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A Day in the Life of a Geneticist

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

Genetics is the scientific study of the mechanism of heredity. The first geneticist was Gregor Mendel who in 1856 presented statistical laws that showed a transmission of certain traits from parent to child. However, Mendel’s work was nothing more than a hypothesis until advanced science techniques proved his work with the discovery of the chromosome and the gene in the 20th century. From this scientists, who were biologists and chemists at the time, found the basis of inherited characteristics, and created the science of genetics. The field has since exploded with information as major steps in technology have allowed for more scrutiny in the study of DNA and heredity. The future is very bright, because the field is expected to expand at a rate of 30% over the next ten years. With the completion of the Human Genome Project many geneticists will be in the vanguard of developing new medical technologies that will forever alter the way we look at the origin of life.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

The days are long, and the tasks redundant, but enjoyment is typically high. Young geneticists are learning the ropes of laboratory research, but they aren’t in charge of their own research.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Geneticists live at the lab, but the work becomes more expansive after five years. They are able to take on individual research projects, as well as work in development. How far one will go in the industry is usually decided around this time, as he/she is expected to introduce new theories and aid in the discovery of new medicines or technologies.

TEN YEARS OUT

Somehow the days manage to get longer, but again geneticists are still satisfied with their work. If one has survived in the lab for ten years he/she is directing research projects, lecturing at universities, and consulting with pharmaceutical companies. This is when your work starts to take shape, which could result in a major medical breakthrough. Respect in the industry for its senior members is very high, which allows you to take risks with hypotheses that a junior member can’t.