everything to get and keep their grants. Backstabbing
  • I am currently working in a US university as a post doc and will join another one as assistant professor. And I can tell you that one thing we definitely lack are programmers. We need programmer and we hire them. My current department (biomedical informatics at OSU) already employ at least 2 full time programmers. And they are useful. I am currently "in charge" of a piece of middleware that is quite useful for parallel programming, but it is not production ready. And provided the time I have to spare to wor

We gave you an atomic bomb, what do you want, mermaids? -- I. I. Rabi to the Atomic Energy Commission