Working from Home in Science

Work from Home Jobs and Advice

You can tutor or teach science from home, in person or online.
You can tutor or teach science from home, in person or online. Hero Images / Getty Images

Most of the e-mail I get writing for is about chemistry, but many readers recognize I work from home and have questions about how I got started and what work-from-home opportunities are available in the sciences. Can you transition back into a conventional workplace after being at home? How does working at home impact your finances? You get the idea. I don't have all the answers, but I've been working from home in science since 1992. Here's what the experience has given me to share:

Employment Opportunities in Science

  • Freelance WriterFreelance writers are self-employed. You might seek a single contract with a particular company or you might look for multiple smaller jobs. Some writers put up notices at schools to write or type papers. Scientists who can write well often help other scientists write articles or prepare proposals. Editorial positions may also be available.
  • Technical WriterMany scientists can make the transition to technical writer. Some technical writers have regular employment and others are self-employed. You could write user manuals, document safety information, prepare annotated bibliographies, etc.
  • ConsultantThere are many possibilities for this self-employed option. There is a market for Internet research, literature searches, etc. Some consultants review research plans and professional papers for their scientific merit, as well as to give editorial advice.
  • TelecommuterNot everything that can be done at work can be done at home, but many things can! Think about the position you have (or want) and list duties that can be performed at home. Some employers that don't offer telecommuting may be receptive to the idea, providing you can present a case for this form of employment in a rational manner (it helps if you can increase productivity or decrease costs to the company in your proposal). The Telecommuting site can help you explore some options.
  • Teacher/InstructorThanks to the Internet, it is possible to teach without entering a traditional classroom. To find these positions, check out the websites of schools (if they don't have one, you can be pretty sure they don't offer Internet classes).
  • TutorTutoring is usually a part-time position. While it can work such that you travel to a school or other location, some tutors help students in their own home. Check local newspapers and bulletin boards at schools to find jobs. You can call or schedule an appointment with the academic assistance offices at schools to explore unadvertised opportunities. Some companies also hire tutors to help employees in continuing education.
  • Scientist or EngineerAs you might imagine, there are certain limitations to doing science at home. The most notable problems are associated with safety (e.g., wet labs are problematic), security, and finances. However, if you are creative, it's possible to engage in science and engineering from home. If you are a theorist or do computer modeling, you have some excellent options. If you want an affiliation with a corporation or institution, team up with a local school or business. Joining a professional organization is always a good idea, too.
  • EntrepreneurYou can be an entrepreneur in any field, including science. You can be self-employed without being an entrepreneur, but some of the most attractive employment prospects may result from a start-up venture.
  • Other OptionsIf you have particular skills, for example, with graphics programs, programming, or photography, there may be other positions that will appeal to you. Perhaps you have the urge to become an Inventor.

What You Will Need

If you work out of your home, you will need to demonstrate the following traits.


  • Self-MotivationSelf-motivation is the key to success at working from home. If you aren't self-motivated, stay in the office, lab, wherever. When you work from home, you have tasks to complete with a relatively open timeframe for completion. You must be able to motivate yourself to do all of the things you need to do. If you do choose to work at home, be aware there will be times when your self-motivation will flag. It's natural, but you must be able to overcome it.
  • Physical OrganizationFortunately, physical organization isn't the same as 'neat'. However, if you are working from home, you will need to establish good record-keeping procedures and keep your files, whether hardcopies or on a computer, within some organizational structure.
  • Mental OrganizationMost scientist-types have organized thought processes, so this should be the easiest item on the list! For most at-home jobs, there is no immediate supervisor handing down priorities, so you will need to determine what needs to be done and how to do it, and then get it done.
  • Ability to Separate Work from HomeIt's much harder to 'leave it at the workplace' when the workplace is also home. Some people set aside a separate room for work (which has benefits regarding taxes), whereas others have less structured divisions between home and work. Some people set strict 'office' hours. Some people have separate computers for work and recreation. It's important to make some sort of division (or at least a comfortable integration), or you'll risk job burnout or else never get tasks completed.

Other Issues Working from Home in Science

Most people who work at home don't make a permanent transition. Keep an eye on how your work-from-home experience can be written up in your resume or vitae. When possible, maintain subscriptions to professional and trade journals (or visit a library that carries them), attend meetings and conferences, take classes, write papers, and build up concrete evidence that you are continuing your education and expanding your professional skills. You want to maintain business contacts, so keep up with your correspondence.

While many self-employed positions pay less than conventional employment, you may find that you save money on clothes, transportation, and food. You may be able to deduct home office expenses. There are more options than ever before to get health insurance and other benefits as a self-employed person.