A major in genetics can lead to careers in fields as diverse as agriculture, criminology, and communication. Below is a list, by no means comprehensive, of careers geneticists pursue. Browse through this list to get an overview of each kind of career.
Geneticists conduct research in various fields of science, ranging from agriculture to wildlife biology. The list below describes some areas of research, listed in alphabetical order, in these fields.
- Agriculture/Plant Sciences
- Determine the genetic and physiological basis for certain plant traits, for example, vitamin content
- Use gene modification techniques to develop improved crop varieties such as drought-tolerant maize
- Study genes involved in development, such as those that regulate flowering
- Conserve plant genetic diversity, for example, by maintaining germ banks
- Sequence plant genomes
- Study the evolution of crop plants
- Determine genetic relationships among plant species for taxonomic classification purposes
- Study plant migration patterns
Education. The minimum educational requirement to be hired as a plant geneticist is a bachelor’s degree in biology, genetics, agriculture, or a closely related field. Since genetics draws heavily on mathematics, statistics, and biochemistry, a solid foundation in these subjects is also important.
The minimal educational requirement for a plant genetics research assistant position is a bachelor’s degree in genetics, agronomy, crop science, or a related degree. The skill set required of a research assistant varies according to the research project and can include experience in working with certain crops or knowledge of particular plant diseases, ability to maintain greenhouse plants and database inventory records, and ability to analyze phenotypic and genotypic data and perform molecular biology techniques such as PCR and Western blotting.
A master’s and PhD degree will strongly increase opportunities to conduct independent research.
Places of employment. Plant geneticists can find work in federal, state, or local government laboratories; agricultural experiment stations; botanical gardens, arboretums, national parks; university laboratories; or private agricultural companies.
Useful links :
- Identify and understand the functions of genes involved in growth, reproduction, and behavior
- Develop new breeding methods and parentage verification methods
- Breed animals with economically advantageous traits such as disease resistance or increased milk production
- Identify gene targets for drug development
- Determine the molecular mechanisms underlying diseases
- Identify the origin of exotic species
- Analyze genome sequences using bioinformatics tools
Education and Places of employment. A certificate or an associate’s degree in medical or veterinary technology is the minimum qualification to work as a technician in an animal genetics lab. A bachelor’s degree in science (for example, genetics, biology, biochemistry, or poultry science) followed by a master’s degree in an area of specialization is likely to increase job prospects. If you’re interested in bioinformatics, besides biology, courses in math, statistics, and computer sciences are essential. A PhD is usually required for teaching at the college level or for conducting independent research.
Places of employment. Animal geneticists can find work in animal biotechnology companies, breeding companies, livestock genetics industries, zoos, non-profit organizations involved in the conservation of endangered species, hatcheries, universities, and the federal government.
Useful links :
Texas A&M University Animal Genetics Laboratory: http://catdnatest.org/TexasAM.html
- Map genes that control pheromone production
- Study genes responsible for insecticide resistance
- Study gene flow in insect populations
- Study the honey bee genome
- Engineer transgenic insect vectors as a method of disease control
Education. The minimum qualification required to work as a research technician or a research assistant in a laboratory conducting genetics-based entomological research is a bachelor’s degree in entomology, genetics, molecular biology, or a related field. In addition to a strong science background, some research technician positions require experience in DNA-based techniques and in maintaining insectaries as well as computer skills to collect and analyze data. Master’s and PhD degrees increase opportunities for research.
Places of employment. These include government agencies, pest control and agrochemical companies, nature centers, and universities.
- Use genetics to develop captive breeding programs for endangered species
- Study the effect of environmental contaminants on genetic diversity
- Determine the extent of diversity in endangered populations
- Use genetics to identify species that need conservation
Education. For research positions, the minimum qualification is a bachelor’s degree in genetics, biology, environmental science, ecology, botany, zoology, or a related field. Master’s and PhD degrees increase opportunities for research.
Places of employment. These include federal agencies (for example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), private and non-profit conservation and environmental organizations, nature and forest preserves, zoos, botanical gardens, and universities.
Useful links :
- Use DNA fingerprinting to identify parts of endangered species or crime victims
- Develop more sensitive methods that will permit DNA analysis of minute crime-scene samples
- Identify biomarkers that will help determine the age of biological samples
Education. Refer to the “Forensics” major section
Places of employment. Refer to the “Forensics” major section
Useful links :
National Center for Forensic Science: http://ncfs.ucf.edu/index.html
- Develop molecular tools to diagnose genetic diseases
- Study patterns of genetic variation in human populations, the causes of these variations, and how they influence disease susceptibility
- Determine the genetic basis of diseases like lupus, autism, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes
- Study gene-gene and gene-environmental interactions (epigenetics) in multifactorial diseases
- Study chromosomal abnormalities
- Study gene expression in early human development
- Study the influence of genes on behavior (Behavioral genetics)
- Determine methods to deliver genes to target cells (Gene therapy)
Education. A strong foundation in mathematics and science is good preparation for research in human genetics. Master’s and PhD degrees increase opportunities for research. An MD-PhD degree, which provides training in both clinical and basic science, increases opportunities to conduct translational research.
Places of employment. These include medical centers, research institutes, hospitals, and biotech companies.
Useful links :
National Human Genome Research Institute Research Investigators: http://www.genome.gov/10000297
Microbial genetics involves studying the genetics of microbes such as bacteria and fungi. Listed below are some areas of research.
- Study mechanisms of gene expression, transposition, and recombination
- Study mechanisms underlying the interaction between host defense and bacterial virulence factors
- Study the genetic basis of the pathogenesis of disease-causing microorganisms, for example, Mycobacterium tuberculosis
- Study genes involved in the bacterial response to stress, for example, heat treatment and low storage temperature, which are used in food preservation
- Sequence the genome of economically important bacteria, for example, those that degrade hydrocarbons, or food-borne pathogens, for example, Salmonella
- Use model organisms, such as the mold Neurospora crassa, to understand circadian clock genes
Education. An advanced degree in science may not be required for entry-level positions as a research assistant in a microbial genetics laboratory. However, a master’s degree in genetics, genomics, or microbiology followed by a PhD increase opportunities for research.
Places of employment. These include government agencies, medical centers, universities, pharmaceutical companies, the agricultural industry, and diagnostic laboratories.
Useful links :
- Developing statistical tools to identify genes and genetic variations
- Develop software to perform genetic analysis, for example, quantitative trait loci mapping
- Match genes and genetic variations with phenotypes through linkage and association analysis
(Also, explore areas of research within the fields of bioinformatics and computational genetics as they overlap with those in the field of statistical genetics.)
Education. Training to become a statistical geneticist can begin with an undergraduate degree in mathematics, statistics, physics, or computer science followed by a graduate degree in statistical genetics. It is also possible to begin with an undergraduate degree in biology or genetics followed by courses in statistics in graduate school. The key is to have a strong background in both biology and mathematics. Computer programming skills are an asset.
Places of employment. These include biostatistics and epidemiology departments in universities; state or federal genetic, genomic, or health centers (for example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)); and biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and pharmacogenomic companies.
Useful links :
Count on it (Article from naturejobs.com on skills required and employment opportunities in statistical genetics): http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/2007/070222/full/nj7130-946a.html
Carolina center for genome sciences, Bioinformatics and computational biology training program: http://genomics.unc.edu/training/bcb.html
Statistical genetics short course—featuring Mendel software: http://genomics.unc.edu/events/statgen/ (This course was held in 2010, but check Web site for updates.)
University of Washington, Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics: http://www.biostat.washington.edu/suminst/sisg/general
University of Michigan, Center for statistical genetics: http://csg.sph.umich.edu/index.php (Examples of job descriptions within the field of statistical genetics)
Genetic Analysis Workshop. Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research: http://www.gaworkshop.org/index.html
Nature Reviews Genetics. Computational genetics: http://www.nature.com/nrg/focus/compgen/index.html (Collection of papers on computational genetics)
- Develop DNA tests for diagnosing genetic disorders
- Develop genetic tools for genome mapping, for example, the horse genome
- Develop animal models to study human disease
- Conduct preclinical trials
- Develop cloning technology as a way to conserve endangered species
Education. A bachelor’s degree in genetics, biology, biomedical science or a related field is the minimum qualification for entry-level positions as a research technician in the field of veterinary medicine. Master’s and PhD degrees lead to opportunities to conduct independent research.
Places of employment. These include veterinary genetic laboratories, private companies that offer veterinary genetic services, universities, animal breeders, biotechnology companies, and medical research institutes.
- Study genetic relationships within and between populations of species to determine genetic diversity
- Develop DNA tests to determine gender as well as to identify individuals, parents, and kin
- Use genetic markers to identify migration patterns, reproductive success, and evolutionary origin
- Use genetic analysis to determine the taxonomic classification of
- Study mitochondrial DNA to understand nesting patterns
Education. For research positions, the minimum qualification is a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, zoology, or a related field. Master’s and PhD degrees increase opportunities for research.
Places of employment. Federal agencies (for example, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), private and non-profit conservation and environmental organizations, nature and forest preserves, zoos, and wildlife genetics laboratories in universities.
Useful links :
Clinical geneticists are doctors who work with patients to identify, diagnose, and treat genetic diseases. They may also conduct research on genetic disorders; teach interns and residents about the diagnosis and management of clinical genetic disorders; and have administrative roles, for example, planning and coordinating large-scale screening programs for genetic diseases.
Education. After obtaining a medical degree, clinical geneticists complete 2 years of residency in medical disciplines approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), followed by a 2-year ACMGE-accredited residency in clinical genetics. They may then obtain certification (which involves passing an examination administered by the American Board of Medical Genetics) in one of four specialties: clinical genetics, clinical biochemical genetics, clinical cytogenetics, and clinical molecular genetics. (Clinical biochemical geneticists, cytogeneticists, and molecular geneticists may have either an MD or a PhD degree in genetics or a related biological science.)
Places of employment. Clinical geneticists work in research centers, hospitals, or medical centers or have private practices.
Useful links :
American Board of Medical Genetics. Specialties of genetics. http://www.abmg.org/pages/training_specialties.shtml
Clinical Laboratory Scientist/Medical Technologist (CLS/MT)
Clinical laboratory technologists or scientists perform chemical, biological, hematological, immunologic, microscopic, and bacteriological tests. For example, they may examine body fluids for the presence of bacteria, determine the concentration of compounds such as blood glucose, and prepare blood samples for transfusion. They not only perform laboratory procedures, but interpret test results, conduct research, develop new test methods, perform quality control, and supervise clinical laboratory technicians.
Technologists in large laboratories specialize in a particular field of laboratory science. For example, cytotechnologists examine cells for chromosomal abnormalities.
Education. The minimal educational requirement to qualify for an entry-level position as a clinical laboratory technologist is generally a bachelor’s degree with a major in medical technology or one of the life sciences.
Bachelor’s degree programs in medical technology include courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, math, statistics, management, business, computers as well as specialized clinical laboratory science courses. These programs are offered by universities and academic medical centers, and graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree are eligible to apply to them.
To find a clinical laboratory scientist/medical technologist program accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS), refer to http://www.naacls.org/search/programs.asp .
Graduates of a clinical laboratory science program are eligible for national certification as a clinical laboratory scientist/medical technician by passing an exam administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification. (For a listing of the certifications and qualifications offered by the board, visit http://www.ascp.org/boc .)
Certification and accreditation can also be obtained through the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) and the American Medical Technologists (AMT).
Useful links :
American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science: http://www.ascls.org/?page=Career_Toolkit
Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos096.htm
Cytogenetics is the study of chromosomal abnormalities underlying human diseases. A cytogeneticist prepares biological specimens such as blood, amniotic fluid, bone marrow, and tumors for chromosome analysis. This involves preparing cell cultures and staining chromosomes using techniques such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and knowledge of techniques such as PCR, fluorescence microscopy, nucleic acid purification, agarose gel electrophoresis, and immunofluorescence staining. For a detailed list of skills expected of cytogenetic technologists, refer to the PDF prepared by the Association of Genetic Technologists (AGT). You can find it here: http://www.agt-info.org/Documents/Cyto%20Statements%20of%20Competence%202001.pdf
Education. The minimum educational requirement to be a cytogenetic technologist is an undergraduate in genetics, biochemistry, or biology followed by a cytogenetic technology program and certification (which is required by some laboratories). Choose a cytotechnology program that is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
An undergraduate degree in cytogenetics may be followed directly by certification. A national certification exam is offered by the Board of Registry of the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
Places of employment. Cytogenetic technologists may find work in research institutions, hospitals, and medical laboratories.
Useful links :
Health Careers Center, Cytogenetic Technologist:
Association of genetic technologists: http://www.agt-info.org/
Molecular Genetic Technologist
Molecular genetic technologists study DNA for various purposes: to determine familial cancer risk, to diagnose neurological disorders, to identify microbiological agents, to match tissues for organ transplantation, to identify disaster or crime victims, and to determine parentage.
The following are some examples of skills molecular genetic technologists should have, according to the “Statements of competence for molecular genetic technologists.”
- Collecting, handling, preparing, and processing specimens
- Isolating nucleic acids from specimens
- Performing electrophoretic and other separation techniques
- Knowledge of polymerase chain reaction
- For a more detailed list of skills, see http://www.agt-info.org/Documents/Molecular%20Statements%20of%20Competence.pdf
Education. Molecular genetic technologists must have a bachelor’s degree in a biological science and a post-baccalaureate degree in molecular genetic technology (or a minimum of one year on-the-job training). For information on The University of Texas MD Anderson Center’s molecular genetic technology program, visit http://www.mdanderson.org/education-and-research/education-and-training/schools-and-programs/school-of-health-professions/programs-and-courses/molecular-genetic-technology/program-description.html. (This program is accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS).)
It is also possible to be certified by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) as a molecular biology technologist. For information on eligibility requirements for the certification examination, visit http://www.ascp.org/FunctionalNavigation/certification/GetCertified/TechnologistCertification.aspx#mp
Places of employment. These include cancer treatment and research centers, pathology labs, pediatric and genetic counseling clinics, chemical industry labs, biotechnology companies, public and private forensic labs, and academic institutions.
Molecular genetics technology career overview: http://www.mayo.edu/mshs/mg-career.html
Association for Molecular Pathology. List of programs that offer Molecular Technologist Training. http://www.amp.org/committees/training_educ/molecular_technologist_training.cfm
Genetic counselors provide information to individuals or families who have or who are at risk of developing genetic disorders. Responsibilities of genetic counselors include analyzing family history and inheritance patterns, evaluating an individual’s risk of developing a particular disorder, and identifying testing or treatment options.
Genetic counselors may work in research labs and study, for example, how genetic disorders are inherited. They may also be teachers and be involved in educating medical students or individuals from other health-care professions or the general public about genetic counseling. Genetic counselors may also work with biotechnology companies that develop genetic tests.
Education: To become a genetic counselor, in addition to an undergraduate degree in genetics or a related subject, a master’s degree in genetic counseling from an accredited program is required. Further, board certification in genetic counseling through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) is an asset.
Places of employment. Genetic counselors can work in clinical settings such as hospitals, research laboratories, or educational institutions.
Useful links :
National society of genetic counselors: http://www.nsgc.org/Default.aspx
Forensic DNA analysts analyze biological samples (for example, saliva, skin cells, or hair follicles) submitted for criminal investigation or other legal matters for the presence or absence of DNA. DNA profiles of unknown samples are compared with those of convicted criminals to identify crime suspects or exonerate wrongly accused or convicted individuals. Other duties of a forensic DNA analyst include preparing reports of DNA analysis, serving as an expert witness, maintaining and calibrating equipment, preparing chemical solutions, and ordering supplies. In crime labs, DNA analysts may also be involved in trace evidence or firearms analysis.
Education. Minimal educational requirements for an entry-level position are a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, forensic science, or a related field and coursework in genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and statistics. Also, DNA analysts must have good critical thinking, writing, communication, presentation, interpersonal, and teamwork skills.
Places of employment. These include local, state, or federal law enforcement or government agencies; private forensic laboratories; and medical, scientific, and research laboratories.
Genetics Research Technician
A research technician assists the main scientists in a genetics laboratory. Duties range from sample preparation to data collection to data analysis.
Places of employment and education. A genetics research technician can find work in a variety of research settings. Knowledge and technical skills will vary depending on the research project. For example, some technician positions require only a bachelor’s degree in any science and no prior laboratory experience and involve tasks such as cleaning equipment, ordering lab supplies, and assisting with laboratory report preparation. Other positions require a master’s degree in science and knowledge of basic anatomy, cell culture, histology, molecular cloning techniques, and quantitative gene expression analysis.
School Science Teacher
Science teachers for middle- and high-school are in high demand. For more information on how to obtain certification to teach at the middle- and high-school levels, visit the College of Education & Human Development’s “Become an Aggie Teacher” page at http://educate.tamu.edu/articles/High-Need .
Listed below is information about two popular secondary certification programs TAMU offers.
The AggieTEACH program prepares undergraduate students majoring in math or science to become secondary math or science teachers (grades 8—12). The program allows students to obtain secondary teacher certification along with their bachelor’s degree and without the need to take additional credit hours. It also provides hands-on experience in teaching in science classrooms.
You can also contact Dr. Carolyn Schroeder, program coordinator, at 979-458-4450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Accelerate Online program allows students to obtain certification to teach Life Sciences at the 8-12 grade level. Certification can be obtained in 12-18 months. In order to be admitted to the Life Sciences Certification program, students need to have completed 24 hours of coursework in designated areas, and 12 of these hours should be upper-level (junior or senior) courses.
For more information on the program, visit http://accelerate.tamu.edu/index.html. You can also contact Lynn Beason at 979-458-3968 or email@example.com.
For information on the job profile and job prospects for biology school teachers, refer to http://online.onetcenter.org/link/summary/25-1042.00