Some biomedical science and biology undergraduate programs include immunology coursework; however, most immunology degrees and certificates are available at the graduate level. Along with graduate certificate programs, master's and doctoral degree programs that focus on immunology are available. Completion of individual research, theses or dissertations may be necessary. These programs could be ideal for aspiring microbiologists, managers and professors who want to work in the areas of vaccines, psychiatric disorders or biotechnology.
Graduate Certificate in Microbiology and Immunology
Graduate certificate programs draw from biochemistry and microbiology to present the basics of immunology. They may be appropriate for students who wish to enhance their background knowledge of immunology before applying for medical school or other graduate degree programs, or for working professionals in closely related fields. Certificate programs can usually be completed within two semesters of full-time study. To be admitted to graduate certificate programs, students must generally hold a bachelor's degree and have scientific training on topics such as organic chemistry. Other prerequisites may include a minimum grade point average (GPA) in undergraduate studies and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores above a minimum threshold.
Immunology certificate courses draw from microbiology, immunology and general biochemistry. Course topics might include:
- Bacterial pathogenesis
- Principles of cellular neuroscience
- Molecular biology and genetics
- Pharmacology and toxicology
- Biochemistry: cellular and molecular biology
Master of Science in Microbiology and Immunology
Master's degree programs in immunology emphasize the development of independent research skills. They may be pursued by students who wish to pursue medical careers or work in academia. Programs may require students to work in laboratories, perform individual research and develop and defend a master's thesis. Some immunology programs offer opportunities to study and work with affiliated research institutes. Most programs can be completed with 2-3 years of full-time study. Students applying to immunology programs should generally hold a bachelor's degree and submit scores from a standardized test, such as the GRE or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Those without a strong undergraduate background in science courses may need to take prerequisites before beginning core program coursework.
Typical lectures, seminars and courses for first-year students include introductions to biochemistry, immunology and molecular biology. Later in the program, students can pursue courses in topics of particular interest to them, such as:
- Parasitic and viral pathogenetic mechanisms
- Bacterial pathogenesis
- Genetics and molecular biology
- Virology and mycology
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Doctor of Philosophy in Immunology and Microbiology
Ph.D. research training prepares the student for academic research, university teaching or industry research positions. Cohorts vary according to research specializations the school offers. Students usually spend their first two or three years in the program taking courses on topics related to immunology. After successful completion of a comprehensive examination, students begin to research, write and orally defend their dissertations. Once other program requirements are completed, the university awards its candidate a Ph.D. in immunology.
Although doctoral programs tend to be very flexible and accept those with wide variations in experience and actual coursework, entering students generally must have strong backgrounds in biology and microbiology, chemistry and biochemistry, genetics and mathematics. Deficiencies are usually addressed during the first year. Admission requirements include a minimum GPA in previous college coursework and submission of GRE scores. This Ph.D. requires a minimum of approximately 70 credit hours, covering required and elective study in immunological methods and concepts. Course topics might include:
- Biostatistics and biomedical research
- Fundamental gene expression
- Dynamic cell processes and protein regulation
- Chromatin structure and disease
- Subcellular motility
- Genetic manipulation
Popular Career Options
Graduate certificate programs in immunology can prepare students for higher education or supplement research in related scientific fields. Immunology may be relevant to professionals studying:
- Cancer research
- Therapeutic agents
- Psychiatric disorders
Holders of doctoral degrees in immunology might pursue careers in academia or private industry research. U.S. government grants are a major source of funding for many immunological researchers. Immunologists might work as:
- Strategic development managers
- Tenure track university and college professors
- Clinical network managers
- International regulatory affairs attaches
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that job growth for microbiologists may grow 4% for the years 2014 through 2024 (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, the median annual wages of microbiologists were $67,550 in May 2015.
Individuals can usually seek admission to master's and Ph.D. programs, transferring most credits earned through the certificate program. Other certificate programs focus on biochemistry and new technologies such as immunotherapy, proteomics and genomics. Professional organizations such as the American Association of Immunologists present lecture series on various specialties and serve as a conduit to graduate programs, postdoctoral fellowships and research opportunities.
Graduates of master's degree programs in immunology may go on to pursue doctoral degrees or medical degrees. Further education also is available through certificate programs in related fields, such as pathology and global health.
Professional associations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) promote policies and initiatives, promote international programs, provide science education opportunities and disseminate research news. AAAS members use the organization as a primary clearinghouse for internships, fellowships, jobs, career initiatives, research funding and other continuing education opportunities.
Students with a science background can pursue graduate certificates, master's degrees, or doctoral degrees in immunology. Graduates with immunology degrees or certificates can work in medical research or higher education.