PhD & Master's Degree Programs in Virology

Master's and doctoral virology programs focus on the study of microbes and viral diseases. They prepare students for careers in a wide range of areas, including teaching and research. Keep reading to learn more about virology degree programs. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

How to Earn a Graduate Degree in Virology

Enrollment in a master's or doctoral virology degree program requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree; a degree in chemistry, biology, or a related field is often preferred, although other majors are accepted. Graduate programs in virology include a dual master's/PhD, or just a PhD, and may take anywhere from 4-6 years to complete; virology graduate programs commonly include courses focusing on molecular biology, virology, genetics, cell biology, immunology, and biochemistry, as well as lab rotations.

Molecular Biology

Courses in molecular biology often provide students with information about a wide range of topics, including how DNA works, the structures of chromosomes, how genes function and are regulated. Upon completion, students should have a deep understanding of how these processes work for bacteria, eukaryotes, and more. Additionally, they should be able to describe these concepts using accepted scientific terminology.

Virology

Graduate courses in virology typically explore viruses in-depth, including their life cycles, immunity, diagnosis, and classification. They also might look at various viral diseases and the viruses that cause them. Upon completion of a graduate-level virology course, students should expect to have an understanding of how viruses infect people and what diseases they cause. They should also be able to describe concepts related to virology, using terminology common in the field, and understand issues facing virologists and virology today.

Genetics

Most graduate virology programs require that students complete a genetics course. These courses typically focus on how the genetics of various eukaryotes and procaryotes work. Some virology programs give students the option to complete a genetics lab rotation as well. After completing a genetics graduate course, students should be able to describe how genetic principles (including meiosis, mitosis, and recombination) work.

Cell Biology

Graduate coursework in cell biology usually provides students with an understanding of how cells function at the molecular level. Upon completing the program, students should be able to describe in detail how cells work. To achieve this goal, students might look at how cells communicate with each other, how they move in the body, and how cell division works.

Biochemistry

Biochemistry courses focus on teaching students about the structure and function of cells at the molecular level. By the completion of the course, students should have an in-depth understanding of how proteins are structured, chemical reactions of proteins, how cells communicate with each other, and more. While these courses may include a lab component, students must also be able to review and discuss relevant studies performed by various scientists.

Immunology

Because virologists focus so closely on various viruses and the diseases they cause, a fundamental understanding of immunology is vital for success. Immunology graduate programs generally focus on various topics related to the immune system; in particular, students could develop an understanding of how cell biology relates to the immune system and immunological responses. Students should come away from these courses with knowledge about immunological diseases, vaccines, and more. Like many of the courses described here, students may decide to focus on an aspect of immunology in their lab rotation.

Laboratory Rotations

Most graduate programs in virology require that students fulfill a lab requirement in addition to other coursework. The lab rotation is intended to give students a chance to explore the theories they learn in their courses in a practical setting, as well as (in some cases) determine what area they would like to specialize in. Many programs allow students to choose an area of focus for lab rotation from several different specialties; options may include biology, immunology, molecular and/or cellular biology.

Careers in Virology

Medical Scientist

Many graduates choose to work as medical scientists and conduct research for various institutions, including universities or governmental agencies (such as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control). There are also careers available with organizations that research and respond to outbreaks of epidemics, and with companies that design vaccines and other pharmaceuticals.

Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists can work in research or public health in a specialty area like infectious diseases. They collect and then analyze information related to risk factors and trends. Those in research usually work for universities or federal agencies.

Postsecondary Teacher, Biological Sciences

Graduates may become biological science teachers and work at colleges and universities, or even medical schools. At least a master's degree is usually required to teach in community colleges, while a PhD is usually needed to join the faculty of a university. In addition to planning and delivering lessons, these teachers often conduct their own research and publish the results.

Job TitleAnnual Median Salary (2018)*Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Medical Scientist$84,8108%
Epidemiologist $69,660 5%
Postsecondary Teacher, Biological Sciences$82,55012%

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

Graduate degrees in virology may be available through dual master's/PhD programs or as stand alone doctoral degree programs. Common coursework includes molecular biology, virology, genetics, cell biology, immunology, and biochemistry, in addition to research work in the lab.

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