Molecular biologists study how organisms transmit genetic information to successive generations. These professionals work in a variety of settings, including colleges, universities, hospitals, the government or nonprofit companies. Those completing a bachelor’s degree typically work as laboratory technicians or quality control professionals, while those with a graduate school education work as bioremediation professionals, molecular biology professors or researchers.
Bachelor-level molecular biologists work as biological consultants, medical writers and sales representatives. Those with a graduate degree have additional career options, including anatomist, biochemist, biologist, botanist, ecologist, entomologist, environmental impact analyst or pathologist, depending on their area of specialization. During a graduate school education, the emphasis is on learning how to conduct research, including data collection methods unique to the biological sciences, such as quadrat sampling.
Molecular biologists must have keen analytical skills, as precision when conducting scientific experiments at the molecular level requires accuracy. Because they must draw conclusions based solely on their data, they must have critical thinking skills, sound reasoning and objectivity. They must be clear writers, using technical jargon when talking with peers but translating their knowledge into layperson’s terms when talking with the non-scientific community. When acting as a liaison to private industry or the government, molecular biologists must have good people skills and public speaking abilities.
Areas of specialty for molecular biologists include biophysics, cell biology, computation and modeling, evolution, virology and genetics. They use laboratory equipment such as electron microscopes, spectrometers and X-ray crystallographs to better understand the etiology of diseases, discover potential suppressor genes for diseases such as cancer, develop new products or test existing compounds. They work in a collaborative manner with other scientists, such as wet-lab biologists, neuroscientists and mathematicians to analyze large data sets.
Salary and Outlook
Molecular biologists, included in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics biochemists and biophysicists category, made a median annual income of $79,390 as of May 2010. The BLS projects job growth of 31 percent between 2010 and 2020, which compares with the BLS prediction of a 14 percent average rate of growth for all other U.S. occupations. The BLS cautions, however, that since the field is small, fewer than 7,700 new jobs will be added to the entire category over the 10-year period. Because much of their work is based on government grants, job growth for molecular biologists depends on federal budgetary decisions.