Sid Altman

Molecular Biology

Discovered catalytic RNA, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1989

"Don’t worry if things change. Just do what you do best."

So You Want to Be a Molecular Biologist

Career options in molecular biology are expanding rapidly as more and more is learned about the human genome and how it affects cellular processes and metabolic pathways. Molecular biologists are relatively well paid. Jobs are available in biotechnology, chemical, pharmaceutical, food, health care, resource, environmental and consulting companies, as well as with government, educational institutions, research institutes and in the forestry and agricultural sectors.

Dr. Altman’s advice: “Whatever you do, work hard, and take it seriously. Be prepared for unexpected turns. Do the required work and don’t goof off too much.” He points out that the goals of teenagers are rarely realized because they evolve as kids learn more. The more education you have, the greater the likelihood you will earn more money. To obtain a job in molecular biology you will need four years of university, followed by about five years of graduate school and a couple of years as a post-doctoral fellow. About ten or twelve years in all.

Altman finds his work interesting and the recognition he has received very satisfying. His main problem is getting enough financial support to do his research. “Everyone has to pay for the war,” he says, referring to the tendency of the United States government to spend heavily on its military, “so there is less money available for scientific research.”

His final bit of advice to aspiring molecular biologists: “Study chemistry, which I did not do.”

Other scientists who may be of interest:

The ScienceThe Person