Molecular and Cellular Biologists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A good foundation for a career in molecular and cellular biology includes classes in biology,  physics, chemistry, Latin, geometry, algebra, and computer science. English and speech classes are also important because biologists must clearly communicate their research and findings in reports and articles that are shared with colleagues, students, and the general public.

Postsecondary Training

Molecular and cellular biologists must have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree. Majors may be in bacteriology, microbiology, or other related fields. Courses cover all phases of biology, as well as organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Also included are classes in modern languages, English, biometrics (the use of mathematics in biological measurements), statistics, and computer software programs. Students also must meet requirements for laboratory work.

A doctorate is required for the highest professional status, such as top research positions and higher level college teaching openings. Many colleges and universities offer courses leading to a master's degree and a doctorate. Doctoral candidates specialize in one of the subdivisions of biology. Graduate work may be financed from a variety of financial assistance sources; for example, most major universities have a highly developed fellowship (scholarship) or assistantship (part-time teaching or research) program.

Organizations such as the National Science Foundation make awards to support graduate students. Major universities often hold research contracts or have their own projects that provide part-time and summer employment for undergraduate and graduate students.

Other Education or Training

Molecular and cellular biologists must keep up with industry developments throughout their careers. They attend classes and educational events offered by professional associations such as the American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Physiological Society, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Society for Microbiology, American Society of Plant Biologists, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Botanical Society of America, and the Ecological Society of America. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Molecular and cellular biologists may receive voluntary certification to enhance their knowledge and skills. Professional associations such as the American Board of Clinical Chemistry, American Society for Clinical Pathology, and the American Society for Microbiology offer certification in molecular diagnostics and technology

A state license may be required for molecular and cellular biologists who are employed as technicians in general service health organizations, such as hospitals or clinics. To qualify for this license, proof of suitable educational background is necessary.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Molecular and cellular biologists usually have a master's degree and at least five years of prior work experience. They often receive on-the-job training. To be successful in this field, biologists must be systematic in their approach to solving problems. They must be able to gather information from relevant sources, organize and analyze this information, and come up with appropriate solutions. Strong knowledge of computer software programs is also needed for this work, such as scientific and analytical software and graphics and photo imaging software. Biologists should have probing, inquisitive minds and an aptitude for biology, chemistry, and mathematics. They must also have good communication skills in order to write accurate reports and share their findings with other scientists and the general public. People who are best suited for this type of work are detail oriented, analytical, persistent, dependable, and honest and ethical.