Genetic Scientists


Requirements

Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a geneticist working in basic research, you should study math, chemistry, and physics in high school, along with biology. English, writing, and computer studies are helpful for developing communication skills. A college degree is a must.

Postsecondary Training

In college, students wishing to become basic research geneticists typically major in biology or genetics, taking math, chemistry, and physics courses as well. However, you could also major in any one of the physical sciences with a minor in biology and still enter graduate school in the field of genetics. At public and private universities, colleges, and medical schools, genetic scientists almost always hold doctoral degrees and teach undergraduate and graduate courses in addition to doing research. Clinical geneticists usually earn an M.D. or D.O. degree, which requires getting admitted to medical school, then completing a three- to-five-year residency in a medical specialty, followed by an additional two to three years of specialized training in genetics.

Career opportunities also exist for those with bachelor's or master's of science degrees, particularly in the rapidly growing biotechnology field, which is using genetics to produce everything from medicines to microchips. This industry needs well-trained research technicians who typically have a bachelor of science degree in biology with a molecular or biochemistry emphasis. The federal government also has a need for research technicians and hires college graduates and those with master's degrees to work in hospitals and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratories. Cytogeneticists generally need a bachelor of science degree.

Genetic counselors usually hold specialized graduate degrees. Training programs for genetic counselors are two-year master's-level programs with courses and field training in medical genetics and counseling. The Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling accredits graduate programs in genetic counseling in the U.S. and Canada. Visit https://www.gceducation.org/program-directory for a list of programs.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education accredits clinical biochemical genetics and laboratory genetics and genomics training programs. Visit https://www.acgme.org for more information.  

Other Education or Training

Continuing education webinars, classes, workshops, and conference sessions are provided by the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, American Society of Human Genetics, Association of Professors of Human and Medical Genetics, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, Genetics Society of America, and the National Society of Genetic Counselors. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Licensing and/or certification may be necessary, depending on the specialty that is chosen. Molecular geneticists, clinical cytogeneticists, clinical biochemical geneticists, clinical geneticists, medical biochemical geneticists, and molecular genetic pathologists may obtain certification through the American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (http://www.abmgg.org) while genetic counselors are certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (http://www.abgc.net). Additionally, clinical geneticists must be licensed to practice medicine, and some states now require genetic counselors to obtain a license. Some genetic laboratories require staff to have specific training and certification in cytogenetic or medical technology, while others hire people with relevant B.S. or M.S. degrees as long as they show an aptitude for the work.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Any experience one can obtain in genetic science—such as an internship, volunteering, or a part-time job—will be useful.

Geneticists must be smart and have inquiring minds. They need to be able to evaluate results and draw conclusions from measurable criteria. They should also be able to work with abstract theories and ideas, and in cooperation with others. Both written and verbal communications skills are important for sharing research information. Important personal qualities for laboratory scientists are patience, attention to detail, and determination. Genetic counselors must have mature judgment and strong communications skills to deal with people coping with highly emotional issues. They must be able to establish trust quickly and have the right mix of objectivity (the ability to be neutral) and sensitivity to do their work well.