MadSci Network: Virology

Re: How do I become a Virologist?

Date: Wed Feb 4 20:15:50 1998
Posted By: Eric Clambey, graduate student,
Area of science: Virology
ID: 885761240.Vi

Virologists typically are trained in biology. This means taking course work in biology. In high school you might take a biology class or two. It isn't until college that you will find any class which might specifically train you in virology. I personally never had a virology class during my college career. Once I finished college, however, I applied to graduate schools in microbiology programs. Once I entered the graduate program, I took some course work in virology. However, I would say that I have learned the most about virology by working in a virology laboratory.

With regard to working in virology lab, there are a number of summer research opportunities which allow students to work in biology (and more specifically, virology) labs. I personally did research during the summers when I was in college. I know that in some special cases, high school students may get involved in such an opportunity. You might consider talking to a high school counselor about opportunities locally or nationally. In college, any biology department will post a number of research opportunities.

I would say that being a biology major in college and then attending graduate school to either get your Masters or Ph.D. is a typical path for many virologists. Lab experience is the most important training for a virologist, and most virologists get this experience in graduate school. A person who received this training would most likely be a straight research scientist in virology.

Another dimension to virology is that of public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) centered in Atlanta, Georgia is a major center for monitoring "outbreaks" and scientists there are actively involved in efforts to respond to such threats. Some scientists at the CDC do applied research to fight diseases. Others are involved less in research and more in public health. These may include people who are trained as medical doctors who specialized in infectious diseases. These are the people who go to sites of an "outbreak". The training these people receive is much different than that of a straight research virologist (such as myself). In this case, the training you would need would be medical school, instead of graduate school. An additional dimension to virology which is especially important for the CDC is epidemiology, the study of how diseases are spread from person to person. Without this knowledge, understanding how to contain a virus or a bacteria is very difficult.

There certainly are many opportunities available if you choose to pursue this interest. You might consider what dimension of virology you are interested in (i.e. straight research vs. public health or medical doctor) since each dimension requires different training.

Finally, as far as the viruses that you are interested in, I had a couple of thoughts. The viruses you mentioned are particularly prominent right now because they are "emerging diseases". While they certainly are associated with human disease, some of them (e.g. Ebola) are dangerous enough that very few people are actually doing research on them. Instead the major work on these viruses is towards containing "outbreaks" and investigating their epidemiology.

For information about the CDC Good luck

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