Exploring this Job
The American Society of Human Genetics offers several great ways to explore genetics, including a DNA Day Essay Contest, a High School Workshop at its annual meeting, and career resources. Visit https://www.ashg.org/discover-genetics-old/k-12-education for more information.
Talk to epigenetics researchers about their careers. Ask the following questions, and try to come up with your own, too.
- What made you want to become an epigenetics researcher?
- What are the most important personal and professional traits for epigenetics researchers?
- What do you like and dislike about this career?
- How did you train for this field?
- Any advice on breaking into the field?
Check out the following web resources for more information on genetics and epigenetics:
- Introduction to Genomics: https://www.genome.gov/About-Genomics/Introduction-to-Genomics
- Discover Genetics: https://www.ashg.org/discover-genetics
- Learn.Genetics-Epigenetics: https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics
- Epigenomics Fact Sheet: https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Epigenomics-Fact-Sheet
- Epigenetics: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/epigenetics/index.cfm
- Your DNA, the Environment, and Epigenetics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujLppvMqUOI
Epigenetics is the study of environmental and behavioral factors that determine whether a gene is switched on or off. These changes to the genome do not affect the DNA sequence (and they can be reversed in some cases), but they can change how the body reads a DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes can be harmless or cause a weakened immune system, cancer, or other negative health conditions.
Epigenetics researchers conduct scientific studies that help them to better understand how epigenetic changes increase the risk of contracting some diseases and cause other negative health conditions. They often specialize in studying a particular disease such as cancer or focus on specific type of cancer (brain, colon, etc.) or disease, or they focus on how a particular environmental or behavioral factor causes an epigenetic change. Some develop medications that treat diseases by altering the epigenetic control of genes; such medications are already being used to treat blood cancers and glioblastomas. Other researchers work on epigenomic mapping projects. These scientific studies seek to identify and understand the sequences, interacting proteins, and chromosomal structures that act throughout the other 99 percent of the genome that was not mapped during the Human Genome Project.
Epigenetics researchers have other responsibilities that include writing reports about their experiments and findings, giving presentations about their work at science conferences, participating in interviews with reporters about their work, and preparing grant proposals to federal or private agencies to secure funding to support their research. Some researchers also work as professors or physicians.