In the modern era of biosciences, computational biology, bioinformatics, genomics, and genetics are hot topics. Many students choose to opt for Masters and PhD degrees abroad. Canada has been a popular destination for international students. We have earlier covered top universities and job prospects of biotechnology in Canada. In this article, we will look at studying genetics in Canada – top universities and job market.
What is Genetics?
Genetics is a subject that deals with the study of heredity, genetic variation, and genes in living organisms. Studying genetics means studying the science of heredity. A scientist who studies genetics is called a Geneticist.
Medically, genetics refers to the specialty of medicine that involves the diagnosis and management of hereditary disorders. Examples of conditions that fall within the scope of medical genetics include birth defects, autism, metabolic and mitochondrial disorders, and cancer genetics.
Genetics has had an enormous impact throughout healthcare. With the development of newer sophisticated technologies, this impact is rapidly increasing. Many research scientists, clinical laboratory scientists, and clinicians are now needed to investigate the causes (and improve the management) of the very large (and increasing) number of diseases known to have significant genetic or genomic causes.
Importance of Genetics in Modern Medicine
Genetic information differs between individuals of a species. Although this variation helps the species adapt and survive, it also causes some individuals to be prone to specific diseases or to have genetic diseases.
Advanced genetic studies are carried out to link the diseases to the responsible genes or mutations. Analyzing someone’s genome, you can plot which diseases s/he carries or have a risk to develop.
Geneticists might use these bioinformatics tools themselves, but most of the time a bioinformatician gets involved. Sequencing techniques getting widely applied has become a very common approach for genetic diagnosis.
Genetics and Bioinformatics in Precision (Personalized) Medicine
- According to a study published in Nature, the top 10 highest-grossing drugs prescribed in the US help only a small percentage (< 25%) of the patients.
- For cholesterol drugs, the success rate is even lower (only 2% of patients).
- So the probability of success is very lower compared to the expenditure made on research, approval, and marketing activities.
- The combination of genetics and bioinformatics can be used to understand and treat genetic conditions, discern evolutionary relationships, and learn about how diseased cells and/or proteins (e.g. cancer cells) differ from normal cells and/or proteins.
Study Genetics in Canada
In Canada, you can study Genetics either at the undergraduate level (maybe within a broad major of biotechnology, biomedical sciences, genetic engineering, etc.) or at the postgraduate level.
Objective of Studying Genetics
- Genetics is aimed mainly at science graduates who seek research careers in areas such as fundamental human molecular genetics, genetic factors in human health and disease, or molecular and cytogenetic approaches to diagnosis.
- You will cover the fundamentals of human genetics, clinical genetics, and genomics, together with more advanced topics such as diabetes, cancer genetics, gene therapy, animal models, and epigenetics.
- You will learn to apply genetics, genomics and bioinformatics to patient care.
What does Genetics cover?
- Students studying genetics study biochemistry, microbiology, and molecular biology, which are designed to provide critical analysis of scientific concepts.
- Students can then start to specialize in the human, animal, plant, or microbial genetics, and courses are available for all disciplines.
- Related courses such as biostatistics, epidemiology (for population genetics), oncology, and cell biology (for DNA and molecular studies) are typical.
- Advanced genetics-specific courses include genomics, human cytogenetics, immunogenetics, ethics of genetics, and cancer genetics. Directed studies courses are available to all genetics students so they can pursue independent study.
- Courses in laboratory techniques are necessary for all genetics students. They are expected to be relatively proficient in techniques such as aseptic technique, tissue culture, DNA extraction, gel electrophoresis, and the operation of various common pieces of laboratory equipment.
- Additionally, there will be intensive laboratory practical sessions, on computer programming, bioinformatics, and genomics.
- Seminars in recent advances in genetics are offered several times a semester at most schools. As part of their graduate-level training, students are expected to participate in these seminars and give several of their own over the course of their own research.
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Eligibility Criteria to Study Genetics in Canada
Admission to an undergraduate program requires completion of high school with the required grade 12 courses (biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics). Generally, a B average is required.
- Admission to a graduate-level program (MSc, PhD, or post-graduate diploma) requires a previous undergraduate degree in a related discipline with a minimum B+ average (appx. 78%).
- Acceptable related disciplines include cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, or microbiology. Some schools also require relevant research experience in genetics, such as that gained from honors or co-op programs.
- Applicants who hold international degrees and wish admission to a graduate-level program must supply a GRE (graduate record exam) with a score of at least 80 percentile.
- As all graduate programs require a supervisor, some schools require this person to be approved prior to final admission. Learn how to contact potential supervisors.
- Admission to MD program requires completion of a previous undergraduate degree. The MCAT (medical college admission test) must also be written.
Some of the specialized fields of Genetics are:
- Quantitative Genetics
- Ecological Genetics
- Population Genetics
- Human genetics
- Medical genetics
- Conservation Genetics
- Classical Genetics
- Molecular Genetics
Top Research Areas within Genetics in Canada
- Current basic research in genetics focuses on genetic inheritance and the human genome, mechanisms of genetic and metabolic disorders (eg. liver failure), chromosome studies (eg. Down’s Syndrome), and the impacts of genetic testing (eg. ethical issues).
- Biotechnology is another field of basic genetics research. Current projects include developing new drugs, improving animal breeding, and creating genetically resistant food crops. The creation of genetically engineered organisms for a variety of uses is also underway in many laboratories: bioremediation (eg. toxic waste metabolizers), immune resistance (eg. laboratory mice), and combating disease (eg. phages).
- A large research area is that of population genetics. Studies into human evolution and DNA, and the effects of environmental exposure vs. genetics in health outcomes are currently underway. This is especially relevant in cancer and HIV research.
- Clinically, current genetics research focuses on disease mechanisms: how genes cause disease, the interaction between genes and the environment, and genetic engineering to mitigate diseases. Current research is actively seeking to use gene therapy or other new medications to treat specific genetic disorders.
- Other sub-domains include Functional Genomics & Proteomics, Molecular Biology & Infectious Disease, Computational & Systems Biology, Cancer Genomics, and Molecular Medicine & Human Genetics.
Top Universities to Study Genetics in Canada
- University of Toronto
- McGill University
- University of British Columbia
- University of Montreal
- McMaster University
- University of Ottawa
- Laval University
- University of Alberta
- University of Calgary
- Dalhousie University
- University of Saskatchewan
- Western University
- Universiyt of Guelph
- University of Manitoba
Scholarships for International Students to Study Genetics in Canada
- Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS): Offered by UToronto and University of Guelph, OGS, offers international graduate applicants with an amount of $11,300 per session. The scholarship is awarded on the basis of academic achievements.
- Merck Graduate Scholarship in Biosciences: Available to international graduate students applying to UofT. The scholarship offers an amount of $1500-2200 per year.
- MBiotech Impact Award: Continuing students (second year) of UofT MBiotech course can avail of this scholarship offering an amount of $1100 USD per year.
- School of Graduate Studies University-Wide Scholarships: Around 15 awards are available to international students applying to the school of graduate studies of UToronto.
- Vanier Graduate Scholarship: Available to international graduate applicants, the Vanier Graduate Scholarship offers an amount of $37,800 for up to three years.
- Brock Scholars Award: Based on the grades of the applicants, the award is available to international graduate applicants for Brock University. The amount varies from $3000-12000.
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Job Prospects after Studying Genetics in Canada
- There are a variety of career paths within the field of medical genetics. A clinical geneticist works in a hospital or clinic setting and is responsible for evaluating and diagnosing genetic diseases. They work in conjunction with a genetic counselor who communicates the results of the diagnostic tests to the patient.
- Geneticists can also work in a research laboratory setting as technicians, diagnosing issues and sending the results to the clinical geneticist or counselor. They can also pursue basic research while at the same time teaching genetics in a university.
- Geneticists are often employed by public health agencies to conduct studies in population genetics and double as epidemiologists and statisticians.
- Geneticists can also find work in the biotechnology industry, where they conduct research into fields that are commercially viable (eg. agriculture and drug development).
Job Market Trends
Depending on the location of work, there are various job prospects for people working as Geneticists. From 2016 through 2018, there has been a slight increase in the employment rate in Genetics. The demand and supply of professionals are predominantly projected to be steady over the next decade.
As of now, there are roughly 27,000 professionals employed in the field across the country. Employment growth and retirements are expected to increase job openings in the near future. High wages and job quality ensures the interests of new students in the field, which intern will help to ease budget constraints and encourage investments in the sector.
Top Research Hubs for Genetics in Canada
- Entry-level salaries fall in the range of CAD $50,000 – $65,000 per year (or wage of $14 – $23 per hour)
- For graduate-level (MS degree holders), salaries would be in the range of CAD $70,000 – $85,000 per year
- For experienced and exceptionally talented researchers, annual salaries can go as high as CAD $150,000 – $230,000 (or $38 per hour)
Featured Image Source: Asian Journal of Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology