I did a degree in molecular biology, then a PhD in genetics. To get far in science you need to train for quite a long time but in the end the training itself is like having a job too. Doing a PhD is hard but very rewarding!
Well, first and foremost – a lot of enthusiasm and tenacity (patience)! Whilst there is a strong knowledge requirement, which most people can pick up with experience, even with knowledge there is a certain character set of skills you need. Working in a lab is not for everyone. It can be slow, difficult, and immensely frustrating work. There are also issues with job security and a lot of competition for student positions and professional positions. So in terms of qualification, you need to consider both academic and personal skills.
In terms of academic qualifications to do my job – postdoctoral research fellow – you’d need a good first degree (e.g. a Bachelor of Science, BSc) followed by a higher doctoral degree (e.g. Doctor of Philosophy, PhD). A PhD isn’t a degree in the ‘discipline’ of philosophy, rather it is a degree in the true Greek meaning of the term philosophy (philo – to love and sophis – wisdom). A love of wisdom.
I have a BSc in biology and biochemistry, but also a MSc (Master of Science) in medical microbiology. The MSc isn’t strictly necessary, but I did it whilst deciding what I really wanted to do with myself after my BSc. My PhD took another four years after that, and this is all spent in the laboratory doing research, so is good preparation of life working in a research lab as a professional, which I am now.
So all in all that’s about 8 years of studying; it may take more or less in other other countries, but irrespective of this, we all end up in the same place.
Jim and Prateek are both right the biggest qualification you need is enthusiasm and determination as things can get quite difficult in science!
To get onto a science degree at university the grade requirements vary depending on which uni you want to go to. The likes of Cambridge will want all As but other universities will ask for lower grades (worth noting there are schemes you can do where you do a summer project which will help lower the grades you need to get in! I supervise some of these students 🙂 ).
After university I did a research masters. You can just go straight onto a PhD if you want. Universities are usually looking for a 1st or 2.1 at university but work experience can be a big factor and how well you perform at interview!
Now I just have to complete my PhD (no easy task!) and I can get a job like Prateek or Jim (with a bit of luck….) 😉