Studying Life on a Small Scale

by Christy Eck

Many students who graduate from BYU’s College of Life Sciences set their sights on the medical or dental field. However, the medical industry is far from the only option for graduates of the Microbiology and Molecular Biology department. Students who go on to receive graduate degrees in microbiology or molecular biology qualify to teach and research at universities or research in government labs. There are also career options in these fields that don’t require graduate degrees. Here’s a rundown of the benefits of each of the three majors in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology.

Microbiology is a broad field that includes anything involving microorganisms. Immunologists study the immune system’s response to microbial diseases, environmental scientists apply their knowledge of microorganisms to solve environmental problems, biotechnologists put useful microorganisms to work in our industry and food supply. Financial prospects range from around $42,000 per year in the early career of a B.S. degree holder to $117,000 in the midcareer of someone with a Ph.D. The industry is expected to grow by seven percent from 2012 to 2022. In addition to continuing their education or working as lab techs for universities, graduates from this program may be involved in varied industries. They may work in the food industry with products that involve microorganisms, such as yogurt and cheese. They may also develop disease resistant crops, help break down sewage, perform water testing, or develop medicines. According to Nanette Marx, the department’s academic advisor, “Anyone can succeed in this major if they work hard and have a passion for the subject or career path.”

Molecular biology is the study of biology at the subcellular level, especially the study of DNA and how DNA expresses itself in the organism it belongs to. It includes the study of genetic diseases and how to counteract them. “Molecular biology is rapidly becoming a computational field,” says Dr. Joel Griffitts. He recommends that students considering the major also learn some programming skills because “this interdisciplinary background will prepare them to do amazing research in a world where the benefits of vast amounts of biological data are limited by our ability to learn from it.” He also emphasizes the benefits of the major’s undergraduate experience, saying that there is a culture of collaborative learning and personal support, and that students will see the beauty of life on the molecular scale. Career options at the undergraduate level include working in private industry labs, working as lab techs in academia, and working in some capacities for the government. B.S. degree holders can expect to make $44,000 a year in their early career, with growth as they gain experience or as they pursue higher degrees, with a Ph.D. earning around $117,000 midcareer.

Medical Laboratory Science degrees prepare students for a specific career after graduation, though they are also valid preparatory degrees for advanced degrees and medical schools. After graduation, students take an exam to qualify to work in medical laboratories, performing blood tests and other diagnostics for doctor’s offices and hospitals. It is a limited enrollment program with a seventy-two percent admission rate. Students must complete prerequisites and are eligible to be accepted to the program during their junior year (though if they are not, they can switch to microbiology or molecular biology with significant course overlap). The course of study includes a six month internship in a clinic. Graduates can expect to earn $48,000 early in their career and $59,000 midcareer. In addition, an increase in the aging population means rapid growth in this field. The industry is expected to grow twenty-two percent from 2012 to 2022, and nearly every certified graduate in this field finds a job in the industry.