Geneticists are the leaders of the last frontier of biology. They involved in unlocking the last few secrets of life. Unlike other physical scientists who are able to work in the environment they are studying the geneticist typically calls the laboratory home. There they are expected to juggle a number of abstract problems as they put together the puzzles of DNA and heredity. Long hours are typical, but many geneticists don’t look at it is punishment, but a perk. They are closely tied to their work, and can spend years answering only one question about the genome. It is this dedication that classifies most in the profession. Genetics has application in several fields and more can be expected as technology catches up with research. The major fields for geneticists are in medicine, agriculture and crime. Geneticists work at pharmaceutical companies to uncover the origins of disease, birth defects and the like, and then in turn develop ways to prevent or treat them. Geneticists that work in this field are involved in their work from beginning to end, although this could sometimes mean a lifetime of work, literally. Since there are more mouths to feed in the world it is important that the supply meets the demand. Therefore, geneticists in agricultural research develop crops that can grow in atypical conditions, or to abnormal sizes. Scientists now have a better understanding of DNA, and with this they can apply their knowledge to solving crimes. Geneticists have the opportunity to be laboratory detectives and use DNA sampling to insure that the right person is convicted of the crime. With medicine, agriculture and crime the three biggest draws of the profession most geneticists then find employment either in universities, the government or major pharmaceutical companies. These three employers are closely related though in how they use research, so geneticists expect to make many contacts within the industry. Aside from the employer and the field of study there are two types of geneticists: Laboratory Geneticist – This is the field that most geneticists choose to enter. Being a lab geneticist involves application of genetic technologies. Genetic Counselor – Being a genetic counselor means working in the role of a nurse or consultant. They work directly with parents that could be at risk for children with birth defects. It is also common to for counselors to consult with insurance and health care companies about new medical technologies and conditions.
Extensive study in the physical sciences is expected. A Bachelor of Science either in biology or chemistry is preferred, although any physical science will do as long as it is complemented with a minor in biology. There are few to no positions available with only a B.S. These jobs are typically lab assistant positions with little room for career expansion. A master’s in genetics helps, but to have authority in research and development a Ph.D. or M.D. is required. Four to six years of school after completion of an undergraduate degree is the norm. The first two years are spent taking advanced science classes, and the remainder is focused on a personal research project. Most research projects are done with grants from the university, the government or private pharmaceutical companies. This project is meant to be your resume and will likely be a major factor in a company’s decision to hire you or not. Once out of school entry level positions are typically as a lab or research assistant, although the more advanced the degree the faster one will move through the ranks to direct and develop methods and technologies.
If a geneticist leaves the career it is likely because he/she is tired of spending everyday in a lab. Because many geneticists have their M.D. they will often leave to practice medicine instead of developing it. There are also several positions within the government where a geneticist can work as a consultant, especially in agriculture and crime.