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Molecular Biologist - Career Preparation

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To prepare for a career as a molecular biologist, the student should begin by taking a broad selection of science and math courses in high school. Typically, such a course of study would include biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as geometry, algebra, and calculus. Good communication skills are very important for a scientist, so English and public speaking should not be neglected. At college, the student may wish to pursue a field of study involving biology or chemistry as a major, with an emphasis on laboratory training.

Usually about four to five years of study are needed to satisfy the requirements for an undergraduate (bachelor's) degree. Time for specialization comes at the graduate level. At this point, students should begin to focus their curiosity and choose a major area of interest, such as biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, or cell biology. They should also begin to look for a university that has an excellent reputation for research in the area of choice. Then, the student must seek out a particular laboratory and research advisor for real hands-on training and experimentation.

Two degree tracks are typically offered in graduate school: a master's and a doctoral (Ph.D.) program. On average, a student may earn a master's degree in molecular biology in roughly three years; earning the Ph.D. degree may require four to six years of work. Many pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies actively recruit scientists at the master's level who have training in molecular biology techniques. Students who have obtained a Ph.D. degree in molecular biology commonly undertake postdoctoral training: two to four years of additional study and research. Traditionally, only students interested in academic or government careers pursued postdoctoral studies; however, today many private companies offer one-and two-year postdoctoral positions as a means of attracting top scientific talent.

The annual salaries of molecular biologists can range from $20,000 to $150,000 or more, and are influenced by many factors, such as education (master's versus doctoral degree), experience (just beginning or a seasoned veteran), field of expertise ("hot" fields pay better), employer location (big city or small town), and the local supply of and demand for trained life scientists. Typically, industry positions come with somewhat higher salaries than academic or government positions; however, job security in industry may be tied to the financial success of the company. Academic and government positions may offer more intellectual independence, but sometimes lower salaries. The demand for well-trained, creative molecular biologists in government, industry, and academia continues to grow as our knowledge of life's basic processes deepens.

Samuel E. Bennett

and Dale Mosbaugh

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