Molecular biology can be studied at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Lectures, coursework, academic research and laboratory studies are at the heart of degree programs. Bachelor's degree programs give students fundamental knowledge in the field through classes and laboratory research. Graduates can pursue entry-level jobs in laboratory research, but many go on to graduate studies. Bachelor's students also must complete general education courses, while students at the master's level can work exclusively on molecular biology and focus on research projects. Research is also the focus of a doctoral program in molecular biology. Students pursue their own projects and work on a dissertation. Many schools require doctoral students to help teach undergraduate classes as well.
Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology
Students studying molecular biology at the undergraduate level can earn a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology. Through comprehensive lectures, coursework and extensive laboratory research studies, students analyze the cell as the basic building block of life. Cell make-up, composition, interaction, mutation and restoration are core concepts explored in the program. The goal of a bachelor's degree program is to give students the basic knowledge and skills necessary to pursue entry-level employment in related areas, such as laboratory research or graduate studies.
Students take a number of required courses from various fields, such as the humanities and social sciences, along with introductory and advanced courses in molecular biology. Along with supervised laboratory studies, students attend lecture courses that cover the following topics:
- General chemistry
- General physics
- Cell and molecular biology
- Organic chemistry
Master of Science in Molecular Biology
The most popular graduate degree track in molecular biology leads to a Master of Science in Molecular Biology. Degree programs give students the freedom to study molecular biology exclusively. Advanced biological theories and concepts are explored in lectures and classroom discussions. Students continue to build and strengthen research skills as they engage in analysis, research and experimentation in supervised laboratory studies.
A master's degree program allows students to focus exclusively on molecular biology. Students divide their time between supervised laboratory studies, coursework, research and lectures in the following subjects:
- Molecular cell biology
- Research methods
- Inorganic chemistry
- Statistics in biology
- Advanced biochemistry
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Ph.D. in Molecular Biology
Doctoral candidates explore, study and research advanced theories and properties of molecular biology and conduct extensive laboratory experimentation. Programs focus on the use of modern technologies in biological research. Students also engage in extensive academic research centered on the writing of a dissertation. Though not always required, students may serve as teaching assistants.
Doctoral candidates spend a significant amount of time in laboratory studies, as well as conducting academic research for a dissertation to be presented for graduation. Students attend lectures focusing on the following topics:
- Advanced research methods
- Advanced genetics
- Immunization and biology
- Basics of developmental biology
- Molecular biology of plants
Popular Career Options
Students with a bachelor's degree are prepared to apply for internships or entry-level employment as:
- Laboratory technicians
- Research associates
- High school teachers
A doctorate degree is considered the terminal degree in this particular course of study and will often yield the greatest number of possible career options. Some popular career options include:
- Independent laboratory researcher
- Laboratory administrator
- Laboratory manger
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated 4% growth in employment for microbiologists from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The median salary in 2015 for a microbiologist was $67,550, with the lowest 10% earning around $38,810 or less and the highest 10% earning $125,200 or more.
Students wishing to further their education in molecular biology can apply to a master's degree program. Master's degree programs may lead to managerial or supervisory positions and a higher base salary.
Doctoral programs in molecular biology are available for students looking to further their education, and teach or perform research at the college or university level. A doctoral degree is considered the terminal degree for this particular course of study.
Pursing a career in the field of molecular biology will begin at the bachelor's level. Depending on a student's knowledge and career aspirations, they can then continue to graduate studies, at each step bolstering their in-depth awareness of the cell as the building block to all life.