We'll give you one guess what field NIH research scientists must have down-pat. And we'll give you a hint: It's in their job title. We're helpful like that.
A solid background in science is a must, whether it's biology or chemistry, or something more specialized like neuropharmacology (your brain on drugs) or nanotechnology (the really, really small technologies). The degrees count, too—bachelor's, master's, doctorates. It wouldn't hurt to have a medical degree, either. Since these are research positions, research experience is also important. It shows that you can think through complex problems, and come up with solutions. Most importantly, it shows you can survive a full workday wearing those itchy latex gloves and don't mind getting goggle lines on your face.
The NIH offers training programs for scientists at all levels who ultimately want to run their own research projects one day. Obviously, the educational requirements differ for the summer internship programs for high school students and college grads, and the post-PhD. training positions. In general, however, NIH scientists get to be creative and logical. They must be able to pick out the problems or holes in existing research, and figure out how to solve or fill them in. And because research funding starts with grants, all scientists must be able to write well—or at least be able to lasso in someone who can do their writing for them. They've got to express complex science problems clearly and logically so others can send over the dough.