Is a PhD in Molecular Biology Worth It?

Jul 17, 2018

Gaining a PhD in molecular biology requires five years of extensive laboratory work and research in the field of biology. You should then have the knowledge and hands-on experience necessary to qualify for a large selection of potential jobs that range from natural science manager to medical scientist.

Securing a PhD in molecular biology is not an easy task and involves taking courses in subjects like advanced cell biology, protein & nucleic acid biochemistry, and research ethics. To aid you in your decision, read about five careers that those with a PhD in molecular biology tend to pursue upon completion of their degree.

PhD in Molecular Biology Careers/Salary

Through their graduate program, students who earn a PhD in molecular biology will work within a laboratory, as well as teach others, giving them the experience necessary to secure high paying jobs within research and academia. Through their coursework in subjects such as advanced cell biology, genetics, genomes, gene expression and research ethics, recent graduates will have the advanced knowledge necessary to work in high-level jobs related to molecular biology. They will be well versed in laboratory operations and emerging topics within molecular biology, thanks to the many seminars that they will be required to attend on their way to achieving a PhD. You can find five careers below that molecular biologists often pursue upon graduation, along with their median salary and job growth information.

Job Title Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Biochemists and Biophysicists $91,190 11%
Medical Scientists $82,090 (medical scientists, except epidemiologists) 13% (medical scientists, except epidemiologists)
Microbiologists $69,960 8%
Natural Sciences Managers $118,970 10%
Postsecondary Biological Science Teachers $78,240 15%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

PhD in Molecular Biology Careers

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists spend their time researching and observing how the cells of varying biological compounds interact with one another and use this new information to assist manufacturers in creating more effective medications. Much like during their graduate program, individuals within this line of work oversee the operation and maintenance of all laboratory equipment. In addition, they set up protocols and quality control standards for a given project and actively ensure that they are being followed. These same individuals will also show their research findings to their employers and fellow scientists and give them possible solutions to problems that they encounter.

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists spend the majority of their time engaging in research that leads them to establish new methodologies and procedures that will then be applied to the medical field. Thanks to extensive course study in advanced cell biology, PhD students will have a deep understanding of microorganisms and be able to accurately identify the root causes of toxicity, diseases, and bacteria. They will be able to use this same knowledge to determine the effects that pesticides, parasites, microorganisms, and drugs have on a body at the molecular level. Additionally, they will set up and follow sample transportation and testing procedures within a laboratory setting to ensure the safety of others, and to prevent any instances of contamination.


Microbiologists document and study the physiology, morphology and growth, as well as general characteristics of microorganisms. They conduct research within a laboratory and manage staff by delegating tasks and setting up work schedules. These same individuals also develop new procedures for improving sterilization and the effectiveness of medications in fighting diseases. They collect and catalog all microorganisms that they encounter and monitor the effects that they have on the environments in which they are first observed. Furthermore, they conduct lab experiments with the expressed purpose of diagnosing and treating various illnesses. Although some entry-level jobs may be secured with an undergraduate degree, a PhD is required to perform research and for postsecondary teaching.

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers come up with the best plans of action as they relate to scientific research and observe the work being conducted by scientists within a given project. Individuals who choose this job may either work for a business or government entity and be tasked with creating reports on scientific findings, which they will then present to their respective employers. Additionally, they will work with their employers to establish strategies and goals for a given research project, as well as establish a budget for said project. They will also take part in the evaluation and supervision of all staff members and actively take part in hiring new personnel. Those with a PhD and experience leading research teams could be the most competitive in the job market.

Postsecondary Biological Science Teachers

Postsecondary biological science teachers conduct classroom lectures and labs with students, oversee their progress during labs, and offer assistance when necessary. They train students on the proper use of laboratory equipment and actively encourage discussions among students, both in the classroom, and in the laboratory. During class discussions, professors will act as a moderator among students to make certain that the proposed question is being addressed and that the discussion stays on track. Often times, those who work as postsecondary biological science teachers will also have to maintain office hours where students can drop by and ask for additional help when necessary.

Program Information for a PhD in Molecular Biology

In order to be admitted into most graduate programs students will need to have obtained a GRE exam score of three hundred or better and have an undergraduate degree in molecular biology, or a related field, with a 3.0 GPA or better. Additionally, they must have completed an essay detailing their purpose for entering the graduate program along with meeting all prerequisite course requirements. Once admitted into the graduate program, students will take part in classes like advanced cell biology, molecular biology, and introduction to biostatistics.

As for cost, students are typically awarded a five year financial package which waives their tuition through the use of stipends, fellowships, and teaching/research assistantships. During this five year period, students will engage in one to two years of coursework, with their teaching requirement typically starting in the middle of the second year or beginning of the third year. They will then conduct research and writing toward their dissertation defense while attending seminars on subjects related to molecular biology. Students can choose to have their degree focus in subjects such as biochemistry, biophysics, or structural biology, to name a few.

There are many different areas of concentration that individuals can choose when they decide to pursue a PhD in molecular biology. This gives them the ability to tailor both their learning and future careers. The time commitment is significant, but the financial support offered by many institutions is also substantial.

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