Genetics intersects almost every other field of biology. For this reason, professionals with a genetics education have a broad range of career opportunities. The recent success of the Human Genome Project has created a great demand for genetics professionals with a variety of expertise in all areas of genetics, not only those applicable to human disease.
Geneticists are involved in identifying genes responsible for basic biological traits, including genes that cause disease or mediate a response to a medication. Geneticists also determine how those genes function in organisms, including plants, animals, and humans. They may treat individuals with a particular genetic disorder or counsel families regarding the genetics of human disease. Geneticists are also involved in identifying genetic mechanisms to improve agricultural processes, such as breeding pest-resistant fruits and vegetables. Geneticists are also interested in the distribution of genetic variations in populations and how those variations arise. Additional job responsibilities may include educating students and the general public, lobbying Congress to pass bills to support genetic research, and testifying in legal cases on the probability that a suspect committed a crime, based on evidence from DNA forensics.
Because the responsibilities of geneticists are highly varied, the educational requirements of geneticists are also quite varied. Individuals with a bachelor's degree are qualified to perform many laboratory procedures, but most often individuals in the field of genetics will obtain a graduate degree. Those geneticists with master's degrees include highly skilled laboratory geneticists and genetic counselors. Geneticists who direct their own research projects must have a Ph.D. in genetics or an M.D. with specialty training in genetics.
Geneticists with a Ph.D. are highly trained professionals who perform genetic research in the areas of expertise mentioned above. Individuals with an M.D. are uniquely skilled in the treatment of patients with genetic disorders and are also often involved in research projects. Many individuals combine a genetics education with learning in other subjects, such as business, law, or computer science. Once having obtained the proper education, geneticists will find job opportunities at academic centers (such as colleges and universities), in government agencies (such as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and in industry (for example, pharmacogenetics companies). The salaries paid to genetics professionals will range from $25,000 to well over $100,000, depending on the level of education, area of educational expertise, and job environment (academic, federal, or industrial).
A career in genetics can be exciting; and this is true for all areas of education, expertise, and job environment. It is exhilarating to have the opportunity to participate in research that impacts the treatment of a disease, or improves the crop yield for farmers, or helps correctly identify individuals who commit crimes.
see also Clinical Geneticist; Dna Profiling; Genetic Counselor; Genetics; Molecular Biologist; Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacogenomics; Plant Genetic Engineer; Population Genetics; Statistical Geneticist.
Careers in Genetics and the Biosciences. Human Genome Project. <http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/education/careers.html>.
Genetics: Educational Information. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. <http://www.faseb.org/genetics/careers.htm>.
Geneticists, or genetic scientists, study heredity. Heredity is the process by which certain characteristics of an organism are handed down from parent to offspring. Geneticists study plants and animals, including humans. Geneticists work in three broad fields: biology, medicine, and agriculture. They attempt to increase knowledge about biology in order to understand and cure genetic diseases. Also, they counsel families at risk for genetic diseases or disorders. Geneticists breed new crop plants and livestock that are disease resistant or have other desirable properties. The rapidly growing biotechnology field uses genetics to produce everything from medicines to microchips. Sensitive genetic tests are being increasingly used in criminal cases to identify persons. At the turn of the twenty-first century, geneticists are involved in very important work known as the Human Genome Project. This international research program aims to construct detailed maps of the human genome, determine the complete sequence of the 3 billion bits of genetic information, and find the location of the approximately 30,000 human genes. Its results will have major impacts on biology and medicine, especially in relation to the approximately three thousand to four thousand hereditary diseases of humans.
There are four main types of geneticists: those performing basic research; those working in specialized laboratories; genetic counselors; and clinical geneticists. Geneticists in basic research must generally have a doctoral or Ph.D. degree and from two to four years of postdoctoral training. They might hold a faculty position at a university or work at a private research institute or biotechnology firm. Laboratory geneticists apply genetics to agriculture, legal or police work, drug development, and clinical medicine. Depending on the position held at the laboratory, this type of geneticist is required to have a bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or medical (M.D.) degree. Genetic counselors have specialized graduate degrees in medical genetics and counseling. They assist families at risk for genetic diseases. Their work can include speaking with the family, interpreting information about genetic conditions, and conducting research. Clinical geneticists must usually have a medical degree. Many work at university medical centers or large hospitals. They work to identify genetic disorders and birth defects and arrange for proper treatment of the patient. Also, they help the patient and family cope with the disorder.
At the high school level, persons interested in becoming a geneticist should study math, chemistry, physics, biology, English, writing, and computer studies. In college, persons wishing to conduct basic research generally major in biology or genetics. Also, they take math, chemistry, and physics courses. A doctoral degree in genetics is generally required to conduct basic research. Clinical geneticists must obtain medical degrees. Genetic counselors usually obtain specialized graduate degrees. Their curriculum consists of two years of master's-level programs with courses and field training in medical genetics and counseling.
see also Biological Evolution; Genes; Genetics; Mendel, Gregor.
Cosgrove, Holli R., ed. Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance, 11th ed. Chicago: Ferguson Publishing Company, 2000.
The Genetics Societies. <http://www.faseb.org/genetics/>.