How To Start a Genetic Engineering Career

Holding lab samples

So you want to start a career in genetic engineering?  Great, genetic engineering is a relatively new field of biology that has already revolutionized the health care and agricultural industries.  A genetic engineer is able to manipulate genes and produce living organisms tailored for a specific purpose.  For example, a genetic engineer may insert a gene that produces an antibiotic into a bacterium in order to produce medications which can be collected and given to humans.  Insulin is one such medication that is produced in this manner. Here's how to get started on this career:

Step 1:  Obtain a four year college degree relevant to genetic engineering such as molecular biology, biochemistry, or a degree in genetics. Genetic engineering is a broad discipline, and you should have a strong foundation in basic biology.  Upper division courses such as advanced genetics and immunology will enhance your preparation for a career in genetic engineering.

Step 2:  Obtain practical experience in the field of genetic engineering.  This may be through a practicum or laboratory course in college, or via direct hands-on experience in a genetic engineering laboratory at a university, or less commonly at a private pharmaceutical company.

Step 3:  Network, network, network.  It is important to get to know people in the genetic engineering field, especially professors in college and also fellow colleagues.  They can point you to future opportunities or give you critical career advice that could help you find the perfect job for you.

Step 4:  Consider obtaining a Masters degree or even a Doctoral degree in genetics.  Time spent working on research projects is important, especially when seeking employment in the genetic engineering field, as employers want someone who has in-depth experience with at least a couple of commonly used techniques in the modern genetics laboratory.  In addition, a Masters or Doctoral degree will allow you to obtain experience in grant preparation and in devising genetics experiments and trials.

There are many job opportunities for those with a Bachelor's degree in the biotechnology field, genetic engineering included, and you may choose to work a couple of years before applying to graduate school to gain practical experience and to enhance your application.

Step 5:  Stay up to date in the field of genetic engineering.  This means reading journals related to genetic engineering as well as attending genetic engineering conferences.  If you have a Masters or Doctoral degree in genetic engineering, then your education may have involved reading current periodicals and publishing your own research.

If you are truly fascinated with the world of genetic engineering and want to become a genetic engineer, there are many geneticists at your local university who might be willing to allow you to shadow them and even volunteer in their lab, even at the high school level.


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