Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
Studying in the field
Genetics has, in recent years, become one of the most exciting fields in the biological sciences. Cutting-edge work in genetic engineering, genome mapping, and virology have sparked the international scientific community to an almost unprecedented level of cooperation and experimentation. But the nature of some of the work of geneticists has also been at the center of much controversy, and the advent and subsequent of development of cloning, among other endeavors in the field, has been the catalyst for much discussion about the ethics of undertaking such work.
The field of genetics, however, is much broader than most people realize, and the implications of the work of geneticists are increasingly wide-ranging in our globalized world. Geneticists, for example, are at the vanguard of the fight against Mad Cow Disease, or BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), a disease that results not from a virus but from a protein with what is essentially a miscoded genetic map. And pharmacogenetics is, according to the University of Utah's Genetic Science Learning Center, the study of "how an individual's genetic makeup corresponds to the response to a particular medication." In other words, pharmacogeneticists work to ensure that patients are only prescribed the medications that will work in the context of their individual genetic makeups.
But genetics is not limited to the laboratory. Genetic counselors, for example, work alongside both doctors and patients to help both parties communicate more effectively and aid the patient and his or her family better understand and handle the implications of the issues they are dealing with vis-á-vis genetic diseases and disorders. They are, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, "health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling" who "work as members of a health care team...They identify families at risk, investigate the problem present in the family, interpret information about the disorder, analyze inheritance patterns and risks of recurrence and review available options with the family."
Job opportunities in the field
As our knowledge and understanding of the genetic makeup of our species develops and improves, the need for dedicated geneticists will only increase. In 2003, The Human Genome Project successfully completed the first exhaustive mapping of all 20,000-25,000 human genes. And though the data-collection part of the project has been completed, the subsequent analysis will require many more years of work. It is the job of geneticists to undertake this task. It is also probable that geneticists will be needed for aspects of the field that have not even been developed yet. Despite the high-tech, sci-fi nature of some aspects of genetics, our understanding of it is sure to improve, and to move the work of those in the genetics field to areas we have not yet considered. In that sense, then, the field of genetics is as exciting and open for exploration as any in the sciences.
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