Molecular biology is a field of science that explores and studies the structures and functions of cells on a molecular level. Experts in molecular biology must be proficient in numerous subjects and sciences before they can effectively conduct research or academic activity in their field. It is presumed that all cell functions, which are incredibly complex and incompletely understood, take place on a molecular level. This means that the sophisticated interconnection and cooperation of biological molecules is what makes life possible, which is an intriguing subject that puzzles molecular biologists and motivates them to discover the secrets of cells. A molecular biologist is a highly intelligent individual that is preoccupied with exploring, understanding or teaching the concepts behind cellular structure and function on a molecular level.
Cells are made of highly sophisticated structures called cellular organelles, which include the nucleus, the endoplasmic reticulum, lysosomes, the Golgi apparatus and many more. Each of these organelles performs a particular function. However, unlike parts in a car, the functions of each cellular component are not clear-cut, and there is a high degree of dependency and overlap between their functions. Experts in molecular biology dedicate their life to deciphering these complex functions and exploring the biological laws governing the operation of each cellular component. Moreover, cellular organelles are further composed of complex biological molecules such as the DNA, the RNA, proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, and many possible combinations among them. The task of a molecular biologist is to develop an understanding of how biological molecules come together to function as organelles, and ultimately as cells performing a particular function within the body.
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Molecular biologists conduct research and academic activities. The research component involves the study of biological structures in well-equipped laboratories with advanced technology to help them explore complex molecular structures and their particular functions. The equipment may include microscopes, lab centrifuges, computers with specific software that allows them to analyze obtained data and many more. Molecular biologists work hard to discover specific patterns in certain biological materials and try to replicate the findings in other experiments to formulate biological hypotheses or theories. During their research work, experts in molecular biology attempt to isolate, purify and individually explore a particular component of a cell, such as a specific protein, a fragment of the DNA or a particular signaling molecule, which allows them to understand its function and then integrate and incorporate it in the complex, big picture of cellular function.
The reason why research in molecular biology is so important is because the concepts discovered in this manner can be applied to mainstream biology, medicine, wildlife study and protection of endangered animals, food industry, pharmaceutical industry and environment protection. Research in molecular biology literally aims to discover the essence of life and formulate theories of biological function that are applicable in other science fields and in real life.
A molecular biologist can also conduct academic work such as teaching, workshops, practical demonstrations in universities, at conferences, and in governmental agencies. This component requires the ability to explain the molecular concepts of biology in an easy-to-understand way for people who may need such knowledge in their field of study and work. At some point in their careers, doctors, environmental experts, biologists, bio-engineers and other professionals have been trained by a molecular biologist. Molecular biologists may also formulate and elaborate specific strategies or protocols in governmental agencies using their ability to understand biological processes at the molecular level.
Becoming an expert in molecular biology requires a lot of hard work, mental effort and dedication. Individuals who aspire to become molecular biologists have to possess excellent reasoning abilities, high intelligence, patience, discipline and the motivation to conduct potentially breakthrough research. The ability to cope with failure is also an important quality since success in research is achieved only after multiple instances of trial and failure. Individuals who want to become proficient in molecular biology usually have a passion for life and for making the lives of others easier through their research or academic work. Molecular biologists who work with students at universities require excellent communication skills, the ability to present difficult molecular concepts in a manner that will not frustrate the student, and a passion for teaching and mentoring.
The first step in becoming a molecular biologist is earning a degree in biology or a related field such as biochemistry or biophysics. Post-graduate studies are almost always required. They include masters and doctoral degrees combined with some form of research and participation in scientific conferences and meetings. Some molecular biologists go even further in their career development and conduct post-doctoral research, which allows them to become recognized by their colleagues and achieve success. The study process is quite complex and requires the knowledge of basic concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and even information technology. However, with enough dedication and motivation, one is able to successfully become an expert in molecular biology.
Molecular biologists usually work in laboratory settings and in universities. They rarely work in private companies, but may be hired by them to conduct project-based work. Molecular biologists are also employed by governmental agencies that elaborate strategies and regulations that involve biological processes.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of 2010, the average salary of molecular biologists was $79,390 per year. Depending on the nature of their work, they may receive additional pay for academic work or research projects.