What Does a Computational Scientist Do? 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Computational science is an in-demand and growing field. Learn more about what it’s like to be a computational scientist, including what to expect from computational scientist jobs and the average computational scientist salary.

[Featured image] A computational scientist conducts research on a computer in a lab.

Humans use mathematics to help us understand the world around us. As technology advances, the tools we have for mathematical models and processing grow increasingly sophisticated, allowing us to advance further our ability to comprehend physics and other natural laws. The computational science field uses computers to model mathematics problems, trends, and theories to make predictions and identify real-world solutions to improve lives. 

A computational scientist career is an excellent choice for mathematically-minded people who want to improve the world by advancing technology and helping create solutions that improve everyone’s quality of life. 

Read more to learn about what computational scientist jobs are like, how to become a computational scientist, and what the average computational scientist's salary is.

What is a computational scientist?

Computational scientists use computers, coding, and programs to solve mathematical models. Mathematical models represent real-world problems in subjects such as biology or physics. Computational scientists use advanced modeling and simulation to help solve these mathematical models. These professionals often work in larger teams of technicians, scientists, and engineers to address specific problems and create solutions that apply to the real world.

Computational scientists help support other scientists because they can simulate different problems and solutions that are difficult to replicate in the real world due to cost or physical ability. For example, a computational scientist might use a mathematical model to simulate the effects of a severe earthquake or volcano eruption on a major city. These results help influence processes and policy decisions to improve outcomes should an event like that ever occur.

What does a computational scientist do?

A computational scientist generally uses mathematical modeling to address and solve real-world problems. They use computer programs to model, visualize, and simulate various complex experiments or questions, often saving time and money due to the efficiency of using algorithms and computer software. The simulations that computational scientists run often include math, domain science, computer science, and computing architectures to solve problems. They can work across many fields, including materials science, genetics, biochemistry, neuroscience, and industries like health care, aerospace, and defense.

Read more: What Is Statistical Modeling?

Computational scientist tasks and responsibilities

The specific responsibilities that a computational scientist has varies depending on the type of job and industry you work in. Some typical tasks you might expect include:

  • Developing new methods for solving intricate problems.

  • Collaborating with other scientists to create innovative solutions using data analysis, advanced simulation, and other computational science techniques.

  • Developing new computing languages and software systems.

  • Analyzing data sets to help predict various future outcomes.

  • Using mathematical modeling to provide a deeper understanding of different research subjects.

Computational scientist skills

Computational scientists need a strong background in mathematics, analysis, and computer technology to succeed. Some specific skills that are useful in this job are:

Technical skills

  • Knowledge of computer system architecture, simulation, and programming

  • Experience with programming languages like C++ or Python

  • Advanced mathematics knowledge

  • Data analysis, as well as data integration and algorithm development

  • Experience with experimental design

Workplace skills

  • Clear communication skills to collaborate on teams and explain results

  • Detail-oriented to conduct experiments accurately

  • Strong problem-solving skills

Computational science and AI

Intelligent computing is the use of artificial intelligence, or AI, within the work of computational science. Computational scientists use artificial intelligence for algorithms, computational power, and the development of new research paradigms. AI is especially useful for aiding computational scientists with identifying new trends or patterns in data that would be difficult to parse through with human understanding alone. The scientist can interact with the novel outcomes the AI presents after analyzing the data, then use their expertise to create innovative answers that otherwise we may never discover.

Read more: What Are AI Algorithms?

Salary and job outlook

Computational science is an in-demand and growing field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientist roles, which are similar to computational scientists, may grow about 23 percent from 2022 to 2032, a rate significantly faster than the average for all US jobs [1].

According to Glassdoor, the estimated total pay for computational scientists in the US is $145,524 per year [2]. This figure includes an average base salary of $121,554 and $23,969 in additional pay. Additional pay may represent profit-sharing, commissions, or bonuses.

Computational scientist career path

A computational science career is very fulfilling for people who want to try to change the world for the better, and the career path is varied and has opportunities for specialization. You will need a solid foundation and robust knowledge of mathematics and computer technology to enter this field. You should also be familiar with producing effective simulation models and working with algorithms.

After graduation, many people look to enter the field to gain jobs in adjacent roles and then move upwards into a computational scientist position. Some initial roles to consider include software engineer or data scientist positions.

Education and training

Computational scientist roles require at least a bachelor’s degree in math, science, or engineering. Since many of these roles have specializations, such as biology, it’s often helpful to also pursue a master’s degree in either computational science itself or in the specialized subject you’re interested in working with.

Once you’ve gained an entry-level computational scientist position, you may spend about eight years in each role before becoming eligible to move up into the next tier of seniority and responsibility. You might consider pursuing a doctorate to continue your education and develop the necessary skills.

You are Currently on slide 1

Getting started with Coursera

Sharpen your computational science skills and learn more about this growing and fulfilling field with courses and degrees offered on Coursera. With choices like the University of California, Davis’s Computational Social Science Methods course, or DeepLearning.AI’s AI for Good Specialization course, you’ll discover what it’s like to work within computational science and learn about the foundational skills required to be successful in this type of role. Upon completing either program, gain a shareable Professional Certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer and Information Research Scientists: Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm#tab-1.” Accessed March 22, 2023.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.