Preparing for a Genomics Career

What type of training does it take to be a genomics researcher? If you have looked at many of the 15 second biographies, you realized that there is not one “best pathway” to a career in genomics. People with diverse academic and geographical backgrounds have made choices that have lead them to their current careers in genomics. Furthermore, there are many very successful biologists who do not utilize genomic methods and there will always be a need for bench scientists who know how to perform well controlled experiments using more traditional methods.

Nevertheless, if you are attracted to a career in the broad field of genomics, then there are some things you can do to better prepare yourself. First, as an undergraduate, make sure you take a range of sciences and math, not just biology. The types of math courses that will be especially helpful include probability and statistics, linear algebra, and a programming language such as C++ or perl. Physics is helpful since physical properties govern all aspects of biological activities. Chemistry will prove advantageous since chemical reactions drive biological systems and genomic methods. Of course, biology classes will prove useful with genetics, molecular biology and cell biology toping the list, though a firm understanding of evolution will be advantageous as well. Being able to access information and analyze data will prove more useful than memorizing endless lists of facts since the rate of new information is accelerating and thus has become too expansive.

Make sure you get hands-on experiences. Work in a laboratory or in the field with someone at your school who is conducting research. Get a summer research job either on your home campus or at other institutions. Research experiences will be advantageous in any job search regardless of which aspect of genomics you choose. You do not have to go to graduate school to find a job in a genomics field, but If graduate school sounds appealing, think about getting a job in a lab for a year or two before going to graduate school. By the time you graduate, you will have been in school for at least 16 years and you deserve a break where you don’t have homework or test. Plus, one or two years of practical experience will make you more appealing to graduate schools and you will be better informed about which school is best for you. During this time, you can reevaluate if graduate school is appropriate for you or not. What kind of job do you want and what degree does it require - bachelors, masters or doctorate?

Finally, what kind of skills do you need? Again, there are many skills needed to perform genomics. Useful skills include computer programming, bench laboratory skills, engineering expertise, and chemical synthesis. The more you know the better off you’ll be in a rapidly changing work environment. But more than just technical skills, you will need to have some other abilities such as an ability to communicate in written and oral formats. It is important to know how to work well as a member of a team where the common objective takes priority over individual ones. Finally, appreciate challenges which require new ways of looking at problems and new types of collaborations with a diverse range of people. The field of genomics was officially launched in 1995 when the first completed genome was published. Since genomics is a new field, no one can predict where it will go in the future, though it does look as if the future will be filled with new discoveries that affect everyone. You can see job ads posted in Science each week <> as one place to find out more.

15 Second Biographies of Genomics Researchers

Genomics Outline and Syllabus

Cell Web Front Page

Biology Home Page

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