Is there a difference between scientists and researchers? Is one an occupation and the other a mission or lifestyle? Does it really matter in the end?
Everyone starts researching at a very early age, or at the latest in high school for projects. Does that make you a researcher, or is that simply learning valuable skills that you will need in life and in your career, which might be a research career.
In my opinion there are many more researchers that scientists in the world, but both work in science. What’s the difference? Let’s take basic science for example. We all agree that it exists, but there is no such thing as basic research, so there is a difference. Scientists live, breath and dream science. They never really stop. To a certain extent science to them is very personal. It is a way of life. The traditional scientific approach that everyone learns in school in science or biology classes (hypothesis, facts, experimentation and final confirmation or disproval of a hypothesis) together with a lot of questions, thoughts, mistakes and dead ends all generate data and eventually become the resources needed to ask the final question that yields the final answer. Creative chaos. Creativity before order. All this combined form my idea of science and the people doing it are scientists. Perhaps this is a bit too romantic and an old-fashioned description but it’s the way I see it.
So who then are researchers? Research is more focused. For example a PhD student that gets a position in an already established research group has to follow guidelines, methods and a path that has already been laid out or at the very least outlined. This PhD student is a researcher. Research for me means less freedom and creativity (although these are of course still required) and more focus and much clearer goals, e.g. this many publications in that many years, etc. Not that I underestimate research, but I still see a difference. I for one view myself as a researcher.
In a way I understand research is that it is more of an occupation and definitely much more similar to “a job” than that of a scientist but, to come back to basic science, the people doing it have to be scientists. Perhaps the best description of a scientist is a person who still maintains the ability to connect facts, in the way only kids can, while playing with sophisticated instruments.
By Matjaž Hren, PhD, COO and Head Research and Development, BioSistemika LLC