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What Is Required to Be a Geneticist?

by Stephanie Dube Dwilson

Genetics is the study of heredity -- a biological process whereby parents pass certain genes to their offspring. Genetics is an exciting and challenging field, as modern technology is constantly changing and strides are occurring in genetic medicine. Geneticists can specialize in different areas, such as manipulating food crops, cloning animals and even psychiatric genetics.

Undergraduate Degree

Geneticists often have a bachelor's degree in genetics, which includes a wide range of science courses in chemistry, math, genetics, biology, botany, zoology and biochemistry. If a student knows in what area of genetics he wants to specialize, he might obtain a bachelor's degree in animal science, biochemistry, agronomy, plant science, poultry science, forestry, fisheries, wildlife or other specialized sciences.

Graduate School

Although a person can get a job in genetics with a bachelor's degree, a graduate degree allows for greater specialization, a higher salary and a more sophisticated research and development position. For example, a plant geneticist with a master's and doctorate degree has a greater chance at conducting independent research than someone without the advanced degrees. A geneticist who wants to teach at a college level, generally must have a Ph.D.

Medical Degree

A student who wants to specialize in human genetics should consider medical school, although a Ph.D. is also beneficial. Anyone wanting to work in medical genetics must have an M.D. A medical geneticist is trained in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for patients with genetically-linked diseases, while human genetics is a broader category that does not have to involve medicine. Some universities offer dual M.D./Ph.D. programs. With a dual degree, the geneticist can work in translational science, which involves taking scientific research from the laboratory and applying it to real life situations.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

For an even greater specialization, some students work on a postdoctoral fellowship after getting a Ph.D. This provides for a more in-depth understanding of a specialization and can open the door for better job opportunities. A postdoctoral program lasts two to three years and includes specialized training, classes, research, publication and mentoring.

The Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project was a 13-year project, completed in 2003 and coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health that set out to identify all the genes in human DNA, determine the sequences of chemical base pairs that make up human DNA, store this information in databases and improve tools for data analysis. Given the abundance of information coming from the Human Genome Project, opportunities in the field of molecular genetics, which involves the identification of genes associated with specific functions, diseases and disorders will continue to expand. As genetic testing becomes more commonplace, the need for more molecular geneticists to conduct and evaluate tests will increase. According to 2012 information from the National Human Genome Research Institute website, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the salaries of molecular geneticists can range from $35,620 to $101,030, depending on education, which might include only a bachelor's degree, and experience.

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