To seek ways to optimize the performance of trees by studying the effects of variable conditions on trees.
Research scientists often work behind the scenes in closely-knit teams, pursuing new possibilities. In this elite field, questions often lead not to answers but to new questions that open up new directions that require further research.
"The lack of definitive answers can be frustrating at times," said researcher Jennifer Phillips, Ph.D. an agronomist who works at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.
"There are no satisfactory closures on things," Phillips said. "It's more an evolution."
That evolutionary process is a hallmark of research science, a field that offers many opportunities for those driven to delve ever further in a quest to understand the complex workings of nature.
Research scientists typically obtain their Ph.D. and find employment in a variety of settings including academic research facilities and land grant universities, private corporations and government research laboratories.
"The work is hard if you are seeking tenure, because there is always the pressure of publishing new findings," Phillips said. "Otherwise, it's wonderful."
"It's very unstructured," Phillips said. "In our group we have lots of night people, so you don't see a lot of activity early in the morning, but the labs are full late into the night."
Phillips work also involves a great deal of travel to scientific conferences and to conduct her research on global warming.
"The opportunity I see in urban forestry is the need for a foundation in natural sciences, complimented with policy stuff," Phillips said. "That helps make transitions from research findings to real life applications."
Greg McPherson, Ph.D. sees many real life benefits from his work with the USDA Forest Service, where he measures the success of urban forestry programs.
"Tree planting is a very simple solution to a complex problem," McPherson said. "We plant, manage and market trees. It's easy to show the number of air conditioners we've installed."
"You feel good about the approach and what you're doing," McPherson said. "The neat thing is the way it ties together with the natural world and people. We shape our environment and the environment shapes us."
"For scientists, the rewards are in publication," McPherson said. "For me, the reward is in working with people and making things happen in their community."
Being a research scientist requires a post-graduate degree. Salaries begin in the mid $20,000. Depending on research publications, the research facility and tenure, salaries can advance to $60,000 or more.