Genetic research has transformed our understanding of how organisms are ‘built’ and has had a profound impact on how disease is diagnosed and treated.
The discovery of DNA and advances in technology capable of generating human genome sequences have propelled genetics research to its place as the cornerstone of modern biological science. Researchers in this ever-expanding field have contributed to medical and scientific breakthroughs in healthcare and disease, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, the environment and conservation of the natural world.
If you’re interested in a research career in genetics, this post tells you everything you need to know about routes into the field, the qualifications and experience you’ll need and where to look for jobs here at jobs.ac.uk.
Genetics Researcher – Career Path
Studying for an undergraduate degree in genetics or other biological or biomedical sciences is the first step on the path to becoming a genetics researcher.
Most researchers then choose to pursue their specific interests in genetics through a PhD – a doctorate is usually listed as essential in higher education research jobs. There are exceptions to this, a research team may look to hire those who have worked as a clinical or biomedical scientist or in the commercial biosciences sector, but most research groups require candidates to have the specific skills and research knowledge gained through doctoral studies.
If you want to work as a genetics researcher in a UK healthcare setting, you can also apply to the Scientist Training Programme (STP) following your undergraduate degree, where you have the option to specialise in genomics.
Upon completion of your PhD, the most likely route to an academic research career is through postdoctoral research on a project or programme which aligns with your area of genetics expertise and knowledge. Most research jobs are offered on a temporary, fixed-term basis so you may need to complete several postdoctoral projects at the start of your career. Postdoctoral research will help you to hone your skills and build a publication record.
Further on in your career, you could choose to combine your research with teaching in a lecturing role, apply for a further research fellowship or work as a research scientist in a non-university setting, such as a research institute, charity or commercial organisation.
Working as a Genetics Researcher
Genetic research incorporates a wide range of interests and activities. If you trained as a biomedical scientist with a specialism in genetics, you could work in a clinical setting, helping to monitor and diagnose patients with genetic disorders. If you choose to join a university-led project, you will be working in a multi-disciplinary team of scientists to make discoveries in a specific field.
The vast majority of genetics research focuses on the role genes and genomics play in human health and disease. There’s current emphasis on the following areas of genetics research:
- Cell Biology
- Genetics and Genomics Biology
- Evolutionary biology
- Bioinformatics/Computational Biology
- Cancer Biology
As a researcher you’ll spend most of your time in a laboratory environment, collecting and analysing genetic samples and data. Bioinformatics features heavily in genetics research and you’ll be expected to have high-level skills in using the latest technologies to interpret genetic data sets and results.
Genetics research in higher education typically involves the following day-to-day duties:
- Collecting, analysing and interpreting data and genetic samples.
- Testing and interpreting genomic assays (biomedical/clinical science).
- Contributing to wider project planning and further research proposals.
- Disseminating research findings for publication and research seminars.
- Contributing to funding proposals, scientific reports and journal articles.
- Contribute to developing new models, techniques and methods.
- Knowledge transfer activities, mentoring and supervision of students.
Where to find jobs
Genetics research is a priority area globally. You’ll find a wide range of research jobs available in higher education, charities and research organisations, government departments, medical schools and the commercial sector (such as companies which provide genetic testing services or pharmaceutical companies). Here are some of the roles you might come across during your search:
- PhD studentship
- Research Assistant
- Research technician
- Laboratory research scientist
- Scientific Officer
- Postdoctoral research fellow/associate/scientist
- KTP associate
- Senior research fellow/associate
- Lecturer/Senior lecturer
Availability of research jobs depends on current funding – most contracts are fixed-term and temporary so you may need to move between jobs and projects before securing a permanent research position.
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with funding sources and mechanisms to be able to track which projects and research areas have more opportunities.
Genetics research is well-funded in the UK, particularly in health and disease research, with national strategies such as Genome UK aiming to bring together genetics experts and fund research into disease prevention and treatment. You can also find out how other projects are funded at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Jobs.ac.uk is the best place to start your search for genetics research jobs, with new postdoc, lecturing and senior-level academic opportunities added every day.
Salaries in biological sciences research vary depending on the field and specific research activities of the university. However, as a general rule, postdoctoral researchers and research associates can expect to start on a salary of around £30,000 to £39,999 p.a.
If you’ve just graduated in biological sciences and are considering an academic research career in genetics, you will probably be looking at PhD Studentship opportunities. A doctorate takes around three to five years to complete; most are fully funded and come with a stipend in the range of £16,000 and £20,000 p.a.
You’ll find a wide range of PhD Studentships related to genetics available here at jobs.ac.uk, along with helpful tips, advice, case studies, vlogs and webinars about what it’s like to study for a PhD on our Career Advice pages.
Related job profiles:
- Genetics Lecturer
- Evolutionary Biology Lecturer
- Forensic Biology Lecturer
- Senior Lecturer in Population Genetics
- Reader in Molecular Genetics
- Professor of Human Genomics
- Case Study – Dr Lorna Tinworth, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology