What Does a Molecular Biologist Do? - Job Description, Responsibilities

Discover what a career in molecular biology has to offer. Learn about what molecular biologists do, the education and training needed, and more by continuing below. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Examining a Career as a Molecular Biologist

Molecular biologists, sometimes also called biochemists, are scientists who study biochemistry and focus on the exact mechanics of how life can replicate and develop at the molecular level. The work that they do often has a wide variety of implications for medicine, genetics, and environmentally friendly biofuels or pesticides. Molecular biologists work on the forefront of scientific research in these areas, and their work shapes the future of still developing fields such as genetic engineering and gene therapy.

Education Required Doctorate (Ph.D.)
Education Field of Study Biology or chemistry
Key Skills Proficiency with computers, analytical thinking, thorough mathematical background
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 11% overall (for all biochemists and biophysicists)
Median Salary (2017)* $91,190 (for all biochemists and biophysicists)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Should I Study to Become a Molecular Biologist?

Someone wanting to become a molecular biologist should begin by choosing a major in biology or chemistry at the undergraduate level; some universities even offer specific biochemistry or molecular biology programs. Students should also look into physics and computer science courses, as the information learned will be highly relevant as well. Master's and Ph.D. programs for molecular biology in particular are available, but biochemistry is a more commonly available option if your university does not.

What Kind of Work Does a Molecular Biologist Do?

The knowledge gained from molecular biological research is widely applicable, so molecular biologists can work in a number of possible fields. Pharmaceutical drugs is one option, as their work can enable new delivery systems, identify potential treatments previously unknown to medical science, and devise new ways of synthesizing the active ingredients to aid in production. Agricultural research also provides a home for molecular biologists, where their work can be used to genetically enhance crops for nutritional benefits or to make them hardier. For those with a passion for the environment, molecular biologists can assist in coming up with novel means of cleaning up pollution. As with most research-based careers, it is also common for molecular biologists to find work at universities, where they will be expected to teach classes alongside their scientific work.

How Much Are Molecular Biologists Paid?

In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median income of $91,190 for all biochemists and biophysicists. Those working in research and development had a higher median income ($104,250), while those working for universities were on the lower end ($55,690). The field of biochemistry was expected to grow by 11% over the ten year period from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the national average, in part due to the increasing demand for new drugs and medications to treat the large sector of the American population now reaching old age. Other areas, such as biofuels and agricultural production, are also expected to see major growth for molecular biologists.

Can I Work in Molecular Biology Without a Doctorate?

While a doctorate in molecular biology or biochemistry is needed to lead research projects and work on major programs, there are some paths for those who find the prospect of a doctorate daunting. Someone holding a bachelor degree would be qualified to work as a lab technician, performing tasks such as DNA sequencing at the direction of the project lead. They may also be able to put their degree to work as a quality control specialist or clinical research assistant for a pharmaceutical company. Master's degrees are generally preferred, even for some of the above positions, and depending on the amount of lab research performed, may offer more room for promotion and more job security overall.

Are There Other Fields Similar to Molecular Biology?

The wider field of biology shares many of the basics, of course, but tends to focus more on the macro-scale than the molecular. Cellular biology is a highly related specialty which deals with lifeforms at the cellular level, including how they function and many of the same processes molecular biologists study. Bioinformatics is the use of computers to process large sets of biological data in the search for patterns, and molecular biologists will need some level of familiarity with it already. Genetics is the study of DNA and how different genes within that DNA affect organisms, rather than the exact chemical processes that molecular biology studies.

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