Genetic Engineers: An Occupational Overview
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a highly technical field like genetic engineering can be a beacon of stability and growth in today’s slumping job market. Genetic engineers, or biomedical engineers, are expected to see their career prospects grow as new technological advances drive an ever greater demand for individuals to specialize in this field.
The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) says that a position as a genetic engineer typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree and that the salary can go into the six-figure range, an ideal combination of attainability and above-average income.
A genetic engineer’s day-to-day work typically involves the use of molecular tools to rearrange DNA fragments. By reworking the structure of DNA, they are able to develop genetically modified organisms for commercial or scientific research purposes. For example, plants can be engineered to resist diseases and pests. And in recent years, biomedical engineers have been involved in manipulating viruses to deliver drugs to targeted tissues.
Genetic engineers almost always work in laboratories, as their work requires a safe and secure environment. These labs can be in private corporations – particularly pharmaceutical companies – or they can be in universities and research institutes. The US government also employs many genetic engineers in various departments and agencies.
Besides getting a bachelor’s degree in biomedical or genetic engineering, prospective engineers can get a bachelor’s degree in another field and then either get a graduate degree in biomedical engineering or receive on-the-job training.
For those considering a career in genetic engineering, employment in the field is expected to grow by 62 percent between 2010 and 2020, a growth rate that is higher than average for all occupations.
“Demand will be strong because an aging population is likely to need more medical care and because of increased public awareness of biomedical engineering advances and their benefits,” writes the Bureau of Labor Statistics on their website.
Genetic engineering jobs can be considered controversial in some regards as there are ongoing ethical debates over the technology. While many argue in favor of the advantages of genetic engineering in a variety contexts, many experts and laymen alike are highly wary of the work of genetic engineers. In February 2013, experts heavily debated the banning of certain prenatal types of genetic engineering. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) noted that the technology is useful in preventing certain kinds of genetic disorders. Critics say the technology is unnatural and could lead to unforeseen consequences.
Eugenics is another term that is often incorrectly applied to genetic engineers. Eugenics refers to the intentional creation and engineering of ideal offspring using genetic or breeding techniques. As the field of genetic engineering continues to advance, experts, philosophers and social commentators continue to debate the moral ramifications of human genetic engineering.