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Radiation Biologist: Salary, Job Outlook and Education Requirements

Radiation biologists require significant formal education. Learn about the training, job duties, and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

A radiation biologist studies how radiation affects tissues and human cells. Through experimentation and data gathering, they pursue an understanding of topics such as how to better diagnose and treat cancer. The education required to become a radiation biologist involves the completion of a Doctor of Medicine degree or Doctor of Philosophy degree, with a research-driven focus on radiation biology or biological science.

Essential Information

Radiation biologists are responsible for conducting experiments and collecting data to determine the effects of radiation on human cells and tissues. This may be beneficial for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Individuals pursuing careers as radiation biologists should ultimately earn a research-driven Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Radiation Biology or Biological Sciences or a clinical Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Post-doctoral fellowship or residency programs can also be pursued.

Required Education Ph.D.
Other Requirements M.D. and state licensure for direct patient care
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% (for biochemists and biophysicists)
Median Salary (2015)* $82,150 annually (for biochemists and biophysicists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information for a Radiation Biologist

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual wages for biochemists and biophysicists, both of whom are closely related in terms of background and job duties to radiation biologists, were $82,150 as of May 2015. The BLS also reported in 2014 that 47% of all biological scientists focused their work efforts on research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences (www.bls.gov).

Job Outlook

The number of employed biochemists and biophysicists was projected to grow 8% during the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS. This is as fast as the average for all other national occupations.

Education Requirements

Earning an undergraduate degree in biology or a related scientific field (with classes in biology and chemistry) is the first step to becoming a radiation biologist. A two-year Master of Science in Biology program, which offers specialization opportunities in molecular and cellular biology, should follow.

Radiation biologists must complete a Ph.D. program in radiation biology, which can be accomplished within five to six years. Radiation biologists can then conduct research in a variety of laboratory settings, including those within the private sector or the government. Holding a doctoral degree in one of the biological sciences may also open the door to research positions at academic institutions. Radiation biologists who have direct contact with patients may be required to attain a Doctor of Medicine and state licensure as a physician.

Additional Training

Fellowship programs can serve as a source of additional training in the area of radiation biology. Qualified postdoctoral candidates conduct independent research and contribute to their niche area of study, such as oncology or nuclear medicine. Those interested in clinical work and who have earned an M.D. may wish to explore residency options with heavy hands-on and patient-interaction components.

Radiation biologists who work directly with patients are usually required to hold both an M.D. and a valid physician's license for their state of employment. Many aspiring radiation biologists enter into a fellowship program, where they might focus on a specific concentration, such as oncology. The projected growth for employment in this field is expected to remain steady between 2014-2024, according to the BLS.


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