What does a career in genetics really look like? Ronneberg Lecture Series guest speaker Kristy Crooks, a clinical geneticist, shared stories and cases from her own experience with interested students, outlining possibilities for them to consider in the field of clinical genetics. “It takes a team,” she said, to help research and diagnose diseases using genetic analysis.
Depending on the level of education, training and experience, options ranged from more interactive work, like a counselor, a lab director, or medical ethicist, to a more technical area, like a lab technologist or bioinformatician, all the way up to a career as a clinical geneticist.
Each job has its own perks. Right out of college, Crooks said a student can pursue a Master of Science degree to become a lab counselor, whose job is to knowledgeably communicate with patients about genetic diseases, with a salary range from $60,000 to $90,000 a year. Another option is medical technologist, which requires either a B.S. or M.S. and at least a year of training, and will earn $25-35 an hour. A technologist would do the work of extracting DNA as well as other lab tasks, and would prepare data for review by the lab director and geneticist.
A lab director job would require at least a Ph.D. and extra training, earning at least $120,000 a year. A director would oversee the work of an entire genetics lab, from the work of a counselor to the diagnosis of patient diseases.
A clinical geneticist has the most critical role in a genetics lab. This job requires an M.D. degree along with an extra four to six years of post-graduation training, and would have a subspecialty such as biochemistry, metabolism, or pediatrics. A geneticist does the most important analytical scientific work and would earn from $150,000 to $250,000 a year.
Crooks discussed other options as well: a bioinformatician writes computer programs to speed up the process and present clinical data to researchers effectively. A medical ethicist specializes in answering ethical questions in the field of controversial genetic work.
Each specialty requires a particular track, but the range of choices accommodates students with many interests. Crooks advised students who found genetics appealing to “learn as much as you can about genetics, and get hands-on experience at medical centers, hospitals and labs.” The Ronneberg Lectureship brings scientists to campus throughout the year to speak to large audiences as well as to smaller groups like this one, focussing on the students’ particular area of study.