Careers in Genetics

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Genetics is a broad field that includes many career opportunities. Although most careers in the field of genetics are science-oriented, opportunities for other occupations include teaching, law, writing and editing. Educational requirements range from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate. For some occupations, additional specialty training or certification is also required. If you’re interested in genetics, you could become a biological technician, genetic counselor, medical scientist, biochemist or biophysicist.

Biological Technicians

  • Biological technicians work with medical and biological scientists. They gather and prepare samples, conduct tests and experiments, analyze their findings and write reports. Biological technicians may use traditional laboratory equipment, complex technology such as robotics, specialized computer software and automated equipment in their work. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and you should ensure your coursework and internship include extensive experience in the laboratory. The BLS notes job growth for biological technicians is projected to be about average, at 10 percent from 2012 to 2022. Biological technicians earned $43,710 in 2013, according to the BLS.

Genetic Counselors

  • Genetic counselors work with individuals or families to assess the risk of an inherited condition such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis. These specialists gather information through patients’ medical histories and laboratory results, analyze their findings and create reports for the patients or referring physicians regarding the risk of inherited conditions. A master’s degree in genetics or genetic counseling is the minimum educational requirement, and some genetic counselors earn a Ph.D. Some states require genetic counselors to be licensed, and those states also typically require certification, according to the BLS. The field is small and the projected growth rate of 41 percent from 2012 to 2022 will only result in about 900 new jobs. The average annual salary for genetic counselors was $62,800 in 2013, according to the BLS.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

  • Biochemists and biophysicists are researchers who study topics related to genetics, such as cell development and heredity. They may isolate DNA molecules or study the effects of radiation and chemicals on cell DNA. Some biochemists and biophysicists become bioinformaticians who specialize in creating a theoretical framework for the large amount of data generated during genetic research. Although a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be sufficient for some entry-level positions, a Ph.D. is typically required for independent research in biochemistry and biophysics. Biochemistry and biophysics are relatively small occupations, and the projected growth rate of 19 percent from 2012 to 2022 is expected to result in approximately 5,400 new jobs, according to the BLS. The BLS notes biochemists and biophysicists earned an average annual salary of $91,640 in 2013.

Medical Scientists and Geneticists

  • Medical scientists include geneticists whose research focuses on genes, their functions and their effects, according to the American Society of Human Genetics. Medical scientists focus on research specific to human disease and look for ways to prevent or treat diseases. For example, a medical scientist might try to develop a laboratory test for a particular inherited disease. Medical scientists must have a Ph.D. or a medical degree, and some medical scientists obtain both degrees. Although medical scientists do not need a license to perform research, those who conduct research that involves patients -- such as gene therapy -- must have a license to practice medicine. Medical scientists earned an average annual salary of $90,230 in 2013, and job growth will be about average at 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS.

Other Careers in Genetics

  • Other careers in genetics are not necessarily science-oriented. Lawyers, for example, might work on the intellectual property or patent aspects of genetic discoveries. Bioethicists deal with the ethical ramifications of topics such as cloning or the use of genetic testing to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. College professors may teach on the subject of genetics. Sales representatives market commercial products derived from genetic research, such as new laboratory tests. Science writers and editors translate information about genetic discoveries and techniques into laypersons’ language. Educational, licensing and certification requirements vary for these occupations, as do salaries and job outlook.

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