Become a Cellular Immunologist
Cellular immunologists develop and design immunoassays, which use antibodies to measure the amount of macromolecules found in solutions, and study how they work on cells. They use a variety of laboratory tools, equipment and computer software in their work. Their overall goal is to help design and create vaccinations that will be more effective in fighting and preventing modern strains of microbiological diseases.
Cellular immunologists, more so than other types of physicians, interact with infectious diseases and are at risk for infection. Strict prevention and protection policies are in place to keep immunologists free from illness. Immunologists may work independently or as part of a team, depending on the study. They generally enjoy full-time work.
A Ph.D. in cellular or molecular immunology or a related field is preferred, but a master's degree may be accepted in some cases. Two to six years of experience may be necessary, depending on the education level. Key to this position is experience with flow cytometry equipment (such as Canto, FACSCalibur and FACScan); experience with cell culture, human neutrophils, functional immune assays, immunofluorescence staining, ELISA, microscopy, SDS-PAGE/Western blot and immunoprecipitation. Additionally, experience with Microsoft Office, Softmax Pro, FlowJo, Prism Graph Pad, Diva and Cellquest are required.
According to PayScale.com, all allergists and immunologists made a median annual salary of $166,940 as of January 2016.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Bachelor's degree programs in biological science prepare students for graduate degree programs in immunology. Biological science programs typically have a strong base in math, chemistry and physics. Some schools offer concentrations in areas such as genetics, molecular biology or biochemistry, which can be useful for potential immunologists. Most schools require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED as a condition of enrollment.
Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree
A master's degree program in immunology is typically required for employment as a cellular immunologist. The programs generally include coursework in advanced topics such as immunology, microbial pathogenesis and biostatistics. In some cases, a master's degree is acceptable education for a cellular immunologist position when combined with professional experience, though some employers prefer candidates with a Ph.D. Graduate degree programs typically require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in biological science and a strong background in the field.
Ph.D. programs are typically research-based and give students the chance to work on independent research projects, collaborations and a thesis. They usually take 6 years to complete. Immunology Ph.D. programs often accept students with just a bachelor's degree; however some programs may require a master's degree.
The following are tips for success:
- Focus your studies on cellular immunology. Ph.D. programs in immunology may offer several areas of focus. Take additional courses in advanced cellular immunology to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible.
- Join an internship program. Many schools offer internship programs that provide students hands-on laboratory experience that can be valuable for employment. Experience with flow cytometry tools can be highly beneficial.
Step 3: Gain Work Experience
Since most employers require cellular immunologists to have at least 2 years of experience in the field, an entry-level position can provide the necessary experience. Entry-level job duties typically include developing cell assays, performing experiments and writing procedures, reports and protocols under supervision. Higher-level positions require candidates to have extensive experience and accomplishments with cellular immunology research and lab work. They must be able to work independently, as a leader and with a team.
A cellular immunologist must have a bachelor's degree in biological science but should earn a master's degree for independent research.