Master’s in Genetics Programs: Step-by-Step Career Guide
A master’s degree in any field of study provides students with an opportunity to gain a bit more of an advanced and in-depth knowledge of a field of study than a bachelor’s degree. While this is the case for almost any discipline, it is even more so true for any scientific field. This is because, with each academic year, new discoveries and technological advancements in medical genetics have driven yet even more discoveries and a deeper understanding of any scientific field. And this trend is always perpetuating—as new discoveries are made giving rise to new technological advancements, these are ushering yet even more discoveries for even the most adventurous student to research. In other words, the scientific field is always progressing and always moving forward. From cancer genetics to biochemical genetics and clinical training, the scientific field is advancing. Even if it is moving backward (if a discovery has been made that has not been anticipated), that in and of itself is considered progress. As such, any graduate level educational student in the sciences is always fluid, always in motion and as such always advancing.
But let us get a bit less philosophical and a bit more practical and talk about how to approach getting into and completing a master’s program in genetics.
The study of genetics
Genetics is the study of genes, the building blocks of all of the outward and observable characteristics of an organism. More specifically, a master’s degree is advanced training in the study of the human species, covering its origin and inheritance as well as genetic variation. Those who obtain the degree are equipped to pursue several career paths, which we will dig into it a little bit.
So, how to actually get accepted to a degree program? While the admissions criteria vary among the many institutions that offer master’s degree programs in genetics, there are some very basic things that they all have in common. Most of them want to see that you have taken science courses during your undergraduate years and have done well. This makes sense as a graduate degree builds upon the knowledge that you have gained during your bachelor’s degree. And the reason they want to see that you have done well is that they want to make sure you have a solid scientific foundation on which you can build your graduate skills and expertise. Depending on which institution you would like to attend, some want to see that you have had hands-on laboratory experience before applying. This is because your master’s degree culminates in a thesis, an independent study whereby you demonstrate that you are able to conduct a research project independently (or with very little guidance). In order to do that well, institutions want to see that you have been exposed to laboratory work before enrolling in a master’s degree. (This is true for any scientific discipline, not just genetics.) Lastly, and again depending on which school you are looking at, you may be required to have published (or contributed to publishing) a scientific research paper.
Please do note that the above is a very rough estimate—each school has a website on which they list their exact and specific requirements for admission that should be followed.
The program itself
Once accepted, degrees vary in length and typically go anywhere from one year to three. Again, this largely depends on the school as well as you. Some students want to graduate as soon as possible and have their master’s thesis project designed ahead of time, others take their time. Either way completely fine—it is very much a personal choice about how fast you would like to complete the degree and take the next step after that.
During the program, students are exposed to the scientific investigation of genetics. And given the recent advancements and technological progress, genetics has become somewhat of an umbrella term for different genetics disciplines, depending on what kind of genetics is being studied. These types of genetics include avenues such as human genetics, genetic counseling, anthropological genetics, genetics of cancer (or any other disease), genomics, and molecular genetics, to name a few. Almost every master’s degree culminates in a thesis—a dissertation that the student conducts with minimal guidance from a master’s supervisor. Students are expected to choose an area of focus in which they ask a question, design a hypothesis and address it via scientific research.
After the program
Genetics has become one of the most popular fields of study over the past decade. Again, this is largely driven by the recent discoveries of the human genome as well as the technologies that have enabled sequencing and several other molecular biology techniques that have ushered a more thorough understanding and knowledge of the field. Given all these, career prospects with a master’s in genetics are very wide, depending on what you would like to pursue.
There is always the option to go on and pursue a doctorate degree and broaden your knowledge and understanding of the field even more.
Another option is to apply what you have learned during your master’s in the ‘real world’ and start working. Some positions that are appropriate for someone with a masters in genetics include pharmacologist, a healthcare scientist, a research scientist in the life sciences or the medical field, science writer, as well as several other scientific research positions. One advice would be to have a broad idea of which field to pursue while still in your degree so that you can gear your thesis in that direction and as such obtain some expertise ahead of time.
Lastly, those who are interested in genetic counseling may become genetic counselors after a master’s degree in genetics, given that their degree has largely focused on that. (There are actual degrees in the field of genetic counseling, as well, that could be an option.)
Overall, the future is your oyster when it comes to having a master’s degree in genetics. It all depends on how you curate your class repertoire as well as focus in preparation for what you would like to pursue.