What you need to know
Geneticists study genes from plants, animals, and humans to determine how genes interact with each other, evolve, and duplicate.
Geneticists usually work in laboratories to study genetic material. They use both standard equipment, such as microscopes, and more advanced tools, such as DNA scanners. Some equipment is designed for gene therapy and gene manipulation procedures.
Geneticists also pore over vast amounts of data with the help of computers and special software.
Some of the things a geneticist might do:
- Plan and conduct complex projects in basic and applied research
- Manage laboratory teams and monitor the quality of their work
- Isolate, analyze, and synthesize proteins, fats, DNA, and other molecules
- Research the effects of substances such as drugs, hormones, and nutrients on tissues and biological processes
- Review literature and the findings of other researchers and attend conferences
- Prepare technical reports, research papers, and recommendations based on their research findings
- Present research findings to scientists, engineers, and other colleagues
- Secure funding and write grant applications
- Analytical skills. Geneticists must be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.
- Communication skills. Geneticists have to write and publish reports and research papers, give presentations of their findings, and communicate clearly with team members.
- Critical-thinking skills. Geneticists draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.
- Interpersonal skills. Geneticists typically work on interdisciplinary research teams and need to work well with others toward a common goal. Many serve as team leaders and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.
- Math skills. Geneticists use complex equations and formulas regularly in their work. They need a broad understanding of math, including calculus and statistics.
- Perseverance. Geneticists need to be thorough in their research and in their approach to problems. Scientific research involves substantial trial and error, and biochemists and biophysicists must not become discouraged in their work.
- Problem-solving skills. Geneticists use scientific experiments and analysis to find solutions to complex scientific problems.
- Time-management skills. Geneticists usually need to meet deadlines when conducting research. They must be able to manage time and prioritize tasks efficiently while maintaining their quality of work.
The average pay for all biochemists and biophysicists, including geneticists, in the United States ranges from $52,640 to $169,860 as of May 2020.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Given the abundance of information coming from the Human Genome Project, opportunities in the field of molecular genetics will continue to expand. As genetic testing becomes more commonplace, more molecular geneticists will be needed to conduct and evaluate tests and their results.
Geneticists need a Ph.D. to work in independent research-and-development positions. Most Ph.D. holders begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions. Bachelor’s and master’s degree holders are qualified for some entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics.
Ph.D. programs typically include advanced coursework in topics such as toxicology, genetics, and proteomics (the study of proteins). Several graduate programs include courses in bioinformatics, which involves using computers to study and analyze large amounts of biological data. Graduate students also spend a lot of time conducting laboratory research. Study at the master’s level is generally considered good preparation for those interested in doing hands-on laboratory work. Ph.D.-level studies provide additional training in the planning and execution of research projects.