How to Become a Geneticist: Career Path Guide
If you want to become a geneticist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career in this field:
Those who become geneticists are strong in academics and are emotionally stable, as this is required to complete short and long-term tasks.
They must be interested in biology and genetics, and have an aptitude for mathematics. Geneticists must also be manually dexterous in order to utilize specialized equipment and conduct experiments. They must be comfortable working in a laboratory setting, and communicating their findings and opinions to others.
Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a geneticist in the United States, or Canada. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Geneticist
Requirements to work in genetics research
If you want to become a geneticist that works in an entry-level research job such as laboratory assistant, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related program.
If you want to work as a senior-level researcher, you will need to have a graduate degree in genetics.
If you want to direct research, or become a faculty member in a university or college, then you will typically need to complete a doctoral degree program in genetics.
Requirements to work as a clinical geneticist
Aspiring clinical geneticists must complete a bachelor's degree program, as well as earn a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at a medical school. A clinical geneticist must also pass the medical licensing exam (in either the United States or Canada) in order to legally qualify for professional practice.
Requirements to work as a genetic counselor
In order to become a genetic counselor, you typically need to complete a Master of Science degree in genetic counseling from a recognized university. Beyond meeting educational requirements, you may also need to be licensed in order to work as a genetic counselor.
In the United States writing a certification exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) certifies genetic counselors. In Canada, the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors certifies most genetic counselors.
Geneticist Job Description
Geneticists are responsible for studying how genes function to produce cells and organisms, and how hereditary traits and mutations are passed through generations. Geneticists apply their knowledge for purposes such as treating and counseling patients with hereditary conditions, as well developing of pharmaceutical and agricultural products.
Geneticist Job Duties
• May specialize in fields such as biomedical genetics, developmental genetics, molecular genetics, agricultural genetics and others
• Study inheritance and the variation of characteristics in different life forms
• Plan and conduct experiments to determine the laws, mechanisms and environmental factors present in origin, transmission and development of inherited traits
• Analyze hair and eye color difference, size, disease resistance and other determinants that are responsible for specific inherited traits
• Make use of light, heat, chemicals and other means in order to devise methods for altering traits
• May perform human genetic counseling or medical genetics
Who Hires Geneticists? Where Do They Work?
Geneticists can work in various capacities for many different types of employers, ranging from conducting forensic testing for the purpose of solving crimes, to working in a clinical setting for the purpose of counseling patients who are at risk of inheriting a health condition. Below are examples of where geneticists can work:
• Colleges and universities (for teaching and/or research)
• Private research facilities
• Government departments, such as law enforcement agencies, or policy analysis
• Consulting firms
• Self-employment, typically as a consultant
• Hospitals and clinics
• Pharmaceutical companies
• Agribusiness companies
• Biotechnology companies
Geneticist Salary: How Much Do Geneticists Earn?
The salary level of geneticists can vary depending on a multitude of factors, including where they work, if they work in the public or private sector, their level of experience, their level of education, their field of specialty, and many others.
Geneticist Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, workers in the Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group earn a mean wage of $39.83 per hour.
Geneticist Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary of workers in the Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group is $56,406 per year.
Geneticist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level for workers in the Microbiologists occupational groups, which includes Geneticists, is $65,920 per year.
Applications of Genetics: Why Become a Geneticist?
Becoming a geneticist gives you a chance to make a difference in the world in a variety of different ways, as the lessons learned from genetic research have many applications, such as:
• Diagnosing and treating disease
• Improving crops
• Developing new drugs and healthcare products
• Conserving endangered species
• Preserving our environment
Work Environment for Geneticists
The work settings, conditions and duties of geneticists can vary greatly from one job or employer to the next. Below are examples of the primary types of settings for geneticist careers:
Classroom: These geneticists typically conduct lectures, grade papers and advise students. They have working hours that can fluctuate from very few hours a week to a very heavy workload. They may work normal weekday working hours with extra hours put in for preparing lesson plans, grading papers and performing other duties during evenings and weekends. Some geneticists teaching in universities and colleges may teach classes exclusively, or they may be involved in research as well.
Laboratory: Geneticists that work in labs spend the majority of their time conducting, documenting and analyzing research. Working in a laboratory typically involves working with hazardous organic materials and inorganic chemicals. These geneticists typically work during normal weekday hours.
Hospital/Clinic Setting: Geneticists that work in a hospital or clinic setting provide care, advice, treatment and support to patients. They need to have an empathetic, caring and helpful approach to their work activities. The work schedule of these geneticists can vary greatly.
Getting Geneticist Work Experience as a Student
As many jobs in genetics are highly competitive, it is extremely important to acquire practical experience during your undergraduate and graduate years.
Most university departments offer a number of summer job opportunities for research assistants. There may also be similar openings for summer students in government agencies and private industry. Be sure to ask your school’s career resources counselor to give you information about any such opportunities.
These opportunities not only provide you with valuable work experience, they allow you to network and get your foot in the door with an organization in your field. This will be extremely useful when you apply for graduate school or a permanent job.
Careers Similar to Geneticist
Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to that of a geneticist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.
References: How to Become a Geneticist
Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a geneticist.
Alberta Learning and Information Services website: alis.alberta.ca
Service Canada website: www.servicecanada.gc.ca
The Genetics Society website: www.genetics.org.uk
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website: www.bls.gov
Scholarships for Becoming a Geneticist
Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Geneticist can be found on our Biology Scholarships page.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!
Becoming a Geneticist: Applicable Majors
Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a geneticist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!