Geneticists are scientific and medical professionals who focus on the study of genes and living organisms, which requires a formal education in the field, usually beginning with a bachelor's degree in biology or life sciences and advancing to an advanced degree, such as a Ph.D. While geneticists with Ph.D. degrees receive generally high salaries, their compensation covers a wide pay scale and their career features a high level of competition.
Geneticists with Ph.D. degrees have access to jobs and salaries that are somewhat different from those that other geneticists would typically seek. A Ph.D. prepares a geneticist for a career in research, whether independently, through a university or for a private company. Other geneticists earn different degrees, such as M.D. geneticists who focus on applying genetic science to human patients, and MS geneticists, who have only master's degrees. Ph.D.- and M.D.-holding geneticists are among the most highly compensated in the field.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geneticists with Ph.Ds can expect to earn anywhere from $44,000 to $140,000. As of 2008, the median wage for all biochemists and biophysicists, who deal primarily in research and therefore need Ph.D. degrees, is close to $83,000. Geneticists working for the federal government in 2009 made average annual salaries of just under $100,000.
The pay scale of a geneticist with a Ph.D. is significantly higher than the scale for a geneticist or other biological scientist with a lower degree. Ph.D. geneticists may serve in these lower-paying roles as they work toward their degrees. For example, a recent college graduate with a bachelor's degree in biology earns an average starting salary of just $33,000, according to the BLS. Other geneticists make salaries in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, but few besides M.D.s have the same earning potential as Ph.D. geneticists.
To earn a Ph.D., a geneticist must spend a number of years in advanced research. While colleges and universities offer stipends and assistantships for Ph.D. candidates, some still accrue student loan debt, which offsets some of the earnings potential of Ph.D. geneticist salaries. In addition, competition for full-time and temporary research positions is generally strong among Ph.D. geneticists. According to the BLS, only one in every four research grant proposals receives funding, indicating the high number of geneticists competing for the same funding and jobs.
Biochemists and biophysicists earned a median annual salary of $82,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, biochemists and biophysicists earned a 25th percentile salary of $58,630, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $117,340, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 31,500 people were employed in the U.S. as biochemists and biophysicists.