Genetics is the study of heredity and gene organization and regulation in organisms. Because genetics is a relatively new science, it offers a large number of promising new careers in fields like medicine, forensics or genetic engineering. College genetics programs prepare students for these careers in addition to the postgraduate education they may pursue. Many schools, like the University of Georgia, Clemson University and Iowa State University offer an interdepartmental genetics major combining faculty from a variety of departments. Students graduating from an undergraduate genetics program have an edge in either their career or postgraduate education.
Students studying genetics must begin with introductory science courses in their first two years to prepare for upper-level coursework. Complete sequences of general biology and general and organic chemistry, with labs, will introduce students to the basics of scientific research, along with fundamental concepts like cell structure and function, gene expression and regulation and population genetics. Students commonly take two semesters of physics with a lab as well.
Introductory Genetics and Evolutionary Biology
Like many other schools, the University of Georgia mandates that after the general science courses students must take introductory courses in genetics and evolutionary biology. Genetics gives students a foundation in the principles of genetic mechanisms in organisms, including the structure and replication of DNA, gene expression and quantitative and population genetics. Evolutionary biology studies the transfer and expression of hereditary information, and, along with the genetics course, is also quite useful for upper-level coursework. Iowa State University also offers a genetics orientation course, introducing students to career opportunities and concentrations.
Upper-Level Genetics Courses
After the general science courses are complete, students move on to required courses in their major, like Introductory Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where students study topics like the structure and function of molecules, metabolism and recombinant DNA technology. Another required course is Cell Biology, which examines the structure and function of cells. Other common courses include molecular genetics, analytical genetics, bioinformatics and evolutionary genetics. Lab courses are also required for the major as well, and students often choose between a number of lab courses, like experimental genetics and bioinformatics, to complete the requirements.
Most undergraduate genetics programs require a strong foundation in math as well, because many of the upper-level genetics courses involve higher-level scientific calculations. Most programs require students to take a calculus-based physics course as well. Clemson University, for example, requires a course that uses physics with calculus. Calculus I and II, as well as statistics, are commonly required math courses for genetics majors.
A number of electives are required for a genetics degree, and students may generally choose two or three of these courses depending on their postgraduate plans. Many of these come from different departments, from Animal and Dairy Sciences to Ecology. For example, the University of Georgia offers courses on the genetics of livestock improvement, ecological genetics and the genetics of yeast and filamentous fungi. Clemson University offers a course on insect biotechnology, which examines methods to control destructive insects.
- Photodisc/Digital Vision/Getty Images