How to Become a Geneticist

Step-by-Step Guide for Getting Into This Field

Here are the essential steps for becoming a geneticist (these will be covered in more detail below):


1. Determine if a career in genetics is right for you

2. Pursue a bachelor’s degree

3. Get Work Experience as a student

4. Determine what specific field of genetics you want to go into

5. Pursue a master’s degree

6. Get more work experience as a grad student

7. If your chosen field requires a Ph.D., pursue one

8. Get a job in your chosen field



Below we've expanded on these points, to give you a complete idea of what you'll need to get started in this field. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as a general job description & duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Educational Requirements for Becoming a Geneticist

Requirements to work in genetics research


Bachelor's Degree: To qualify for work in an entry-level research job such as laboratory assistant, you'll likely need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related program.


Master's Degree: If you want to work as a senior-level researcher, you will need to have a master's degree in genetics.


Doctoral Degree: 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

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 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 is the primary certification body. 





Getting Practical 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.



General 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. They apply their knowledge for purposes such as treating and counseling patients with hereditary conditions, as well developing of pharmaceutical and agricultural products.



Typical 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



How Much Do Geneticists Earn?

The salary level of these professionals 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 - 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 $71,650 per year (figures from May, 2018). 


Salary - Canada: According to the 2018 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, workers in the "biologists and related scientists" occupational group earn an average salary of $84,998 per year. According to the Province of British Columbia, those working in the same occupational group in B.C. earn an annual provincial median salary of $74,227.





Applications of Genetics: Why Get Into This Field?

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



Typical Work Environment

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 careers in genetics:


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.



Who Employs Them? 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



Job Postings - Current Opportunities

Our job board below has "geneticist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Similar Occupations in Our Database

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.



Cell Biologist

DNA Analyst

Genetic Counselor

Genetic Technologist

Molecular Biologist




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a geneticist.


Occupations in Alberta:Geneticist.” (March 16, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

Healthcare:Genetic Counselors.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

Explore Careers:Biologists and related scientists.” (n.d.) WorkBC website. Retrieved November 30, 2019.

Education:What is Genetics?” (n.d.) The Genetics Society website. Retrieved November 30, 2019.




The scholarships in our database that are relevant for becoming a geneticist are all of those that 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!



Relevant University Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for working as a geneticist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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