Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

Occupation Outlook | Main MBIE Site


Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

Job prospects for scientists are good. Employment numbers are expected to grow over the next few years, and some of the occupations are on the long-term skills shortage list. Although job prospects overall are good, they vary between the different fields. Some fields are very small and competition for vacancies can be very hard.

Becoming a scientist requires many years of tertiary education. Income is high.

How to become a scientist

What they do

Scientists study a range of subjects, depending on their specialisation. Their goal is to develop or apply new knowledge of how the world works in their field. Some broad groups of scientists include agricultural and forestry scientists, environmental scientists, life scientists, and medical laboratory scientists.

Medical laboratory scientists are most common in New Zealand – about 23% of all scientists employed here. These are followed by environmental research scientists (14%), geologists (11%), agricultural scientists (10%), forest scientists (8%), chemists (7%), geophysicists (4%) and other types of scientists.

Their tasks may include:

  • advising farmers on techniques for improving crop and livestock production
  • conducting experiments and tests to identify the chemical composition and reactive properties of natural substances and processed materials
  • developing conservation and management policies for biological resources, such as fish populations and forests, and establishing standards and developing approaches for the control of pollution and the rehabilitation of areas disturbed by activities such as mining, timber felling and overgrazing
  • conducting studies of minerals and the nature and formation of the earth's crust, and carrying out mineral exploration
  • studying the forms and structures of organs and tissues of the body by systematic observation, dissection and microscopic examination
  • investigating the effects of environmental factors, such as rainfall, temperature, sunlight, soil, topography and disease, on plant and animal growth
  • analysing samples of body tissue and fluids to develop techniques to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases
  • treating animals medically and surgically, and administering and prescribing drugs, analgesics, and general and local anaesthetics for animals
  • conducting experiments to discover and develop industrial, medical and other practical applications of physics
  • studying and applying chemical and metallurgical techniques for extracting and refining metallic materials from their ores and concentrates.

Qualifications needed

Becoming a scientist usually requires a high level of qualification in a relevant field. Generally, you need (at least) a master’s degree or PhD in an area relevant for the field of science you want to work in.

Cost of study

Master's degree in Science
$36,000 over five years

Average costs in 2016 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. Further costs include materials, textbooks, and accommodation.

A master’s degree in science can cost around $36,000 over five years, although this amount varies depending on the subject and institution. Included in this sum is the cost of completing a bachelor’s degree in science, which is a prerequisite for doing a master’s degree. First time students may be eligible for fees-free tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to

Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services: 

Completed qualifications

Biological sciences is a field of study that suits future scientists in many fields. The number of students completing a doctorate in biological sciences has increased in recent years. The supply of new potential scientists is still small, but it shows increasing interest in the area.

Qualification completions chart

Source: Ministry of Education

Income and employment prospects


In 2019, the average annual income for scientists was estimated to be around $78,300. Income depends on which field they work in, what kind of organisation they work for, and how much experience they have.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index

Employment and skill shortages

Scientists’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2023 2028
11,232 12,510 14,920 16,750
  1.6% 3.0% 1.8%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
*Growth projections are for the broader category “Natural and Physical Science Professionals”.

The number of scientists increased at around 1.6% from 2006 to 2013. Since then, employment has increased and is projected to grow strongly to 2023 and continue growing at 1.8% per year out to 2028.

Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Some specific scientist occupations are on Immigration New Zealand’s long-term skill shortage list. These are:

  • Environmental research scientist
  • Medical laboratory scientist
  • Physicist (Medical)

The long-term skill shortage list always applies for all regions. If an occupation is on the list, it indicates the government is actively encouraging skilled workers in those occupations to work in New Zealand. A full list is available on the Immigration New Zealand website.

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

Online vacancies for environmental scientists have been growing faster than the average for all vacancies in recent years, with a dip over 2015- 2016 period.

Jobs advertised chart

Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

Scientist vacancies are advertised through public media such as the Trade Me Jobs and Seek websites.

Trade Me Jobs: 

Career path

Scientists specialising in academic research mainly work for Crown research institutes (CRIs) or universities. Those scientists with a policy or evaluation focus may be employed by local or central government, or private consultancies.

Those choosing an academic research path will require a PhD, after which they can apply for postdoctoral positions at research organisations or universities. They may need to do two or three postdoctoral fellowships (usually lasting two to three years each) before finding a permanent position. After about 15 years’ experience, scientists can progress into senior positions, including management roles.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level scientists.

  • Agricultural/Horticultural Scientist
  • Biochemist
  • Biotechnologist
  • Chemist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Forestry Scientist
  • Geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • Marine Biologist
  • Medical Laboratory Scientist
  • Meteorologist
  • Microbiologist
  • Zoologist

Other information


More information on scientists is available on the Careers New Zealand website.

Careers New Zealand:


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of scientists has been coded to the following ANZSCO codes for the purpose of this report:

234112 – Agricultural Scientist
234113 – Forester (Aus) / Forest Scientist (NZ)
234211 – Chemist
234313 – Environmental Research Scientist
234399 – Environmental Scientist nec
2344 – Geologists and Geophysicists
2345 – Life Scientists
2346 – Medical Laboratory Scientists
234913 – Meteorologist
234914 – Physicist
234999 – Natural and Physical Science Professionals nec