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Become a DNA Scientist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a DNA scientist. Research the education and career requirements, licensure information, and experience required for starting a career in DNA science.

Should I Become a DNA Scientist?

DNA scientists are medical scientists who research and experiment with deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This is the compound that carries genetic information between generations.

Medical scientists, such as DNA scientists, work in laboratory and office settings, splitting their time between the two. While working in labs, such scientists take precautions to minimize exposure to any hazardous materials by wearing special clothing and using protective gear such as goggles and gloves. The majority of medical scientists work on a full-time basis.

Career Requirements

Degree Level DNA scientists generally earn either a Ph.D. or M.D.
Degree Field Degrees should be in biological or medical fields which relate to DNA research
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required for individuals pursuing a medical track toward this career
Key Skills Communication, critical-thinking, data-analysis, decision-making and observation skills are all essential. It is also important to have experience with analytical, scientific and computer-aided design (CAD) tasks. DNA scientists are often required to work with software related to database building, photo imaging and word processing
Median Annual Salary (2015) $75,508 for all research scientists

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Payscale.com, O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Prospective DNA scientists can begin training for this career by earning a bachelor's degree in biological science. Some colleges and universities offer Bachelor of Science in Biology degree programs with concentrations in cell and molecular biology. These programs typically take four years to complete and focus on both general sciences and genetic materials. Courses may include organic chemistry, cell biology, structural biochemistry, evolutionary biology and molecular genetics.

For students planning to pursue a medical degree as part of their educations to become DNA scientists, the Medical School Admission Test (MCAT) is an exam they will be required to take. Usually taken during the junior year of study, the MCAT is designed to test an applicant's readiness for medical school. Medical school admissions boards weigh these scores when selecting candidates for medical school programs.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in an internship. An internship at research facility can be beneficial for students majoring in a science-related discipline, while an internship at a hospital can benefit students planning to attend medical school. Internships enable students to gain first-hand experience working in the field and to build upon the concepts they learn in class by learning new skills from professionals.

Step 2: Complete a Graduate Degree Program

One education path for DNA scientists is a Ph.D. degree program in a specialization of biological science. Ph.D. programs in genetics and molecular biology, for example, generally take six years to complete and focus on research, laboratory experience and lecture instruction. Courses may include genetic systems analysis, microbiology, medical anthropology, evolutionary genetics and human disease modeling. Students may also be required to complete a dissertation project to graduate from a degree program.

Other DNA scientists train in both medicine and DNA study. Some medical colleges offer combined M.D. and Ph.D. degree programs, which are designed specifically for medical scientists who conduct research and interact with patients in clinical settings. These programs typically take 7-8 years to complete and are usually divided into three parts. Students start out by completing two years of instruction in medical school. Then they complete four years of graduate school and receive Ph.D. degrees. Finally, they complete 1-2 more years of medical training, during which time they attend clinical clerkships.

Step 3: Obtain Medical Licensure

DNA scientists who conduct medical tests on patients, such as drug or gene therapy, must hold licenses through their state medical boards. In all states, medical licensure entails taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). The test is divided into three parts that assess the scientific principles, clinical skills and independent practice aptitude of candidates. USMLE scores are reported to state medical boards, which use them to evaluate licensure candidates.

Step 4: Pursue Postdoctoral Training

After earning licensure, many DNA scientists continue training in postdoctoral fellowship or residency programs. These programs can last 3-7 years and allow medical scientists to gain clinical training in their specialties. New DNA scientists may seek postdoctoral training through the National Resident Matching Program, which provides medical students and graduates with a service that matches them with fellowship and residency programs. Many DNA scientists continue training after graduation with residency and fellowship programs, and these programs may also lead to permanent positions within the institute that has trained them.


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