Learn About Being an Animal Geneticist

Get Job Description, Salary and More in This Career Profile

Chickens In Hatchery
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Animal geneticists are involved with studying genes and improving the heritability of desired traits in animal populations.

Duties

Animal geneticists may focus on many areas within the field, and specific duties can vary widely depending on the nature of the geneticist’s type of employment.

Animal geneticists may be responsible for developing selective breeding programs, studying and analyzing pedigrees, conducting genetic research or lab tests, developing strategies to improve heritability of desirable traits (such as increased milk production in dairy cattle or higher carcass weight in beef cattle), studying population genetics, and mapping the genomes of various species.

Animal geneticists usually work in a laboratory setting as they conduct their research, though some may travel to animal production facilities to view and evaluate breeding stock in person. Animal geneticists utilize laboratory equipment, DNA scanners, and a variety of computerized software applications to conduct their research and analyze the data collected.

Career Options

Animal geneticists may find work with a variety of employers such as animal production facilities, pharmaceutical companies, private corporations, research labs, zoos, hatcheries, the federal government, or colleges and universities.

A large percentage of animal geneticists focus on working with livestock species, particularly cattle and poultry, but some also work with domestic and wild species. The aquaculture industry is a particularly strong source of jobs for animal geneticists as it continues to show explosive growth.

Education & Training

The first step to becoming an animal geneticist involves completion of a bachelor’s degree in genetics or a closely related field such as animal science, dairy science, biology, conservation biology, or a similar area.  Helpful coursework includes genetics, reproduction, laboratory science, livestock production, biology, chemistry, and statistics.

After graduation, the aspiring geneticist usually pursues a graduate degree (master’s or doctorate) that is concentrated on a particular area of interest. Graduate level studies usually involve advanced level coursework, laboratory research, and publication of a scientific research thesis. Graduate degrees are usually required for most positions in the field of genetics and are mandatory for positions in academia or senior level research.

Animal geneticists should have a strong background in working with computers and laboratory equipment, as these tools are routinely used in genetics research. 

Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate out salary data for animal geneticists, but it does include them as a part of the more general categories of animal scientists or biological scientists.

According to the latest information collected by the BLS salary survey, the median annual wage for all animal scientists was $61,110 in May of 2014. The lowest paid 10 percent of all animal scientists earned less than $37,430 per year, while the highest 10 percent of all animal scientists earned more than $124,760 per year. The BLS cites a slightly higher median annual wage of $74,720 for all biological scientists, with earnings ranging from less than $42,480 for the lowest 10 percent in the field to more than $115,260 for the top 10 percent in the field.

The BLS reports that the top paying industries for animal scientists by mean wage include consulting ($103,420), the federal government ($101,920 per year), animal production ($86,920 per year), research ($84,260 per year) and state government ($77,870) per year. Animal scientists that are involved in educational roles earn an annual mean wage of $57,120. 

Career Outlook

According to data from the BLS, career opportunities for the category of animal scientists and other agricultural scientists will continue to grow by about 13 percent over the decade from 2010 to 2020. This rate of growth is slightly higher than the average rate of growth for all positions evaluated in the BLS survey. Employment for the category of all biological scientists is expected to grow at a more rapid rate of 21 percent over the same period, much higher than the rate for all positions.

Animal geneticist job growth should fall somewhere in the range of these two fields.

Animal geneticists with graduate level degrees will continue to have the most plentiful job opportunities in the field due to their advanced education and experience; positions for geneticists with only an undergraduate degree will continue to be hard to find. Students of animal genetics are strongly encouraged to pursue a graduate degree in this field to ensure the best prospects. The growth of job opportunities for animal geneticists should closely mirror the growth of the biotechnology industry.