Professor in academia: field of molecular and genetics

Career path 

Εvita Apalaki

The text below describes a general path that an individual needs to follow in order to obtain a position in academia as a lecturer or professor in the field of biology. These steps may differ from country to country, but the main required qualifications are similar among the worldwide scientific community. 

A basic educational path that needs to be followed is:

A bachelor’s degree

Usually in fields such as General Biology, Molecular Biology, Chemistry,  or Biochemistry 

The duration of the majority of programs is 3-4 years during which the student is introduced to a broad education on Biology-related topics, and is also trained on some basic laboratory activities. Also, during this academic period, the student will be able to learn about related sciences and decide what field he/she would like to focus on. 

A master’s degree 

At this level of the education the student has the opportunity to focus on a more specific path. Usually, the masters programs last for 1-2 years and are separated into two main periods, one  theoretical and one practical. Generally, the final semester requires the completion of an experimental project at a professional lab, where the trainee will meet new people, apply basic or advanced techniques, and present a written and oral report including the results of the survey. It is a great opportunity to practice skills, discuss ideas, get advice and meet people that may help to shape future steps of the career. 

A PhD degree 

At this level the candidate is more focused and specialized on a chosen topic. The project is individualized and taken as a complete and serious work. There is greater responsibility and the duties are increased. Such projects usually need 3-4 years minimum to be completed. The candidate is more experienced and more conscious of his/her skills and preferences. A PhD student needs to have good planning skills and put time and effort into creating innovative ideas for competitive projects. It is not unusual that challenges will arise during the PhD period, and therefore provides the candidate opportunities for continued hard work and increased learning in order to succeed.  

Post doctorate studies 

It usually takes up to 2 years to finish this section of the career. A person can choose to do more than one post doctorate after the PhD studies and focus on increasingly specific topics that will enhance the individual’s scientific background. 

The ultimate goal of building a career in academia needs to be in the forefront however social interactions may also be a beneficial part of the future career path.  

Additional activities that help towards a more successful career:

Cooperation with other labs: Cooperation and collaboration with multiple scientific teams is always beneficial provided all individuals are focused on working towards the same goal. This type of situation may reduce the time and effort that is needed for the completion of the project.  

Seminars and congresses: It is very important to participate in certified seminars either as a presenter or an attendee. It is a good opportunity to interact with other scientists, remain up to date on the latest scientific trends and new data from other labs, which may help your own project.   

Experimental animals: It is important to have basic training on how to handle experimental animals. As long as there is high ethical sensitivity regarding animals used in labs as well as to be officially certified. 

Bioinformatics: It is very important to have basic knowledge on how to analyze the data from an experiment. There is usually a bioinformatician in every lab that helps with the generation of results, but it is also necessary for the scientist to be able to interpret the results of the experiments for better understanding. 

Gaining teaching experience: Being a professor requires excellent teaching skills. It is meaningless to be a good scientist without having the confidence to convey the knowledge to other people and students. There are a lot of books, seminars and coaching projects that are available online or in local facilities to enhance and improve the teaching abilities of willing individuals. (Some important skills of a professor: leading, grading, inspiring, performing, practicing, and scheduling.)

Work: Gaining experience by working in different professional environments is also one of the options before reaching the position of a professor. Other opportunities working in the private or public sector should also be considered. 


The process of becoming a full professor in academia is lengthy and the candidate is required to complete various intermediate stages to obtain a permanent chair. Usually the individual starts with the appointment of assistant professor, followed by the associate professor, and then ends with the role of full professor. Reasonably, there is a differentiation in the salaries and responsibilities for each position. 

Tip #1: Move! It is very important to change laboratory environments in different countries if possible.  In that way a person can meet more people, practice more techniques, and gain greater experience and confidence.   

Tip #2: Publish! It is suggested that a candidate works towards having a lot of publications to their name. Papers published by well-known and reputable scientific magazines are a big advantage. It is important to contribute by working on projects that involve state of the art scientific questions. 

Tip #3: Be informed! Be aware of what is published by other labs and try to work on projects that the scientific community focuses more on at certain times. It is a good way to increase the chance of being awarded financial support and grants. 

Tip #4: Social networks! Always try to meet new people and maintain a good relationship with scientists that you have worked with before! You never know when you may need help! Social interactions are important in this field.