Topical lectures, academic research, and hands-on laboratory studies are at the heart of all molecular biology programs. Research requirements are considerably more extensive at the graduate level. Master's and doctoral students can typically specialize some of their courses and research opportunities in a microbiology niche that interests them. Graduates of all levels are eligible for molecular biology-related work, although an advanced degree can bring wider opportunities.
- Program Levels in Molecular Biology: Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees, doctoral degrees
- Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED for the bachelor's program; a bachelor's degree in molecular biology or a related field for the master's program; a master's degree in molecular biology or related field for the doctoral program
- Program Length: Varies according to program level
- Other Requirements: Dissertation or thesis required by some programs
Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology
The focus of a bachelor's degree program in molecular biology is to learn how cells grow, adapt, react, mutate, and reproduce. Programs cover essential topics, such as cell structure, gene inheritance, and gene manipulation. Students get a broad overview of contemporary theories in molecular biology as well as extensive practical, hands-on analysis in a supervised laboratory environment. Applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
The curriculum consists of general education requirements in the arts and sciences, as well as courses designed for the major. Students engage in academic research, laboratory experimentation, and attend lecture-based courses that cover the following topics:
- Introduction to molecular biology
- Genetics and molecular biology
- Fundamentals of biochemistry
- Biology of the cell
- Organic chemistry
Master of Science in Molecular Biology
Opportunities are also available for students to pursue a Master of Science in Molecular Biology. Students research the cell from a biological, chemical, genetic, and medical standpoint. Programs aim to develop students' analytical and critical thinking skills, as well as give them experience in laboratory research and administration.
A graduate degree program allows for focused, concentrated research in the specific field of molecular biology. Students will also undertake a self-directed thesis research project. Course topics include:
- Advanced molecular biology
- Molecular biology in DNA and RNA
- Medicine and molecular biology
Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Biology
A Doctor of Philosophy program in molecular biology is designed to train students in design and laboratory experimentation. Students gain the knowledge and skills to take on positions of leadership in research or academia as they continue to explore advanced topics in molecular biology, such as genetics, genomics, and biochemistry. Programs focus on technical and academic research, and students develop problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. Doctoral programs are the terminating degree track in this field of study.
Students confer with an advisor on individual research projects. Along with laboratory research, students conduct academic research to prepare for the writing of a dissertation upon graduation. Program seminars cover the following topics:
- Macromolecular structure
- Principles in biochemistry and biophysiology
- Genomics and molecular biology
- Computational biology
- Cell dynamics and structure
Popular Career Options
Graduates of bachelor's programs often pursue careers in academic or laboratory research in biological sciences or education. Popular career options include:
- Science teacher
- Laboratory assistant
- Technical writer
- Research assistant
Doctoral candidates typically gravitate towards careers in molecular biology research or academia. Popular career options include:
- Research director
- Molecular biologist
Career Outlook and Salary Information
A 2012 report by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated overall job growth of 19% for biochemists and biophysicists, including molecular biologists, from 2012-2022. However, the profession is small, with 31,350 workers employed in 2014. In May 2014, the salary range for biochemists and biophysicists in the 25th-75th percentile was between $58,490 and $115,390, with a median of $84,940.
Graduates of bachelor's programs are able to apply to master's degree programs in molecular biology. Although an undergraduate degree is sufficient for employment in a number of areas, a graduate degree often provides a greater number of job opportunities.
Students of master's programs can continue to study molecular biology at the doctoral degree level. Although a master's degree is often sufficient for the majority of employment opportunities, individuals aspiring to teach at the college or university level will find a doctoral degree beneficial.