Genetic Scientist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a genetic scientist. 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.

Gene scientists can work in a number of settings, including laboratories, universities, and for pharmaceutical or agricultural companies. These professionals may take on the role of researcher, counselor, or physician.

Essential Information

Genetic scientists analyze hereditary characteristics to develop new pharmaceutical and agricultural products. They also work in clinical settings, as counselors for genetic diseases or physicians administering genetic treatments. Genetic scientists generally complete at least a master's degree program; however, a doctorate is more common.

Required Education Doctorate in genetics or similar field standard requirement for research or academic-based careers; master's may suffice for counseling or other similar positions
Other Requirements Clinical geneticists must obtain physician's license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 29% for all genetic counselors; 14% for all physicians and surgeons
Median Salary* $72,090 for all genetic counselors; $187,200 or more for all physicians and surgeons

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Genetic Scientist

Research laboratories employ scientists to understand gene behavior, gene duplication, physical characteristics and diseases. Genetic scientists at universities analyze genetic behavior and develop techniques for disease detection. Those at pharmaceutical companies create new medicines. Geneticists at agricultural companies develop disease-resistant crops and livestock. Some provide forensic analysis for law enforcement agencies.

Genetic scientists in a clinical setting use their knowledge to guide and treat patients with hereditary diseases or disorders. Genetic counselors test patients for inherited conditions and advise them on possible treatments. Counselors often specialize in one field, such as pediatrics or oncology. Geneticists who are licensed physicians administer gene therapy treatments in hospitals, sometimes as part of a clinical trial for pharmaceutical companies.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track information specifically for clinical geneticists, however employment options for all physicians and surgeons are expected to grow by 14% between 2014-2024. According to the BLS, job opportunities for genetic counselors are expected to grow by 29% from 2014-2024. The same source reports that, as of May 2015, the median salary for genetic counselors was $72,090 a year.

Duties of a Genetic Scientist

Researchers extract DNA samples and conduct tests such as gel electrophoresis, southern blot analysis and polymerase chain reaction analysis. They use optical microscopes and electronic imagers to monitor samples during experiments. They also document their processes and results, which can be published in scientific journals or presented at conferences.

Counselors study a patient's family medical history, coordinate testing and interpret results. They educate the patient on any possible diseases or disorders and discuss treatment options. For example, a counselor can help a couple understand what genetic disorders their child might inherit or help a patient prepare for the onset of an inherited illness. Counselors may refer patients to physicians, who implement treatments.

Requirements to Become a Genetic Scientist

Some positions, such as a genetic counselor, may only require the completion a master's degree program; however, research, scientist and academia careers typically require a doctorate. Most genetic scientists complete a graduate program in genetics or a relevant field such as biology or chemistry. Physical science programs supplemented with biology coursework can also suffice.

Clinical geneticists must be licensed physicians. Generally, physicians must complete a bachelor's degree program, complete a Doctor of Medicine program, participate in a residency and earn a qualifying score on the United States Medical Licensing Examination.

The education required to become a gene scientist is significant. For careers in a research or academic setting, a doctorate degree in a field such as genetics is mandatory. For counseling and other related roles, a master's degree might be sufficient.

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