How do I Earn a Molecular Biology PhD?

Elva K.

Molecular biologists study topics such as cells, viruses, bacteria, or cell function. Their work might also involve studying genetics and the mechanism of diseases. Typically, individuals who want to become molecular biologists tend to eventually seek the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree because having a doctoral degree makes it more likely that they will be considered for a long-term or permanent job in a laboratory, university, pharmaceutical company, cosmetics company, food company, biotechnology company, or government agency. Of course, getting a molecular biology PhD requires years of academic work.

The dissertation process involves reading a lot of literature.
The dissertation process involves reading a lot of literature.

Doing an undergraduate major in biology can be helpful if you hope to eventually attain a molecular biology PhD. If you do not major in biology, then majoring in chemistry or some other science-related area can be very helpful. Also, if you hope to eventually get a molecular biology PhD, getting good grades can be an asset because a high grade point average (GPA) will impress prospective graduate programs and will make it more likely you will be accepted to a program which leads to the molecular biology PhD.

A high GPA will help a student get accepted into a program that leads to a molecular biology PhD.
A high GPA will help a student get accepted into a program that leads to a molecular biology PhD.

Application to a molecular biology PhD program will usually occur either during the final year of the undergraduate degree or after two years of employment. If you choose to apply to a doctoral program during your final year of college, you will need to carefully select professors who can write letters of recommendation and you will need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Also, you will need to fill out applications and write application essays for each graduate program you apply to. You might also have to go through interviews, if the programs you apply to require that.

Taking the GRE may be necessary for gaining admittance to a molecular biology doctoral program.
Taking the GRE may be necessary for gaining admittance to a molecular biology doctoral program.

Once selected for a doctoral program, you will have to successfully complete the required coursework while maintaining whatever grade point average (GPA) the program has set as a requirement for doctoral students to remain in good academic standing. The doctoral coursework typically takes at least four years and will include courses such as biochemistry, genetic analysis, prokaryotic molecular research, and eukaryotic molecular research. In addition, you will be required to complete pre-dissertation research projects where you will do supervised molecular biology research work.

Also, you will have to complete a dissertation which showcases your research skills. The dissertation process will involve your reading a lot of literature, identifying a dissertation topic, doing original research, presenting your research in writing, and verbally defending your research per the requirements of your dissertation committee. Then, upon completion of the dissertation, you will attain the PhD in molecular biology.

Molecular biologists study cells, viruses and bacteria.
Molecular biologists study cells, viruses and bacteria.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - The problem for some people is that, at the moment we know so much about biology already that in order to really get into a good job you have to have a Masters degree at a minimum, and most people would recommend a PhD. And even then, you have to specialize as much as possible. In order to even understand the experimental processes in a particular scientific subject it's difficult to get away with not specializing because there is so much to learn.

Some people are naturally inclined towards that kind of specialization, but others, who might otherwise make great scientists, don't want to focus on one particular subject to that extent.


@pastanaga - To each their own, but I would never call it boring. Particularly when you get to work with a microscope. Studying bacteria and viruses and other tiny organisms is actually quite fascinating. There's a whole world, hidden away in a drop of pond water, with complex systems to be unraveled.

And the cells of larger creatures are also very interesting. They have such a lot of functions, I find it an incredible miracle that they managed to evolve to this point. I think getting a degree in molecular microbiology would actually be very fulfilling, and, besides that, I imagine it's quite a lucrative field to go into.


I was never able to see the appeal of molecular biology when I was in high school. I loved plants and animals and studying their growth and social patterns and other things like that, but once you get down to the molecular level it all seems so mechanical.

And it seems like most of the time it's just dry experiments over a microscope, rather than actually getting to interact with subjects, which I also think is fairly uninteresting.

Post your comments
Forgot password?