Molecular and Cellular Biology Careers
What is the role of the biologist in stem cell research?A biologist is a scientist who works in a wide variety of areas focused on the understanding of living organisms and their relationship to their environment. Molecular biology is the study of life at the molecular level and its interactions between the various systems of the cell. Cellular biologists are interested in the structure of the cell, its life cycle, division, and death. There is a lot of cross-over in the knowledge and discipline of these two sciences so this means that a degree is molecular and cellular biology will be very useful if stem cell biology is your primary interest.
According to the National Institutes of Health, "stem cell research is one of the most fascinating areas of contemporary biology." All degrees are science-based and, therefore, require classroom and laboratory time. If you are interested in working in stem cell research, getting a job at any employment level would require a basic understanding of laboratory protocols which requires experience and knowledge. If your background is limited to broad-based natural sciences, like general biology, it can be helpful to seek an internship or part-time work in a laboratory that does stem cell research work.
What types of degrees are available to aspiring biologists?
One effective way to enter the field and be considered for stem cell research jobs is to earn a bachelor of science (BS) degree in general biology with an emphasis in Molecular and Cellular Biology. Some universities may offer a BS in biochemistry combined with molecular biology because there is a close connection between molecular structure and the biochemistry of living systems. Any BS degree that includes course work in molecular or cellular biology or biochemistry is a good place to begin.
A Master of Science (MS) degree in a Molecular and Cellular Biology program typically requires 30-36 credit hours and can include specialty courses like cancer biology, genome biology, and immunology. Some educational institutions combine molecular and cell biology with developmental biology for a curriculum that would include courses in the developmental and reproductive processes. Students interested in the biological sciences should begin taking courses in advanced mathematics, general chemistry, and physics in high school or as soon as possible.
Advanced degrees in stem cell biology are becoming available at the MS and doctoral (PhD) levels in many educational institutions. Course work will include advanced level courses in cell and molecular biology, tissue and cell engineering, as well as stem cell development for transplantation. Additional options commonly include study in advanced genetics, pharmacology, neuroscience, cancer biology, and biomedical ethics. Most MS and PhD programs require the development of a written thesis or dissertation, respectively, that is based on the student's original laboratory work and research.
What types of schools offer degrees in biology?Biologists frequently discover their love for science when they take their first biology course in middle school or high school. Most state universities, private colleges, and technical schools offer undergraduate degrees in biology. For the biologist interested in a career in stem cell research, it may be most beneficial to explore educational facilities that have partnered with a laboratory that does stem cell research. While a full degree in biology is probably not available as an online program, there are relevant science courses that can be taken for elective credit toward a degree with a biology major.
Is certification or licensure required to work as a biologist?Following graduation, the need for certification in this field will depend on the type of work you will do during your employment, as well as the type of facility and the state of your employment. Clinical laboratory scientist certification (formerly called medical laboratory technologist certification) is required for all biologists who work in a clinical laboratory facility that does any testing on a human specimen for diagnosis, assessment, or treatment related to health status. This could include a hospital or healthcare facility, a university laboratory, or an institute that does any evaluation of human tissue for clinical or therapeutic purposes. If you work for a governmental, public or private research institution or university and your work is purely done for research purposes, you may not need to be certified. There are many professional associations and state departments of health and human services that offer certification. It is common for colleges and universities or places of employment to provide complete certification and timing requirements for your locale and position.
Where can I find employment as a biologist?
Graduates from a 4-year program, and occasionally those with a 2-year associate degree, may find employment as technicians in a laboratory that does basic or applied research in a government institution, university, private research institute, or hospital. Many of these research facilities are focused on applied research which involves the challenge of finding solutions to an identified health problem. Other laboratories perform basic research on stem cells to continue the process of the identification of their structure, characteristics, and capacities for differentiation.
While a PhD is necessary for senior administrative positions, academic teaching, and independent research, there are many research and management jobs for scientists with an MS.
Due to the continual need for financial support in research, some biological scientists will be involved in the quest for funding, oftentimes through the submission of grant proposals to governmental agencies or private foundations. What can I expect to earn as a biologist?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the medial annual salary for a molecular or cellular biologist as $66,510. However, the range varies greatly from one geographical area to another, with the highest wages being estimated as $111,440 in Salinas, California. Because the job responsibilities and available funding vary greatly according to the type of employing organization, it is wise to study your options before making a firm decision to apply.