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

  • David E Watson says:

    I have always thought of a scientist as someone who is at heart an explorer, driven by an innate, child-like curiosity and imagination, whos’ focus is on discovery. Experimentation, testing and hypothesis follow discovery. As your definition says, there are many different kinds of scientists, but they all have an insatiable curiosity about what they do.

    31st May 2020 at 3:34 am