How to Become a Genetic Engineer

Genetic engineering is an exciting field of science that looks to bring about advances in life quality. The pathway to becoming a genetic engineer involves several educational paths that students can choose from to best suit their needs. Schools offering Sequence Analysis and Genomics degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Genetic Engineer Career Information at a Glance

Scientists who manipulate genes in living organisms for the purpose of improving biological traits can be known as genetic engineers. Genetic engineers are actually not engineers, but are key workers in the area of biochemistry and biophysics as they seek to revolutionize healthcare as well as agriculture. The steps to becoming a genetic engineer are described on this page and some of the key career information is summarized in the table below.

Degree Required Bachelor's or Master's degrees are needed for entry-level positions. A PhD is required for independent research positions.
Training Postdoctoral research programs and internships available
Education Field of Study Molecular genetics, biochemistry, biophysics
Key Skills Strong analytical and problem-solving skills, consummate laboratory skills including sterile technique, high-level math skills
Average Salary (2019)* $84,497
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 11% (for all biochemists and biophysicists)

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

What Qualifications Do I Need?

Budding genetic engineers will, at the very least, require a bachelor's degree ideally in biology or even chemistry. The degree program should include classes in subject areas such as calculus, biotechnology, biochemistry and biophysics. Whilst a bachelor's degree is typically regarded as a minimum qualification requirement, many employers will only recruit people who have a master's degree or PhD. Advanced degrees provide candidates with extended research experience. In order to become an independent researcher, a PhD in genetic engineering is a must.

What Training Is Required?

Some additional training can be acquired prior to entering the workplace, and some genetic research positions will require postdoctoral training. Internship programs can provide students with valuable work experience as well before they finish their degree program.

Genetic engineers are also advised to join, and/or get involved with, a professional membership body such as the Center for Genetics and Society or the American Institute for Biological Sciences. Bodies such as this offer continuing education and professional development programs so that genetic engineer professionals can keep their knowledge and skills up to date in line with advances in the field.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Genetic Engineer?

The length of preparation time to become a genetic engineer depends on the type of role an individual aspires to. Some entry level positions can be realistically applied for upon the immediate completion of a 4-year bachelor's degree. However, a master's degree, which takes 2 years full-time to complete, will make candidates much more competitive for these roles. Aspiring independent research leaders will need to obtain a PhD (4 years approx.), and some will undertake postdoctoral research training before they can realistically apply for such positions.

What Type of People Are Suited to Being Genetic Engineers?

Genetic engineers, like all scientists, must be highly analytical and possess strong critical thinking skills and attention to detail. Patience and dedication are also important characteristics as developing genetically engineered organisms can take many months and even years. Good interpersonal skills and empathy are also necessary for those genetic engineers working with human patients.

Where Do Genetic Engineers Work?

As per the National Human Genome Research Institute, genetic engineers can work for the federal government, pharmaceutical companies, or private employers. They usually work in laboratories unless they have chosen to work as an educator at a university. Those with a PhD will also spend quite a bit of time conducting research to present their findings.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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  • The George Washington University

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