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Become a Diagnostic Molecular Scientist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a diagnostic molecular scientist. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a diagnostic molecular scientist.

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Do I Want to Be a Diagnostic Molecular Scientist?

Diagnostic molecular scientists are trained to perform research by conducting tests for many types of medical diagnoses and analyses, including cancer, infectious diseases, identity testing, genetic disorders and pharmacogenetics. They are typically involved in DNA and RNA isolation, amplification, detection and viral load analysis.

These professionals can find employment in numerous types of settings, including law enforcement agencies, hospitals, public health departments, pharmaceutical companies, research institutions and laboratories. They may be asked to work with hazardous biological samples, though safety precautions should help avoid potential accidents.

Job Requirements

A doctoral degree is the typical educational requirement to work as a diagnostic molecular scientist, and many employers prefer candidates who have previous experience working in a laboratory setting. Some of these medical scientists hold both a Ph.D. and a medical doctorate. The following table describes some of the typical qualifications for this position:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Doctoral degree is standard***
Degree Fields Molecular biology, biochemistry, microbiology, medical technology, biology, chemistry or related fields*
Licensure and Certification Licensure required in some states; certification is voluntary, but is preferred by some employers**
Experience Varies; at least 1-3 years of experience is common*
Key Skills Excellent written and verbal communication skills, ability to work independently, ability to multi-task*
Technical Skills Working knowledge of molecular diagnostic tests, instrumentation, clinical laboratory concepts and regulations*

Sources: *Job listings from employers (January 2013), **American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statstics.

Step 1: Pursue a Bachelor's Degree

Most positions for diagnostic molecular scientists require at least a bachelor's degree. This degree can be in a variety of subjects, including molecular biology, microbiology, biochemistry, medical technology, chemistry, biology and other related fields. As a student in these types of degree programs, an individual can expect to take courses in genetics, organic chemistry, physics, cell biology, biological chemistry, immunology, biochemistry and molecular genetics. The curriculum for most of these programs also includes laboratory work and seminars.

Step 2: Gain Relevant Experience

The majority of employers hiring professionals in this field require at least one year of work experience, preferably in a laboratory setting. To meet this requirement and become competitive candidates upon graduation, students should consider working in laboratories on campus or becoming involved in research. Many schools provide students with these types of opportunities, since they can gain experience working in the techniques related to recombinant DNA, bioinformatics and protein electrophoresis. Graduates may look for opportunities to gain additional experience in related positions, such as those offered in a laboratory setting.

Success Tip:

  • Consider obtaining a master's degree. Employers may prefer applicants with a graduate degree from a related field, including molecular biology, molecular diagnostic science, biochemistry and chemistry. Many master's programs in this field offer opportunities to conduct research and receive advanced training.

Step 3: Obtain Licensure and Certification

Only some states require diagnostic molecular scientists to be licensed. In the states that do require licensure, some will administer their own licensing examination, while others will allow applicants to take an exam through a specific organization, such as the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) or American Medical Technologists (AMT).

Employers may also prefer to hire diagnostic molecular scientists who have achieved certification, such as the molecular biology technologist and medical technologist credentials. To be eligible for these certification exams, individuals will need a minimum of a bachelor's degree from an accredited university and must meet specific requirements regarding coursework or years of experience.

Success Tip:

  • Meet the requirements to maintain licensure and certification. The process for renewing a license will vary for each state. The molecular biologist certification offered through the ASCP is valid for a period of three years. To maintain the medical technologist certification, individuals must acquire a certain number of points through opportunities for continuing education, such as participating in state society meetings or taking on-demand courses.
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