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.

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 2017, the average annual income for scientists was estimated to be around $75,800. 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 2021 2026
5,715 6,390 7,919 9,145
  1.6% 4.6% 3.0%

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 expected to continue growing at more than 3% out to 2026.

Employment chart

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Outcomes after qualification completion*

OverseasIn further studyReceiving a benefitIn employmentMedian Salary
15% 25% 0% 58% $56,000

Source: Tertiary Education Commission
*Three years after completion of  Master's degree- Biological Sciences.

Most graduates were in employment two years after completing a doctorate in biological sciences, with many in further study, or overseas. The median salary was around $56,000 three years after graduation.

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

  • Forest scientist
  • Environmental research scientist
  • Medical laboratory scientist

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.

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