How to Become a Stem Cell Researcher
How can I become a stem cell researcher?It may surprise many people that high school educators in the state of California have partnered with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine to add 'Stem Cell 101' to high school curriculum offerings there. The course is geared to all interest levels, from those who are exploring a career in science to students who just want to learn more about stem cell research. It is becoming increasingly easier to begin your career in this dynamic field.
- Read professional journal articles about the field to begin to identify your level of interest in the field. And, it will help you to focus your interest in the scientific discipline and type of degree you might like to pursue. Finally, learning more in advance will also help you identify your personal position on the ethical and political aspects of stem cell research and therapy.
- Consider your personal strengths and your interests when choosing your profession within the field of stem cell research. If you are skilled in mathematics and enjoy statistics, you would be well-suited for biostatistics jobs. If you got your first little biology lab for Christmas when you were eight years old and love to spend time in the laboratory, you may consider pursuing molecular or cellular biology jobs. If you aren't sure which degree is best for you, seek the help of a college counselor who is familiar with the field of stem cell research.
- Enroll in a school that offers a bachelor's degree in your chosen field of study. Consider electives that could help propel your career, such as communications or technical writing.
- Seek lab internships or part-time jobs in organizations already doing stem cell research. You may find a company that offers tuition reimbursement benefits or educational grant opportunities.
- Earn a Master's degree in a specialized or advanced study area in your chosen profession. An additional advantage to enrolling in a specialty Master's degree program, like bioengineering or stem cell technology, is the potential for doing stem cell research in the laboratory experiential as well as having the opportunity to network with other professionals in the field.
- Find a job that offers a rewarding career, including advancement if that's part of your long-term goal.
- Attend conferences and continually build on your knowledge base in this dynamic and developing industry.
What makes stem cell research an interesting career now?Careers in stem cell research and engineering—also called regenerative medicine—are becoming readily available because recent discoveries seem to show far-reaching, yet unknown potential. Interestingly, our own bodies have been practicing regenerative medicine forever. When you cut your hand or experience a bad sunburn, new skin grows to replace the damaged skin. Now, leaders in this field hope to prove that clinicians will eventually be able to use stem cells to provide treatments and cures for many chronic conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as progressively degenerative neurological diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Individuals pursuing stem cell research jobs can come from many different scientific disciplines—including biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, biophysics, and biostatistics. Additional career paths will include physicians, nurses, and genetic scientists.
In many laboratories, teams of scientists are working collaboratively to solve the many unanswered questions about stem cells, including their characteristics and their potential value. This means that it is likely that your career in this field will allow you to work in partnership with scientists from other disciplines. This could add an interesting element to your research practice.
What employment settings offer positions in stem cell research?Stem cell researchers might find employment in any number of organizations, including a government research center, university, pharmaceutical company, healthcare provider organization, private stem cell research company, private hospital, cancer research institute, or public bioinstrumentation company. Each organization could be playing a different part in the overall picture. For example, some private companies create stem cell lines, pharmaceutical companies can use stem cells for safety studies on new drugs, and many other initiatives could be formed to study disease treatment. Some hospitals have opened specialized centers for Cell and Gene Therapy or Blood and Bone Marrow Transplantation. There are news reports of an anticipated shortage of physicians to work in transplantation and this shortage will continue unless more physicians choose stem cell therapy and transplantation as a clinical specialty.
It is possible to get a position as a laboratory research assistant with a bachelor of science degree if you have appropriate laboratory skills. However, the greatest need will be for researchers with advanced degrees. A Master of Science (MS) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in your chosen field will open up options that could include biotechnology jobs and high level research and management responsibilities.
For those who are interested in writing, it may be helpful to complete courses in technical writing as an elective. Because stem cell research is in its infancy, there will be a tremendous need to publish research discoveries, the results of human clinical trials, and treatment success stories.
As a stem cell researcher, you may also be asked to share your knowledge with other scientists, healthcare clinicians, or the public. The movement to promote education to help correct some of the misconceptions and reduce fears related to stem cell research and therapy is gaining momentum. By acquiring some experience in public speaking, you can help spread the message of your important work and add a dynamic element to a fascinating career.