How to Study Embryology: Degree Program Overviews

A degree in embryology exclusively is rare; however, students interested in learning more about embryology may pursue a bachelor's degree in biology, master's degree in clinical embryology or doctorate degree in developmental biology.

Essential Information

Embryology is the study of early cellular development in human or animal embryos. Embryology is often featured as an elective class at the undergraduate or graduate degree levels.

Bachelor's degree curricula may allow for the study of genetics, biochemistry and stem cells in upper-level classes. Theses or dissertations may be required of graduate students. These programs are highly laboratory and research intensive.

  • Program Levels for Embryology: Bachelor's degree, master's degree and PhD programs.
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's programs require GED or high school diploma; master's degrees and doctoral programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.
  • Length of Study: Master's programs take two to three years while PhD's take five to six years.
  • Online Availability: Some online courses are available.

Bachelor's Degree in Biology

Students interested in an entry-level research career that focuses on embryology may wish to pursue a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Biology or the closely related B.S. in Biological Sciences. Typically completed in four years, these degree programs can provide students with fundamental laboratory skills and an overview of organismal development. Students interested in embryology may often choose elective courses in their final years that focus on molecular biology, developmental biology or medical technology.

Students spend their first year covering introductory classes in biology, physics, mathematics and chemistry. Later coursework may feature topics related to animal and human embryology, including the following:

  • Eukaryotic reproduction
  • Cell biology
  • Invertebrate development
  • Mammalian development
  • Human genetics

Master of Science (M.S.) in Clinical Embryology

The M.S. in Clinical Embryology typically runs 2-3 years in length and provides a thorough grounding in reproductive technology lab techniques as well as advanced coursework in developmental biology. This program is primarily designed for physicians, students interested in pursuing advanced research or professionals interested in senior-level positions at assisted reproductive technology (ART) laboratories. While many students complete a thesis in their second year, some degree programs also offer a non-thesis option for students who wish to enter a non-academic field after graduation.

Courses focus on analysis of human fertility, embryonic development and preservation of tissues. Students also learn laboratory techniques needed to work in an ART lab and courses often touch on the following topics:

  • In-vitro fertilization
  • Gynecology
  • Biochemistry
  • Cryopreservation
  • Genetics
  • Andrology

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Developmental Biology

Students interested in pursuing advanced research and teaching may wish to pursue a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology. Though there is no set length, students typically complete this program in 5-6 years. Doctoral candidates spend their first year taking advanced core courses and completing lab work in cell biology, biochemistry and genetics. In the latter half of this Ph.D. program, students teach undergraduate classes and concentrate on an area of research for their dissertation.

Students interested in embryology may take several courses on embryonic development using both animal and human models. Several other areas of developmental biology touch on topics that relate to embryology and a student's curriculum could include the following:

  • Morphogenesis
  • Genetics
  • Human development
  • Cellular differentiation
  • Stem cells

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of biochemists and biophysicists in general is expected to increase by 19% between the years 2012 and 2022, which is significantly faster than the average. Many of these jobs are expected to be in federally funded biomedical research. The BLS also reported that in 2014, the median annual wage of all biological scientists not classified in separate categories - like biochemistry or biophysics - was $74,720. About half of the biological scientists employed in the U.S. worked for the federal government; the next largest group was employed by colleges, universities and professional schools.

Popular Career Options

A graduate may pursue a career as an embryologist, advanced positions in research, or further education at the doctoral level.

Graduates are prepared for further study at the graduate level in veterinary medicine, medical science or developmental biology. Many graduates also pursue an entry-level position as a science technician in a stem cell research laboratory or fertility clinic. Popular careers that utilize skills in clinical embryology include the following:

  • High school science teacher
  • Laboratory animal husbandry
  • Andrology science technician
  • Senior clinical embryologist
  • Andrology lab director
  • Fertility clinic scientist

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