Collage of each of the images used to represent the 10 types of scientist

How do we define a scientist?

A few years ago, the Science Council put forward a definition of science. We would now like to turn our thoughts to the person that does the science.

What are the core skills, characteristics, the clues that identify someone as a ‘scientist’? Or perhaps it is easier to explore what is a scientist not? We do know there are lots of different disciplinary scientists – mathematicians, social scientists, microbiologists – but what is it that unites these practitioners under the banner of ‘scientist’?

I studied science at university, but I’m not sure that alone qualifies me to call myself a scientist. I’d like to think that my scientific approach – albeit to managing an organisation, rather than research, development or teaching – could qualify me, or is there more to it?

We have put together a first draft definition below. I invite you to read it, reflect on it and comment, or tweet us @science_council, to let us know what you think is missing and what is extraneous. We will be sharing an updated draft with our Board next month for their input and approval.

A scientist is someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, making a hypothesis and testing it, to gain and share understanding and knowledge.

A scientist can be further defined by:

  • how they go about this, for instance by use of statistics (Statisticians) or data (Data scientists)
  • what they’re seeking understanding of, for instance the elements in the universe (Chemists, Geologists etc), or the stars in the sky (Astronomers)
  • where they apply their science, for instance in the food industry (Food Scientist)

However all scientists are united by their relentless curiosity and systematic approach to assuaging it.

I look forward to your feedback.



  • Lance says:

    Pretty good. Thanks

    4th July 2016 at 7:21 pm

  • Arvind Agarwal says:

    Every body is scientist if he/she has imaginations. To make them practical do efforts by studying or by listening, by visualisation and have urge to analyse considering end use applications.

    10th July 2016 at 2:40 pm

  • Jane says:

    Hi there. Just to comment on your definition of a scientist you wrote ‘systematically gathers and uses research’…, however I have worked as a biomedical scientist in Histopathology hospital labs over the last 4 years (now a cancer research scientist in an academic institute) and there are hospital based scientist who receive patient samples and aid the diagnosis of disease for the pathologist. This is a scientist also, although research does not play a part. Also, when diagnosing disease from body tissue one does not make a hypothesis and test it, although they do test the tissue. I just feel like your definition of a scientist focuses on research, although hospital based biomedical scientists are not research based scientist.

    6th December 2016 at 10:01 am

  • Ike Bottema says:

    Is there no part of the definition of a scientist that includes academic background?

    28th February 2017 at 4:59 pm

  • Taliyah Myers says:

    Who are people that, we say are scientists?

    22nd September 2019 at 5:00 pm

  • Matthew E. Noxon says:

    Exercise Scientist right here!

    8th November 2019 at 3:35 pm