Parasitology explores the symbiotic relationship between hosts and parasites. Professionals in this field conduct research that can improve the health of animals, plants and humans. Continue reading to learn if a career in parasitology is for you.
Parasitology is the study of parasites and how they live, feed and grow on the host organism. The host can be a plant, animal or human being. Parasites feed on living organisms, causing infections and diseases. While parasites can be categorized as bacteria, protozoa or viruses, parasitology focuses on nucleated multi-cellular and unicellular structures. This multidisciplinary field can lead to a career as a parasitologist in fields like veterinary medicine, academia or agriculture.
Many other subdisciplines exist within the parasitology research field. Immunoparasitology, for example, is the study of parasites with the aim of developing new drugs to fight off the parasites. If the idea of being part of significant scientific breakthroughs sounds appealing, such as the recent development of a malaria vaccine, then this could be for you. You could also work in agricultural parasitology, which is the study of parasitic affects on the foods that humans consume.
PayScale.com reports that most research scientists made a salary of $43,881-$107,148 as of August 2014. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for microbiologists, as a specialty area of biological science, were expected to increase 7% from 2012-2022, which is considered to be slower than the average growth of all other occupations during this period of time (www.bls.gov). They earned a median annual wage of $67,840 in 2013, per the BLS.
Veterinarians were expected to see average job opportunities and faster growth during this period of about 12%, mostly due to increasing interest in pets, and therefore a greater demand for veterinary services. The BLS also said that the median salary of veterinarians as of May 2013 was $86,640.
While studying veterinary medicine, you can also study parasitology and apply this knowledge to your profession by studying the relationship between parasites and animal hosts. In studying this, you could ultimately be instrumental in increasing productivity among farm animals by reducing losses caused by parasitic infection.
Bachelor's, master's and doctoral level parasitology tracks are often found as part of interdisciplinary studies programs and are typically paired with a related biological or medical discipline. You can look for a parasitology track within microbiology and immunology, entomology, public health, biomedical or veterinary medicine programs.
The BLS reported that a bachelor's degree in your area of interest can suffice for jobs in applied research or the development of products. A bachelor's degree in biology may include courses in microbial physiology, immunology, ecology, virology, cell culture and virology.
You could continue your education by pursuing a graduate degree in veterinary medicine. You may find that courses in biological sciences, chemistry and physics are necessary to meet the prerequisite requirements for admission to a veterinary medicine program. Graduate-level courses may include anatomic pathology, protozoology and research ethics. Some graduate programs offer international preceptorships and study abroad programs, and most require completion of a master's thesis.
The BLS also reported that if you want to work as a scientific researcher in a field of biology, such as parasitology, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is required. A Ph.D. program in parasitology will typically require completion of an oral exam based on your dissertation proposal and an independently-researched doctoral dissertation in which you would conduct your own lab work. Sometimes these degrees can be offered jointly with Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or Medical Doctor (M.D.) programs. Graduate training certificates in areas such as public health or medicine may also be available and can give you a specialization that leads to a competitive edge in the job market.