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How Do I Become a Geneticist?

Most geneticists need a doctoral degree.
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  • Written By: Brandi L. Brown
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 07 August 2014
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Someone who wants to become a geneticist should research the industry and its three broad specialties: population genetics, molecular genetics and medical genetics. Population geneticists work to track patterns and anomalies in human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to determine what factors influence the development of certain traits. Molecular geneticists work to decode DNA to pinpoint what genes control what traits; the role of these scientists is to provide new information that other scientists can use to develop treatment or cures for various illnesses. People in medical genetics meet with patients who have genetic disorders and work to provide treatment.

To become a geneticist requires years of training in the hard sciences. Most people who work as geneticists have degrees in biology. Anyone who is considering becoming a geneticist should take courses in high-level mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology. Those who want to become a geneticist to work with the public also should consider courses in management and communications. This undergraduate education will prepare future genetic researchers to gain entry into graduate school, where training for life as a geneticist truly begins.

A doctoral degree in philosophy (Ph.D.) is necessary for almost all geneticists, regardless of their specialty. Medical geneticists often also have medical degrees. Doctoral work to become a geneticist usually requires training in a biological science. The training typically lasts from seven to 10 years. During this time, people training to become geneticists work as lab technicians and research assistants alongside established researchers.

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After the considerable training to become a geneticist is complete, the transition into a full-time career begins. The most common employers for genetic engineers are pharmaceutical and medical research companies and colleges and universities. At private-sector research companies, geneticists spend their time in labs working on finding information that will lead to the development of new medications. Competition for these jobs and in this area of the industry often is fierce, because a substantial amount of money is on the line based on what the scientists uncover.

Academic geneticists may find themselves doing double duty as teachers and researchers. As teachers, these scientists will instruct undergraduate students in the biological sciences, while research at academic institutions often consists of more theoretical work. So-called “basic” scientific research means scientists explore and examine without a particular goal. Scientists trying to decode the human genome fall into this research category. Academic geneticists have no profit goal in mind, which allows them to focus on discovery.

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