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Getting Started with Military Science Research

Career Paths
Military Science Research
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Perhaps the thought of combining your PhD or MD with work in the military hasn't yet occurred to you. However, some excellent positions are available as a military scientist or physician. You can choose to work for the military as both a civilian or a military officer, although the career potential and choices for those actually joining the military are greatly enhanced. Excellent jobs are available to civilians, but it takes more diligence and work on your part to find the positions.

The individual who chooses the life of a science officer must be willing to sign on for a defined period of time and be comfortable with military life and the military hierarchy of command. As an officer, you would be subordinate to few. Even so, you join the military first and are a scientist second. As a post-doctoral graduate in the life sciences, you already have skills that both the Army and Navy want. The U.S. Air Force doesn't have a large research department and the Marine Corps uses the Navy as its research source. Even so, the Army and Navy offer many positions for which PhD scientists are sought.

The Navy is seeking officers with scientific backgrounds who sign on as Science Officers. The U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) employs scientists to do research. In either of these branches of the armed forces, you can work for the military in one of several ways: You can enlist in the Army as a PhD. In that capacity, you can do research in one of several areas of scientific specialty. For example, the ARL has divisions in the physical, chemical and life sciences. In the life sciences, your research could include basic research in molecular genetics and genomics that will enable optimization of soldier cognitive and physical performance, as well as work that understands stresses on the human body. In the chemical sciences, your work could involve fuel cells, high performance engines, structural and functional materials for threat protection, signature suppression, and explosives detection or chemical/biological decontamination.

They have an extensive website at www.arl.army.mil. The ARL has two ARL-wide post doctoral research programs: One which is administered by the National Research Council (NRC) based in Washington D.C. and the other by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) in Maryland. Both programs are open to scientists and engineers. They hire recent PhD graduates to work under an ARL advisor. After a1-3 year tenure, the Post doctoral graduate may be hired by the laboratory on a permanent basis. Stipends for research associates range from $55K to $65K, depending on the program. Your income increases with greater previous experience. If you are interested in working with the Army as a PhD in the sciences, contact Major Peder Swanson at 877-719-0807.

You can join the Navy with a PhD as a Science Officer. They specialize in areas such as meteorology and oceanography but also do research in bacteriology, vaccines and food science. Check out their career opportunities at www.navy.com or call a recruiter in your area. As a science officer, you could be working anywhere in the world, depending on the specific needs of the Navy. The Navy has its primary research facilities in Norfolk, Virginia, and in San Diego, California but has smaller facilities in places as far away as Egypt.

As a commissioned officer, you have a great deal of say where you go although a commission is three years in duration and you would need to alter your position either geographically or substantially after three years in one area. If you are interested in a career as a science officer in the Navy, consider discussing it further with Lieutenant Kenny Brown of the U.S. Navy at 901-874-9254.

The advantages of enlisting in the armed services are the fact that the pay and benefits are quite good and your chances of having a long-term position, should you choose to stay in the military, are quite good. Retirement packages are excellent.

The disadvantages of working in the military are that you could be transferred away from the project you are working on. In fact, the military could decide to send you out of the country doing whatever it thinks you should be doing, depending on the circumstances.

 

The Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) is the research wing of the U.S. Department of Defense. If you choose to work with this organization, your duties would involve high-level basic and applied research projects in several areas. They often hire civilians with backgrounds in research. For example, one area involves protein design processes. The goal of this work is to create a set of synthesis processes for proteins that will enable the specification of a desired function and to be able to rapidly synthesize a protein that performs the function. The outcome of this type of research would be to be better able to find ways to combat biological warfare. Most DARPA positions are near Washington D.C. and involve either enlisted or civilian employees.

 

It's possible to work for military research facilities as a civilian. The large Army and Navy laboratories under military control cannot always fill post-doctoral positions with available military staff. You can fill that position yourself through careful inquiry and having otherwise excellent credentials. This is especially true if you choose to work for DARPA. This organization hires both military and nonmilitary personnel. The other place to look for research facilities through the Navy is the Office of Naval Research website. They have listings of their various research divisions and the contact points for each. The advantage is that you can work in a state-of-the-art facility doing quality research without actually committing yourself to a military career. The possibility of a great retirement potential is not available, however. The Army Research Laboratory website lists its projects, locations and contact points. In either case, you would need to contact the research facilities and/or programs directly and inquire about the possibility of obtaining a nonmilitary position.

 

As a physician, you can join any branch of the military, although the largest programs are in the Army and the Navy. In the Army, for example, your job could be as simple as joining the Army Reserves and working one weekend per month or as all-encompassing as signing onto a full tour of duty for a minimum of three-four years. Physicians are accepted into the U.S. Army up to age 46, although you can apply for an age waiver if you are older than that. As a physician in the Army, you become a part of the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) and you"d have a ready-made career in your area of specialty. The Army offers an Officer Basic Course in lieu of basic training that teaches you the military way of life. In the U.S. Navy, you also enlist as an officer in the Medical Service Corp. Like the Army, you can join the Navy in your area of specialty with patient care as your primary focus. In either case, the pay and benefits are excellent.

 

Your ability to decide where you want to work is considerably higher in both the Army and the Navy because you enter the service as a commissioned officer. The military and the Department of Defense are doing quality research that just happens to be for the purposes of defense and military strategy. There are job descriptions available that you may not find in other sectors. If you want to perform research for the U.S. Government in a military setting, you can be assured that, most likely, funding will never be a problem. In addition, if you enlist in the military, you are likely to have a quality job available to you for the rest of your working life.

Christine Traxler, MD practiced medicine for fifteen years in rural Minnesota before turning her love of writing into a career. As a medical writer, she has worked on projects designed to make medicine simplified for the popular audience. She has two daughters and resides in Minneapolis.
Copyright Christine Traxler, MD
Published with permission

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