How to Become a Genetic Engineer

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Genetic engineering allows scientists to add certain traits to existing organisms to make them more desirable, such as creating plants with a high resistance to pests or diseases. Although they’re not actually engineers, genetic engineers rearrange DNA fragments or manually introduce new DNA to add characteristics that the organism doesn’t already have. Despite ongoing debates about genetically engineering humans, genetic engineers usually specialize in either crops or animals and work for private corporations, the federal government or universities.

Start in High School

  • Those interested in genetic engineering should begin by learning the general scope of all sciences as a foundation of knowledge, rather than diving right into genetic engineering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), students interested in the field should take science, biology, chemistry, physics, math and calculus in high school. Additional electives, including computer programming, mechanical drawing and drafting, offer opportunities to learn skills necessary in genetic engineering.

Get a Degree

  • The BLS recognizes genetic engineers as biomedical engineers, who usually have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Bachelor’s degree programs in biomedical engineering focus on topics such as fluid and solid mechanics, biomaterials and circuit design, but students should also take classes such as molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry and cell biology. Some biomedical engineers hold a bachelor’s degree in a different engineering field and either train on the job or obtain a graduate degree in biomedical engineering.

Develop Your Skills

  • The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) reports that most genetic engineers work exclusively in laboratories, where an unwavering adherence to safety regulations is necessary. Genetic engineering requires precise focus, attention to detail and critical-thinking skills. According to the BLS, several degree programs require students to complete internships or co-ops, typically at area hospitals, that offer hands-on training and a real world perspective on a genetic engineer’s career.

Work Your Way Up

  • Genetic engineers are well compensated, with an average annual median income of $86,960 as of May 2012, according to the BLS. The NHGRI expects a positive future for genetic engineers. It notes that jobs are projected to be numerous, especially as advances in medicine and biotechnology continue to increase demand for genetic engineers. The BLS projects a 27 percent increase in jobs in the decade following 2012, more than double the average projected growth of 11 percent for all occupations. In addition, genetic engineers have opportunities for advancement and specialization. For example, the BLS reports that those who hold graduate degrees may be promoted to head research teams and that some complete law school and become patent attorneys who specialize in the field.

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