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How Do I Become a Molecular Biologist?

Research what it takes to become a molecular biologist. Learn about education requirements, responsibilities, and potential salary to find out if this is the right career for you.

What Is a Molecular Biologist?

Molecular biologists study cells and other microscopic organisms. Job specifics are varied depending on where you work, from research and development to academia. Through your studies of molecular life, you will endeavor to learn new things about tiny organisms, DNA, cells, and more. You will typically convey your findings through written reports or presentations to colleagues and/or those funding your work. Teachers will need to convey this kind of knowledge in an understandable way to their class, as well as assess their learning periodically with exams.

The following chart gives an overview about what you need to know before entering this field.

Degree Required Varies by position from a bachelor's degree to a Ph.D.
Education Field of Study Molecular biology or related area of life science
Key Responsibilities Write research papers, give lectures, develop new products, write grant requests
Job Growth (2020-2030) 5% growth (all microbiologists)*
Median Annual Wage (2021) $61,642**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Does a Molecular Biologist Do?

A molecular biologist studies the molecular structure of cells and living organisms. Your job may be to identify an organism, study how DNA works in the growth process, or create a new product. You may write research papers, give lectures, or work with a company to develop a new drug. Your work may be limited by funding issues, so you may also have to write grant requests and work with funding organizations.

Work is available in different positions, where you may focus on research, development, or teaching. Employers may include universities, private companies or government agencies. You may develop products for consumers, teach molecular biology students or make discoveries of new information about DNA. Your work may be used to help develop a new way to protect crops from adverse weather, create a product that protects people from the common cold or advance the field of science.

What Education Is Needed?

The level of education you need is determined by where you want to work. For example, universities usually require a Ph.D. for professors, while some research positions may only require a bachelor's degree. Management positions often require a master's degree. Most employers will require that you have a degree in the area of molecular biology or related area of life science. The core courses you should study include basic science and advanced mathematics. As you advance in your degree program, you should study more advanced topics such as biochemistry and molecular genetics.

How Much Can I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, microbiologists earned a median annual wage of $84,400 as of May 2020. PayScale.com reported that molecular biologists earned a median annual salary of $61,642, as of December 2021. The variances in salary are related to the different positions that a molecular biologist may hold. The choice of employer also affects the potential wages. For example, an independent researcher whose work is mainly supported by grants may not earn as much as a professor teaching at a university.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Biological technicians work with biologists and other scientists in a laboratory settings, running tests on biological material and recording results under the direction of their superiors. Natural sciences managers oversee chemists, physicists, biologists, and other types of scientists, directing research and development goals and coordinating their actions between different groups. Zoologists study animals and how they interact with the environment and their habitats, as well as what affect human interaction has had on their species. All of these careers require a minimum of a bachelor's degree.