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Molecular Biologist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a molecular biologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

In order for students to become a molecular biologist, they must get at least a bachelor's degree. Research careers in this field require an advanced degree. Molecular biologists study biochemical processes within living cells of animals, people, plants and other living organisms. Knowledge of chemistry, physics and cell physiology is required to succeed in this scientific industry. Job duties as one of these biologists may include working with advanced equipment and using deductive reasoning and critical-thinking skills to solve complex problems.

Career Biochemist
Education Requirements Doctoral or professional degree
Job Growth (2012-22)* 19%
Mean Salary (2014)*$91,960 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Molecular Biologist: Job Description

Whether studying cell processes and codes in humans, animals, plants or other living organisms, molecular biologists are needed in a spectrum of career fields. They utilize their knowledge of chemistry, cell physiology, genetics, physics and other sciences in their career studies.

These professionals must experiment to gain results and push the boundaries of their research areas. Biotech companies might need molecular biologists to genetically engineer new crops to improve their health and consumption rate. Other molecular biologists may develop a new way to test the validity of drugs used to stimulate safe gene growth and fight off disease.

Molecular biologists need to understand gene sequencing, cell signaling and gene expression, as well as organize and differentiate cells. They need to accurately record information and interpret results, which are to be passed on and communicated with others for non-scientific consumption.

Molecular Biology Job Duties

Molecular biologists work with advanced lab equipment, like cloning kits, DNA synthesizers, electron guns and temperature cyclers. They regularly emphasize deductive reasoning and critical thinking in their tasks, as they attempt to enact change to processes and reinforce new methodology in solving problems. For instance, molecular biologists might be focused on how to change genetic properties in order to assist in curing or slowing disease infestation.

Job opportunities exist in private industries, universities and government agencies. In private industry, molecular biologists can serve as consultants while advising on scientific issues, such as environmental problems. For the government, they can research new ways to treat and diagnose disease. In universities, teachers are needed to help push new minds to grow the field and instruct students on how to conduct research properly and question existing models of scientific thinking.

Molecular Biologist: Education Requirements

Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences

These 4-year programs can provide the groundwork for those who want to become molecular biologists. Obtaining a bachelor's degree in mathematics or biology may also be sufficient. Students gain experience in a laboratory, which is essential since research is necessary for molecular biologists. Other common courses in these programs include:

  • Genetics
  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Chemistry

Master of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology

These 2-year programs serve to further enhance knowledge in molecular and cell biology. They can be used as springboards for those who want to enter doctoral degree programs, which can lead to research and teaching opportunities. Common courses include:

  • Cell signals and structures
  • Computational biology
  • Molecular biology

Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular and Cellular Biology

These programs take as many as five years to complete. They include both advanced studies in molecular biology and laboratory work. The majority of the second half of these programs focuses on full-time research projects. Common courses include:

  • Advanced biochemistry
  • Stem cell research
  • Multiple lab rotations

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected job growth of 19%, much faster than the average for all occupations, for biochemists and biophysicists from 2012-2022. The BLS reported a mean annual salary of $91,960 for these professionals as of May 2014.

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