Do You Need a Master's Degree or Ph.D. to Become a Geneticist?

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Genetics is a growing field with exciting ramifications. Geneticists study human DNA to uncover the origin of diseases, the cause of birth defects and the essence of what makes us who we are. A geneticist also studies genes and their effects on the human body. Positions a geneticist might hold include careers as a genetics counselor or a genetics researcher. Whether you need a master's degree in genetics or a doctoral degree depends upon what type of career you intend to pursue.

Genetic Counselor

  • Genetic counselors research heritable diseases, advise patients on how to manage their risks for such diseases and advise pregnant women about the risks to their babies. They can also help patients cope with the psychological issues they face as a result of these risks. Genetic counselors can also advise policymakers about laws to protect people against discrimination. A master's degree and certification are the minimum requirements to become a genetics counselor. To become certified, genetic counselors must pass a certification exam administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Lab Technician

  • To conduct research at a university or private organization, you will need a doctoral degree. However, you can still work in a research lab as a technician if you have a master's degree. Lab technicians assist with experiments designed by senior researchers. They may perform tasks such as gel electrophoresis, tissue processing and imaging and DNA analysis. They are not responsible for analyzing the data or proposing the hypothesis, just for conducting portions of the experiment as it has been designed and reporting the results. They may also be responsible for compiling reports and data sets.

Medical Geneticist

  • Medical geneticists perform groundbreaking research that advances knowledge about human disease and other issues related to genetics. They are the people who study the possible applications of stem cells, who find the genes responsible for certain cancers and who study the reasons for chromosomal abnormalities in babies. Medical geneticists need to complete a doctoral degree in genetics. They can then work in research jobs at a university or in a private institution such as a pharmaceutical company.

Clinical Geneticist

  • Clinical geneticists are doctors whose specialty is working with patients to diagnose and treat genetic diseases. In addition to treating patients, clinical geneticists may also conduct research and provide training for interns. Because they are trained doctors, they must complete a Doctor of Medicine degree, two years of residency in medical disciplines and two years of residency in clinical genetics. Cytogeneticists, molecular geneticists and clinical biochemical geneticists can choose to complete an M.D. program or a traditional Ph.D. in genetics.

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