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How do I Become a DNA Scientist?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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DNA research is an essential, ever-changing component of biological and medical studies. Scientists who engage in DNA research help to find cures for diseases, develop new medications, and even explain the properties and origins of life itself. The requirements to become a DNA scientist depend on the type of work a person hopes to do. Most lead researchers at universities and private labs hold doctoral degrees in genetics, while many employees of biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms have bachelor's or master's degrees in the subject. In addition, hands-on lab training following graduation is important to become a DNA scientist in any setting.

A high school student who is interested in DNA research can prepare for college programs by enrolling in advanced biology, chemistry, math, and physics courses. Such classes provide a basic introduction to important topics and scientific research techniques. When looking into different four-year universities, a student should focus on the size and reputation of their science departments, especially the biology divisions. Schools with strong biology programs and sophisticated labs on campus can provide the best education to become a DNA scientist.

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Some schools feature bachelor's degree programs in specific subjects such as microbiology, genetics, or biochemistry, but a general biology program is sufficient if narrower degrees are not offered. As an undergraduate, a student has the opportunity to gain firsthand experience with research design and experiment techniques in lab courses. Lecture classes are also important to learn about the structure and function of DNA, current trends in research, and future goals and prospects.

When applying for graduate schools, it is helpful to include statements or essays about specific research interests. Schools tend to prefer students who have the strongest grades, recommendation letters from professors, entrance exam scores, and clear research goals. An individual who wants to become a DNA scientist at a biotechnology company might choose to enter a two-year master's degree program, but advancement opportunities may be limited without a PhD. A four-year doctoral program in genetics is the most helpful in preparing a scientist for work in academia, medical labs, and industry.

A PhD student can expect to spend at least two years primarily engaged in independent or collaborative projects. Under the guidance of professors, he or she has the chance to perform meaningful research and publish results. After earning a degree, a person can look into entry-level opportunities to become a DNA scientist at a private lab or company. A graduate who wants to work at a university typically needs to enroll in a one- to three-year postdoctoral research fellowship. Under the supervision of established professionals, new scientists build the skills and reputations they need to succeed in the field.

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