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How to Become a Molecular Biologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a molecular biologist. Learn about the job duties, and review the step-by-step process to start a career in molecular biology. View article »

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  • 0:01 Molecular Biologist Overview
  • 1:30 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:16 Earn a Graduate Degree
  • 3:04 Publish Research

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Video Transcript

Molecular Biologist Overview

Molecular biology is the study of the particles, or molecules, that make up cells, including DNA. Molecular biologists also study the effects of viruses on cells. These scientists conduct research for government agencies or private companies.

Companies that utilize molecular biologists include pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Those who work in sales for a company may need to travel frequently and have excellent communication skills. Molecular biologists may also decide to become college professors. To teach or lead research, molecular biologists are often required to have a Ph.D. in the field. They also must usually have a research background.

Molecular biologists need analytical, communication, problem solving and critical thinking skills. They also need technical skills for the operation of cloning vectors, temperature cycling chambers, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers and volumetric pipettes, as well as the ability to use analytical and scientific software and graphical imaging software. As of January 2016, molecular biologists earned a median annual salary of $56,195, according to Payscale.com. Let's review the education and other requirements to become a molecular biologist.

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Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Step 1: Earn a bachelor's degree. An aspiring molecular biologist can earn an undergraduate degree in molecular biology or cell and molecular biology or he or she might major in biology with a concentration in molecular biology. These students typically take science courses that include biology, chemistry, physics and genetics. They also take lab courses, learning about proper use of equipment and experimental procedure.

Undergraduates can find research opportunities either through a program designated for undergraduates or by making a special request to faculty. Research at the undergraduate level can help students improve critical thinking skills and build professional skills as well as learn to implement and perform credible research.

Earn a Graduate Degree

Step 2: Earn a graduate degree. Most molecular biologists need a Ph.D. to advance in their careers. Some molecular biologists choose to earn a master's degree prior to pursuing a Ph.D., but many doctoral programs accept students without a master's degree. The Ph.D. programs generally last 4-6 years and includes advanced coursework and required research. Ph.D. candidates usually have to pass a qualifying exam, during which they are assessed on their knowledge of molecular biology. They also have to introduce a research thesis. Ph.D. candidates have to write a dissertation based on their ongoing research and defend their thesis in order to graduate from the program. Ph.D. programs may also include a teaching requirement.

Publish Research

Step 3: Publish research in a peer-reviewed journal. Having research peer-reviewed by other scientists serves as a proof that the research method and results are credible. Graduate students can have research results published as a co-author or lead author on a research study. This exposure can create professional recognition and opportunities for career advancement.

In summary, molecular biologists typically need a Ph.D. to reach the pinnacle of their field. They must first earn a bachelor's degree in molecular biology or a related field.

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