Genetic Engineering Research Assistant
Genetic Engineering Research Assistant
Education and Training: Bachelor's degree
Salary: Median—$15.97 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Genetic engineering research assistants work with research scientists in the development and testing of genetically engineered products. Genetic engineering is the science concerned with the manipulation or modification of genes in plants, animals, and microorganisms. Genetic engineering research typically involves isolating and altering genetic material from one organism and transplanting, or splicing, it to another. By applying this technology to medicine, scientists have produced purer and safer vaccines and other drugs for humans. In agriculture, they have developed new crop strains and increased crop yields.
Most genetic engineering research assistants work in the area known as research and development. They are employed by chemical or pharmaceutical companies or by firms that specialize in genetic engineering. The rest of the assistants usually work in medical research facilities, specializing in such fields as microbiology, pharmacology, genetics, and biochemistry.
Genetic engineering research assistants perform most of the routine duties related to experimentation and new product development. For example, they prepare cultures of microorganisms for experiments and run experiments designed by scientists. They may be asked to analyze the data and report the results.
Genetic engineering research assistants operate laboratory equipment, such as high-speed centrifuges, and gather data using various laboratory methods such as gel electrophoresis. This method separates large molecules on the basis of size, electric charge, and other physical properties. Research assistants may also sterilize laboratory materials and media using an autoclave. They must maintain stringent cleanliness and sterility standards in the laboratories so that they do not contaminate any of the materials under research. The smallest of errors can ruin weeks, even months, of research.
Some genetic engineering research assistants work in process development areas. Here they may assist scientists and chemical engineers in "scaling up" a product from a small laboratory sample into a large-scale commercial quantity. Research assistants may help analytic chemists in performing assay testing on genetically engineered products to determine their quality, weight, and composition.
Education and Training Requirements
Educational requirements vary depending on the job. For most research assistant positions in genetic engineering, you need a bachelor's degree in a biological science. Degree programs at colleges generally take four years to complete. In addition, the hiring company or institution usually provides on-the-job training.
Getting the Job
If you attend a college or university, your school placement office may be able to help you find a job. State employment agencies may also be able to help. You can apply directly to firms in the genetic engineering field, such as pharmaceutical and chemical companies. These companies often list job openings in newspaper classifieds or job banks on the Internet. Research hospitals and medical schools may also list openings for genetic engineering research assistants.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
With increased experience, a genetic engineering research assistant can become a supervisor of other workers. Research assistants who continue their education and get an advanced degree can become genetic engineering scientists.
The employment outlook for genetic engineering research assistants is very good. Research scientists and their assistants will be in high demand as more and more applications for genetic engineering are found in medicine, agriculture, and private industry.
Genetic engineering research assistants typically work in clean, well-lighted laboratories. Some assistants may work wearing protective hooded clothing that filters out potentially contaminating materials. Assistants in laboratories may work alone or with other workers. Research assistants generally work a thirty-five to forty-hour week. In some cases, they might need to work at night or on weekends. Research assistants sometimes handle heavy equipment. They may also have to spend hours at a time on their feet or seated at a laboratory bench.
Genetic engineering research assistants must be able to follow instructions carefully and precisely. They should enjoy doing extremely meticulous work and maintaining accurate, detailed records.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society of Human Genetics
9650 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20814-3998
National Center for Biotechnology Information
National Library of Medicine, Building 38A
Bethesda, MD 20894
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries for research assistants in genetic engineering vary depending on education, experience, and the kind of work they perform. They make earnings similar to biological technicians. In 2004 the median hourly wage for biological technicians was $15.97 per hour. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.