Immunology addresses the question of why humans and animals get sick and how they protect themselves from illness. Studying immunology at the undergraduate or graduate degree level can help you understand how immune systems function and what you can do to help them. Continue reading to learn more about academic and career opportunities in the field.
You can pursue a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree program in immunology. These science-rich degree programs are designed to train you to understand how the immune systems of living organisms work and how they provide protection from pathogens. They can also prepare you for numerous career opportunities in research, academia, pharmaceuticals and other fields.
Undergraduate training in immunology can prepare you for master's- or doctoral-level studies in immunology or another science. Studies in immunology are part of medical and veterinary programs, and bachelor's degree programs meet the entry-level requirements for those programs. You may be able to find entry-level careers in immunology working as a laboratory technician, research assistant or pharmaceutical sales consultant. With a master's degree, you can teach science classes at a community college or engage in researching and developing pharmaceuticals. A doctoral degree program could prepare you to teach at a college or university, become a biochemist or medical scientist or engage in independent research.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professional scientists must be able to work on their own and with others, communicate effectively and conduct field research (www.bls.gov).
In scientific research and development positions, job growth should increase by 19% for biochemists and biophysicists and by 13% for medical scientists, from 2012-2022, according to the BLS. For many individuals working in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, job growth should be average, overall, and for biological sciences university professors it should increase by 19%.
The BLS reports that as of May 2012, the median annual salary for biological science teachers was $74,180. Biochemists and biophysicists made $81,480 in that year and sales representatives made $74,970 in median wages. As of May 2012, the average annual wages for biological technicians in research and development was $45,060. Medical scientists in pharmaceutical medical manufacturing made a median annual salary of $100,850 as of May 2012, according to the BLS.
Through a bachelor's degree program in immunology, you'll explore the basics of microbiology, immunology and virology. In addition to general science courses in biology, physics and chemistry, you'll take advanced courses that address genetics, pathogenesis and bacteriology. You'll also conduct research and work in labs to learn about diseases that include AIDS, cancer and anthrax and how they affect the immune system.
Through master's degree programs in immunology, you may take courses related to public health that address how improving public understanding of diseases can lead to better health overall. You may complete courses that cover the spread of disease and the history of pandemics, such as AIDS. To graduate, you must write a thesis. Topics for specialization or research can include molecular virology, immune regulation, inflammation, allergens or vaccine development.
Doctoral degree programs in immunology allow you to keep up to date on changes and advances in the field while you conduct research and write a relevant dissertation based on your research. Common research topics include different types of infectious agents and methods for improving the cellular system so it can defend against pathogens. Some programs require that you engage in many areas of research before selecting a specialization, such as infectious or disease epidemiology.