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How to Become a Geneticist

By Anita Akpuoforba

Published:

Are you intrigued by unraveling the intricate codes of life and deciphering the secrets of genetic inheritance? A career as a geneticist offers a profound journey into understanding genes, DNA, and the foundations of life. This unique path also allows you to explore the fundamental principles that shape living organisms.

If you’re captivated by the world of genetics and eager to contribute to cutting-edge research, here is a comprehensive guide on how to embark on the rewarding journey of becoming a geneticist.

Career Summary

Geneticist Salary

Based on data from Glassdoor, the average salary for a geneticist is $119,238 per year in the United States. 

Here is a breakdown of a geneticist salary at different points in their career path:

  • Entry: US$90,000 per year
  • Median: US$119,000 per year
  • Executive: US$159,000 per year

When compared to the average salary of workers across the United States, a geneticist salary falls within the higher earning bracket of income earners in the country.

What Does a Geneticist Do?

A geneticist is a scientist who studies genes and heredity. They investigate how traits are inherited, how they manifest in individuals and populations, and how genetic variations contribute to human health, diseases, and evolution. Carrying out their duties will involve analyzing and interpreting genetic data, conducting experiments, and using various research techniques to explore the structure, function, and behavior of genes.

Geneticist Career Progression

  • Research Assistant/Technician assistant: Entry-level position involved in supporting genetic research projects. Responsibilities include conducting experiments, collecting data, and assisting senior researchers.
  • Research Scientist/Laboratory Technician: Directly involved in executing genetic experiments, managing lab equipment, and ensuring the accuracy of results. 
  • Senior Research Scientist: Supervises a team of research scientists and their assistants. They can also conduct independent research projects and publish their findings.
  • Principal Investigator (PI): Manages multiple research teams and is often associated with academic institutions, government agencies, or private research organizations.
  • Department Head/Research Center Director: Assumes leadership of an entire genetics department or a research center. They are also responsible for strategic planning, resource allocation, and overall management.
  • Chief Geneticist/Chief Scientific Officer (CSO): May lead entire genetic research organizations, contribute to policy-making, and shape the direction of genetic research on a broader scale.
Geneticist Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Geneticist

  • Making a real difference in people’s lives
  • Intellectually stimulating work
  • Competitive salary
  • Job security
  • Working in a collaborative environment 

Worst Aspects of Working as a Geneticist

  • Long hours and demanding workload
  • Long educational journey
  • Uncertainty about securing grants 
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Pressure to publish research findings

Useful Skills to Have as a Geneticist

  • Analytical Skills
  • Research Skills
  • Attention to Detail
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills

Popular Geneticist Specialties

  • Medical Genetics
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Cancer Genetics
  • Genetic Counseling
  • Agricultural Genetics
  • Forensic Genetics

How to Become a Geneticist

Geneticist 4 Steps to Career

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first and most important step on your path to becoming a geneticist is to get an education.  You should pursue a relevant academic path that provides a strong foundation in biological sciences and genetics. A lot of universities offer a bachelor’s degree in genetics, so this is the best option to pick due to its direct relevance to the career path. However, you can also major in a related field like molecular biology, biochemistry, or biology with a concentration in genetics.

Kindly note that the only way to do this is by attending a university, as it is practically impossible to become one through online education due to the hands-on nature of the career path.

It typically takes around 3 to 4 years of full-time study to get a degree in any of these courses. This includes completing the required coursework, labs, and any additional internship or research experience if required by the institution.

For in-state students, tuition costs range from US$6,000 to US$20,000. Out-of-state students are expected to pay double this amount, so it is  best for you to choose a university located nearby. Opting for a private university comes with a minimum tuition starting at approximately $50,000 and can reach as high as $60,000.

Step 2: Pursue an Advanced Degree

While a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to begin a career in genetics, accessing most job opportunities requires at least a master’s degree. This advanced degree typically involves an additional 1 to 2 years of full-time study, encompassing coursework in molecular biology, chromosomes and genomes, DNA technology, and genetics across various life forms.

For those aspiring to secure even more advanced career prospects, pursuing a Ph.D. in genetics or a related field is paramount. This research-intensive degree generally spans 4 to 6 years beyond the bachelor’s degree, involving coursework, research, and the completion of a doctoral dissertation.

Step 3: Gain Practical Experience

Upon getting your degree, the next step to take is to gain practical experience beyond your school lab work. This practical exposure will give real-life answers to questions like what does a geneticist do, the pros and cons of the job, and will also prepare you for your future employment.

What are the internship opportunities for a Geneticist?

  • Research Internship at Genetic Laboratories: Many genetic testing laboratories offer research internships for individuals interested in gaining hands-on experience in molecular biology techniques, DNA sequencing, and data analysis.
  • Clinical Genetics Internship: Hospitals and healthcare institutions may offer internships in clinical genetics. Interns may work alongside genetic counselors, medical geneticists, and other healthcare professionals, gaining exposure to patient interactions and genetic testing processes.
  • Agricultural Genomics Internship: Agricultural biotechnology companies or research institutions focusing on agricultural genomics may provide internships for geneticists interested in crop improvement, plant genetics, and related areas.
  • Pharmaceutical or Biotech Industry Internship: Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies often have internships in areas such as drug development, pharmacogenomics, and personalized medicine. Interns may contribute to research projects related to genetics and genomics.
  • Bioinformatics Internship: For those interested in computational genetics, bioinformatics internships are available. Interns may work on projects involving data analysis, algorithm development, and the interpretation of genomic data.
  • Government Research Agencies: Government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), may offer internships in genetics research, public health genomics, or epidemiology.
  • University Research Internship: Collaborating with university research groups or academic institutions provides opportunities for geneticists to engage in cutting-edge research projects and contribute to ongoing studies.
  • Zoos and Conservation Organizations Internships: Geneticists interested in conservation genetics may find internships with zoos or conservation organizations working on projects related to population genetics, species conservation, and genetic diversity.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Geneticist?

As a geneticist, you will develop a diverse skill set encompassing various scientific, technical, and analytical abilities.

Here are key skills you can expect to acquire:

  • Molecular Biology Techniques: Master essential molecular biology techniques, including DNA extraction, PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction), gel electrophoresis, and DNA sequencing.
  • Genomic Data Analysis:  Analyzing large-scale genomic data sets using bioinformatics tools and interpreting genetic information relevant to research or clinical applications.
  • Laboratory Techniques: Master hands-on laboratory procedures specific to genetics, such as genetic mapping, gene expression analysis, and genome editing techniques like CRISPR-Cas9.
  • Genetic Counseling:  Develop effective communication skills for providing genetic counseling. Learn to convey complex genetic information to individuals and families, addressing ethical and psychological aspects.
  • Bioinformatics: Familiarize yourself with bioinformatics tools and databases for genomic analysis. Gain the ability to apply computational methods to extract meaningful insights from genetic data.
  • Research Design and Execution: Develop skills in experimental design, data collection, statistical analysis, and interpretation of research findings.
  • Ethical Considerations: Understand the ethical implications of genetic research and its applications. You will also learn how to navigate ethical considerations related to patient confidentiality, informed consent, and genetic privacy.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Cultivate critical thinking skills to address complex genetic challenges. Develop the ability to troubleshoot experimental issues and devise innovative solutions.
  • Team Collaboration: Collaborate effectively with interdisciplinary teams, including bioinformaticians, clinicians, and other researchers. Enhance your ability to work in a collaborative research environment.
  • Public Speaking and Communication: Hone your communication skills for presenting research findings at conferences, writing scientific papers, and conveying genetic information to diverse audiences.

Step 4: Stay Updated

Genetics is a rapidly evolving field. Stay abreast of new developments, technologies, and research by attending conferences, workshops, and continuing education courses.

6 Web Resources to Keep Up With Trends In Genetics

  • Genetics Society of America (GSA): The GSA website provides educational resources, publications, and information on conferences related to genetics. It’s a useful platform for staying updated on the latest developments in the field.
  • Genome Browser by UCSC: The UCSC Genome Browser allows you to explore the human genome and other genomes. It’s a powerful tool for understanding genetic information.
  • European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI): The EBI offers bioinformatics resources and tools for genetic research. It’s a valuable platform for those interested in computational aspects of genetics.
  • Nature Genetics: Nature Genetics publishes the highest quality research in genetics. It encompasses genetic and functional genomic studies on human traits, agricultural genomics, and other model organisms.
  • Basic Genetics: This is a website that provides engaging multimedia educational materials on the basics of genetics. It covers topics such as DNA structure and function, genetic variation and evolution, genetic engineering and biotechnology, genetic testing and counseling, genetic diseases and disorders, and more. 
  • National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): The NCBI website offers a wealth of resources, including databases, tools, and literature on molecular biology and genetics. It’s a valuable resource for researchers and students.

What’s the Career Outlook for Geneticists?

The career outlook for geneticists in the United States is highly favorable. Since 2004, job opportunities in this field have grown by 43.09% nationwide, exhibiting an average annual growth rate of 2.69 percent. Anticipated demand for geneticists is set to rise, with an estimated 8,240 new positions to be filled by 2029, reflecting a yearly growth rate of 2.44 percent.

This surge is driven by an increasing need for genetic testing and counseling, coupled with advancements in gene therapies and other genetic treatments. Major employment hubs are expected to be metropolitan areas housing large hospitals, research laboratories, and universities.

Geneticist Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for a Geneticist?

Geneticists have diverse career opportunities across various sectors.

Here are some potential job opportunities for geneticists:

  • Medical Geneticist: Focuses on the study of genetic factors related to human health and diseases. Medical geneticists may also diagnose and treat genetic disorders.
  • Clinical Geneticist: Involved in providing genetic counseling to individuals or families at risk of genetic disorders and collaborating with healthcare professionals to implement personalized treatment plans.
  • Cytogeneticist: Concentrates on the study of chromosomes and their abnormalities. Cytogeneticists use techniques like karyotyping to analyze chromosomal structures.
  • Molecular Geneticist: Investigates the molecular basis of genetic information by studying DNA, RNA, and protein interactions to understand genetic processes.
  • Pharmaceutical Geneticist:  Involved in drug discovery, pharmacogenomics, and personalized medicine.
  • Forensic Geneticist:  Apply genetic techniques in forensic investigations, such as DNA profiling for criminal cases, identifying human remains, or determining familial relationships.
  • Bioinformatics Specialist: Combine genetics with computational biology by working as a bioinformatics specialist. This also involves analyzing large-scale genomic data, developing algorithms, and contributing to data-driven insights in genetics.
  • Environmental Geneticist: Explore the genetic basis of environmental adaptations in plants, animals, or microorganisms. Contribute to conservation efforts and environmental management.
  • Agricultural Geneticist: Focuses on improving crop yields, resistance to diseases, and other desirable traits in plants and animals through genetic modifications.

What Types of Companies Hire a Geneticist?

  • Biotechnology Companies: Biotech firms often employ geneticists for research and development of new biotechnological products, gene therapies, and genetic engineering projects.
  • Pharmaceutical Companies: Pharmaceutical companies hire geneticists to contribute to drug discovery, pharmacogenomics, and the development of personalized medicine based on genetic insights.
  • Healthcare Institutions: Hospitals, clinics, and healthcare organizations employ geneticists in clinical roles, genetic counseling, and diagnostic services related to genetic disorders.
  • Academic and Research Institutions: Universities, colleges, and research institutions hire geneticists as faculty members, researchers, and contributors to academic and scientific advancements.
  • Government Agencies: Government organizations, such as health departments, agriculture departments, and environmental agencies, hire geneticists for research, policy development, and regulatory affairs.
  • Genetic Testing and Diagnostic Laboratories: Companies specializing in genetic testing services hire geneticists to interpret test results, develop new testing methodologies, and stay updated on advancements in genetic diagnostics.
  • Forensic Laboratories: Forensic laboratories hire geneticists for DNA profiling, identification of human remains, and determination of familial relationships in criminal investigations.
  • Bioinformatics Companies: Companies specializing in bioinformatics hire geneticists with computational biology skills to analyze large-scale genomic data and contribute to data-driven insights.
  • Genetic Regulatory Affairs Firms: Firms specializing in genetic regulatory affairs hire geneticists to ensure compliance with regulations related to genetic research and applications.
  • Environmental Conservation Organizations: Environmental organizations may employ geneticists to study the genetic basis of environmental adaptations in plants, animals, or microorganisms for conservation efforts.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Geneticist?

The work-life balance of a geneticist can vary depending on their specific job, employer, and personal preferences. However, in general, geneticists tend to have a good work-life balance.

For those who work in academic settings, they have the flexibility to set their own hours and work from home when needed. They may also have the opportunity to travel to conferences and workshops, which can be a great way to learn new things and network with other professionals.

Meanwhile, clinical geneticists and any other geneticists who work in hospitals or clinics have to abide by far more structured hours. Still, they are allowed to explore part-time options, thereby giving them time for personal research. Among all the possible options, geneticists who work in industry have the least work-life balance as they have to work longer hours to meet a tight deadline for product development. This extra stress is compensated by higher benefits and salaries. 

Tips to Advance Your Career as a Geneticist

  • Attend Workshops and Training Programs: Participate in workshops and training programs focused on specific techniques, methodologies, or emerging trends in genetics.
  • Build a Strong Online Presence: Establish a professional online presence through platforms like LinkedIn or ResearchGate. Share your research, connect with professionals, and contribute to online discussions.
  • Industry Certifications: Explore relevant industry certifications to validate your skills and expertise. Certifications can enhance your marketability and demonstrate your commitment to professional development.
  • Specialization: Explore specialized areas within genetics based on your interests. Specialization can make you a sought-after expert in a specific niche.
  • Professional Memberships: Join professional organizations related to genetics. Memberships offer access to resources, conferences, and networking opportunities.
  • Stay Tech-Savvy: Keep up with advancements in technology and tools used in genetics research. Familiarity with cutting-edge technologies can set you apart in the competitive field

Should I Become a Geneticist?

Becoming a geneticist is a compelling journey for those captivated by the intricate world of genes and its impact on life. In this article, you’ve learned how to become a geneticist, but whether or not you should become one depends on a variety of factors.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Interests: Do you have a genuine interest in science and genetics? Are you curious about what a geneticist do and how they contribute to human health and disease? If so, then a career as a geneticist may be a good fit for you.
  • Skills: Geneticists need to have strong analytical and problem-solving skills. They also need to be able to communicate complex scientific information to a variety of audiences. If you have these skills, then it makes sense to consider this career path.
  • Career goals: What are your career goals? Do you want to work in research, clinical genetics, or industry? Geneticists can work in a variety of settings, so it is important to think about where you want to work and what kind of work you want to do.
  • Are you willing to work hard and be patient? Becoming a geneticist requires a significant investment of time and effort. It takes at least eight years of education to earn a Ph.D. in genetics, and many geneticists complete additional training, such as a residency or fellowship.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Weigh the pros and cons of becoming a geneticist and consider your own strengths, weaknesses, values, and aspirations. You should also do more research on the field of genetics and talk to experts as they would be the best to give real-life scenarios that would aid you in making a decision.

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Anita Akpuoforba

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