PhD in Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering explores the different ways to modify genetics and is usually offered as a research area within a genetics degree program. Learn about a PhD in Genetics and what common courses are required.

How to Earn a PhD in Genetic Engineering

Students interested in studying genetic engineering at the doctoral level usually need to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Genetics and pursue research in the area of genetic engineering. These programs typically require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree and may take 4.5 to 5.5 years to complete. Doctoral students must conduct individual research and complete a dissertation, as well as complete the required coursework designated by their committee which may include some of the common courses discussed in more detail below.

Research Conduct

Due to the unique ethical issues involved with genetics, doctoral students in genetics programs typically take at least one course that discusses responsible conduct in research. These courses may use case studies, publications, and other data to explore issues and debates in the field surrounding various genetic practices. Students may discuss topics like the ethics of using animals in research, bioweapons, and use of stem cells.


Students in these PhD programs may take a course in general genomics or a course that explores a specific area of the field, such as plant genetics and genomics. Genomics courses cover the various aspects of genomic analysis and may include training in programming, such as programming in Python. Students in these courses may be expected to analyze research papers, write research papers, and/or participate in research discussions.


Most students are required to take at least one course in biostatistics that explores specific statistical methods that are utilized in the field of biology for research. Students may also receive training in technology that is used by laboratory scientists for statistical analysis. Specific topics may include ANOVA, survival analysis, regression, and analysis of variance.

Advances in Genetics

In order to stay updated on the most current techniques and developments in the field, PhD programs in genetics likely include a course that discusses these advancements in the field. These courses may be set up in conjunction with a seminar series or be available in online formats. In general, these courses aim to expand students' ability to design experiments using current research strategies.


Naturally, students in these PhD programs will take multiple courses in genetics, which may allow students to explore specific areas of interest. In addition to general advanced courses in genetics, students may be able to choose from courses that explore topics in population genetics or conservation genetics. Throughout these courses, students could explore genetic reasoning and methods and how to apply these to real-world research.

Career Options for a PhD in Genetic Engineering

Genetic Counselors

Genetic counselors need at least a master's degree in genetics and board certification in the field to help evaluate genetic risk for individuals or families. These counselors work closely with families to explore medical histories and other evidence of genetic disorders; once genetic risks and conditions have been identified, these professionals may help educate and counsel patients about these genetic concepts and any testing or treatment options available. Since genetics is a large component of genetic engineering, graduates with a PhD in Genetic Engineering might find interest in this position.


Biochemists must have a PhD to conduct independent research on the chemical aspects of biological processes. Since some biochemists may focus their studies on genetic traits and how these factors may aid in the evolution of plants and animals, having a PhD in Genetic Engineering may be a good fit for this position. Also known as molecular biologists, these scientists may oversee teams of laboratory workers while planning and implementing research experiments and then presenting their results in scientific papers.

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists need to have a PhD in an area of biology, life science, or a medical degree to conduct clinical trials and other research designed to improve human health. These professionals are also likely to oversee teams of clinical technicians while conducting experiments on new drugs and other newly developed medical interventions. As many health issues have a genetic component, a background in genetics and genetic engineering can help develop new treatment methods to help patients.

Job TitleMedian Salary (2018)*Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Genetic Counselors$80,37027%
Biochemists$93,280 (Biochemists and biophysicists)6% (Biochemists and biophysicists)
Medical Scientists$84,8108%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Genetic engineering may be offered as a research area for PhD programs in genetics, which are research-based programs that cover a wide range of topics in the field of genetics, as well as ethical concepts needed for responsible research. Graduates with a PhD in Genetics are qualified to pursue a variety of research-based positions in the larger field of biology.