What is Genetics?
There is a familiar expression – it’s in his/her/their genes, used either humorously or derisively. The phrase means that a person inherited the psychological or physiological attributes from one or both biological parents. Therefore, genetics is the study of genes that lie within the cell nucleus of each living cell or chromosomes. In humans, we have 23 pairs, of which half comes from the mother and half from the father or sperm donor.
Within each chromosome is the chemical DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid. Geneticists estimate that there are approximately 20,000 to 25,000 genes in each of the 23 pairs in the nucleus. Each gene is assigned a different name or symbol. For example, the gene on chromosome 7, associated with cystic fibrous, is called the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator or its symbol: CFTR.
What does a Geneticist do?
There are several branches of genetics, which is a specialty area within the field of biology. The branches lead to numerous potential jobs in geriatrics, cancer research, environmental issues, hereditary disease, agriculture, psychiatry, and more. A short compilation of one’s responsibilities may include:
- Explore how adverse environmental factors cause illness and disease
- Analyze the inheritance of specific traits, for example, violent tendencies
- Counselor couples on the risk of one parent passing on a genetic defect
- Genetics in agriculture examines how to grow crops in harsh conditions
- Forensic DNA or DNA profiling applied to criminal investigations
- Pharmacogenomics studies how one’s DNA reacts to drugs/medicine
The list above reflects some of the many avenues to pursue with a degree in genetics or biology. A Bachelor of Arts or Science in biology is one place to start learning about genetics. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, for example, offers both programs in biology with the option to choose one of several specialties. Some of these are cell biology, environmental biology, microbiology, genetics, neurobiology, marine biology, and more.
Another example is the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Genomics. As expected, the weight of the curriculum is in the sciences with courses in chemistry, physics, math, botany, biology, biochemistry, and genetics. The school attests that the coursework prepares graduates for advanced degrees, such as a research Ph.D., medical school, genetic counseling, or other areas of medicine.
Is a bachelor’s degree enough?
An undergraduate degree in biology, genetics, or related discipline might limit your job prospects but not eliminate them. The medical professions are competitive; therefore, employers look at resumes with the highest qualifications, meaning applicants with a master’s or Ph.D. However, those with only a bachelor’s degree need not despair, as there are job opportunities for this group. The University of California-Davis (UCD) provides the testament of one student who earned a Bachelor of Science in Genetics, then landed a job in regulatory affairs. The pharmaceutical company researches cellular-related therapies. This individual enhanced her future career by participating in an internship with another pharmaceutical research company (Genentech).
The UCD student mentioned above attests that one of the keys to her job success was finding a program dedicated to genetics versus a biology degree. Another vital component is the selection of an institution that offers internship programs. These may exist in non-profit organizations, government agencies, businesses, and research corporations.
Other job possibilities are in laboratory settings. A review of employment sites, like Indeed, reveals laboratory technologist jobs available. A medical lab, specializing in pharmacogenomics, in Houston seeks a certified medical technologist with a Bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology or related field. The postings stipulate that candidates need certification with the ASCP Board of Certification (BOC). Since 1928, 525,000 laboratory professionals received certification through the organization. In the referenced job posting, the company requires an MB (ASCP) – the MB refers to Molecular Biology.
What else can I do as a Student?
In addition to internships, membership in organizations can boost your employment prospects. By doing so shows employers your dedication to the profession. The Genetics Society of America (GSA) is open to undergraduate students for the nominal fee of $28 for one year, $51 for two years, and $74 for the three-year membership. Some of the benefits include reduced charges for the GSA Genetics Journal and Undergraduate Travel Awards.
The American Society of Human Genetics also offers memberships to undergrads at the annual rate of $30. Members receive an online subscription to The American Journal of Human Genetics and a discounted print version. More importantly, you have access to the ASHG Trainee Forum, career resources, and educational programs. The organization also provides links to accreditation programs in medical genetics, genetics counseling, and professional skills training.
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