$66,240 according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (average salary for all biological scientists)
University of Alabama – Birmingham: PhD program in genetics
- Briefly describe your career as a geneticist.
- My career as a scientist started in 1984 after receipt of the Ph.D. I trained at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, NY. During that period I worked as a yeast geneticist and had the pleasure of being at CSH when Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize. She and others were an inspiration that fueled a lifetime interest in gene regulation. My current studies focus on identifying risk determinants for diseases of the nervous system.
- What type of environment do you work in?
- I work in an academic environment which couples teaching and research. I teach various courses to undergraduate and graduate students in the biomedical sciences such as: genetics, human genetics, and cell and molecular signal transduction.
- Describe a typical workday.
- A typical workday starts with a brief meeting with laboratory members to check results and discuss next steps. I then meet with my office staff. Thereafter, I prepare for lecture or write. Afternoons are usually spent in meetings. One morning a week, I spend time reading to catch up on what others in my field are doing. A significant portion of my time is spent in writing and presentation of materials regarding research findings. I also mentor junior faculty in the art of grant writing and other professional development activities. I attend national meetings and travel to present research findings, as well.
- What type of education and experience is required for a career as a geneticist? What is your educational background?
- My education consists of a B.S. in biology (3 yrs) and Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology (4 yrs). I did postdoctoral training in genetics and signal transduction (3 yrs).
I came from a small town of 13,000 and my high school biology teacher encouraged hands-on discovery based science. The first time I dissected a rat, I was hooked: My curiosity for the unknown was sparked. I took courses in biology, chemistry, physics and pre-calculus to prepare me to undertake studies as an undergraduate student. Because I came from such a small town, I sought out a large public university to attend for my undergraduate career.
- Why did you choose this career?
- I selected a career as a scientist because I am curious by nature and this career allows me to think, discover and inquire. I have the pleasure of waking up every day to consider what is new to discover.
- Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom for high school students interested in a career in your field?
- The field is wide-open. You really don’t have to decide what you want to do as a high school student for the rest of your life. Taking science and mathematics in high school will prepare you for any biomedical sciences related degree program. Most often we are inspired by others and role models. Take the opportunity to become involved in research as early as possible to fuel your interests. Science today is very interdisciplinary and the strict boundaries from one field to another are not as apparent as they were 20 years ago.
- If applicable, briefly describe your research interests.
- My research interests are centered on understanding how the brain regulates the turnover of proteins.
When these proteins build up and do not recycle or build up, they become toxic to the cells of the brain known as neurons. Eventually if enough of these proteins accumulate, they will cause the neurons to die. When specific neurons die, they cause specific diseases. For example, when neurons involved in learning and memory die, the individual develops Alzheimer’s disease. Other diseases that affect neurons such as Parkinson’s, ALS, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s all share common pathologies centered on the inability to undergo turnover of specific proteins in specific neurons. For the most part, age is one of the primary risk factors for neurodegenerative disease. However, little is known, about other genes that are involved as risk determinants. The work in my laboratory is centered on determining whether one master protein that is involved in protein turnover serves as a common risk factor for neurodegeneration. I work with doctors, neurologists, pathologists, biochemists, computational mathematicians and many others in what is a very interdisciplinary field.