How to Get a Master's Degree in Laboratory Sciences

Clinical laboratory scientists play a crucial support role in science and medicine. A laboratory sciences career can take you to the frontlines of research and diagnostic testing in areas like genetics, pathology, hematology, and microbiology.

A master's degree is the key to advancing your lab sciences career. Move from entry-level testing roles to research design, interpretation, and supervision. Graduate laboratory sciences programs also offer the opportunity to develop specialized scientific knowledge and update your technological expertise. Most programs are designed as post-professional degrees, with the option for working students to earn a master's degree online.

WorldWideLearn.com features a range of resources to get you started on the path to a master's degree in laboratory sciences. This guide takes you through the steps of planning a graduate degree in laboratory sciences, with links to online resources along the way.

Guide to Master's Degrees in Laboratory Sciences

Clinical laboratory sciences brings together technical training in lab skills and a strong foundation in biology, chemistry, and medical knowledge.

The "Laboratory" side of the discipline incorporates hands-on practice in:

  • The use of advanced scientific equipment
  • Specimen preparation and microscopic analysis
  • Research data management, or informatics
  • Safety and quality assurance

The "Sciences" foundation encompasses:

  • Molecular Biology, a broad branch of biology dealing with the molecular components essential to life: genes, proteins, nucleic acids, etc.
  • Biochemistry, the study of chemical processes as they impact the human body and other living organisms. This field intersects molecular biology, studying the function of proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, lipids, enzymes, etc.
  • Physiology, the study of the physical, mechanics, and biochemical processes involved in an organism's proper function.
  • Neuroscience, the study of the nervous system and its impact on cognition, perception, cell development, and physiology.
  • Genetics, the study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics via genes.

A laboratory sciences master's degree cultivates a working knowledge of these key scientific disciplines with the purpose of improving your research and diagnostic capability as a lab technician or scientist.

Professional and Academic Master's Degrees

Graduate laboratory sciences programs define their curriculum at various points along the academic-professional spectrum. No matter which program you choose, the curriculum includes some form of scientific education and lab training. Differences arise in the structure and requirements of the academic and professional master's degrees.

Master of Science

The MS in laboratory sciences is modeled after the academic science master's degree. The course curriculum cultivates a broad foundation in the field, developing competency in several key fields. The program culminates in a scholarly research project designed to advance knowledge in a specific area. A Master of Science qualifies you to head directly into professional practice or toward an academic career, via the PhD in clinical laboratory science.

Professional Master's Degrees

Professional master's degrees are generally designed for mid-career scientists and medical technologists who want to upgrade their laboratory expertise and advance their careers. The curriculum focuses on a specialized practice area and typically involves an internship or applied lab project.

Examples of professional degrees include:

  • Master in Molecular Diagnostic Science (MMDS)
  • Masters in Health Systems (MHS)
  • Master of Health Science
  • Master of Clinical Laboratory Science (MCLS)

A professional graduate degree can help you move from entry-level work into specialized practice areas or supervisory roles. Programs accommodate professionals through flexible scheduling and the option to earn a master's degree online.

Learn more about your master's degree options at WorldWideLearn.com.'s The Master's Degree Explained and Master's Degrees Online.

Specializations

Whether you choose an academic or professional master's degree, you'll have the opportunity to follow your interests into a specialized niche of laboratory sciences. Consider these options for focused study:

Scientific sub-fields:

  • Hematology is the study of blood, including blood-producing organs and diseases.
  • Microbiology is the study of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.) and their impact on the human body.
  • Immunology is the study of the immune system, focusing on natural defense mechanisms and disorders such as auto-immune diseases.
  • Virology is the study of viruses and viral diseases.
  • Histology is the microscopic study of the tissues of an organism--human, animal, or plant.

Clinical lab methods:

  • Serology refers to blood tests designed to measure and characterize the antibodies, antigens, and other immunological substances present in the body.
  • DNA Science refers to DNA research and testing methods such as DNA extraction, transcription, sequencing, and typing or profiling. Specialized DNA research tools include recombinant DNA technology and DNA ligation.
  • Stem Cell Research refers to cutting-edge research in the use of these undifferentiated cells for the treatment of various diseases and medical conditions.
  • Flow Cytometry is a technique or sorting and classifying cells and microscopic particles using fluorescent markers. It is widely used in molecular and cell biology research as well as the diagnosis and monitoring of diseases such as cancer.

Most programs allow you to specialize further within these areas by developing your own academic research or applied project topic.

Career Track

A master's degree in clinical laboratory sciences prepares you to work in a laboratory in the vast world of scientific, medical, and commercial research and development. Opportunities are available at:

  • hospitals and clinics
  • physician's private practices
  • pathology labs
  • public health organizations
  • government agencies
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • biotech research firms
  • universities
  • law enforcement forensics labs
  • commercial R&D

Work in medical diagnostics, commercial product development and quality assurance, or scientific research. A graduate laboratory sciences degree can be your ticket to supervisory roles such as lab manager or director, or to specialized research positions. Some graduates use the master's degree as a stepping stone to a university research and teaching career (via the PhD), or a medical career (via the MD or physician assistant training). Sample job titles with a master's degree in laboratory sciences include:

  • Clinical Laboratory Scientist at a hospital, clinic, or commercial R&D lab
  • Clinical Laboratory Supervisor or Director
  • Clinical Laboratory Specialist (histotechnologist, cytogenetic technologist, pathologist, diagnostic molecular scientist, etc.)
  • Quality Assurance Specialist at a hospital, pharmaceutical lab, or commercial R&D
  • Technical Sales Representative
  • Clinical Research Associate (CRA) at a clinical trials service
  • Medical Laboratory Technologist or Research Technologist
  • Laboratory Information Systems Specialist
  • Infection control officer at a hospital
  • Laboratory Science Educator

Laboratory Science Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job prospects for laboratory scientists are excellent: "A severe shortage of clinical laboratory scientists exists and has generated a large demand for new graduates." A graduate degree qualifies you for the more advanced roles in a laboratory, including staff supervision, experiment design, and results analysis and interpretation.

Plan for a Master's Degree in Laboratory Sciences

Now that you have a sense of the graduate education and career opportunities available to you, you're ready to tackle the logistics of getting a master's degree in laboratory sciences. The following steps lead you through the process of finding a school, submitting applications, and preparing for advanced study.

Step One: Find the Right Graduate Laboratory Sciences Program

The secret to success as a graduate student is linking your professional objectives with a master's curriculum that supports them.

WorldWideLearn.com Program Research Resources

Finding the perfect fit is a matter of researching academic programs carefully. WorldWideLearn.com features several types of resources to support program research:

  • Online Program Search: WorldWideLearn.com allows you to narrow your search in several ways. Degrees by Subject identifies laboratory science degrees; Degrees by Level focuses on master's degrees in laboratory sciences; and Degrees by Location isolates campus graduate programs near you. To limit your search by program format, see Online Degree Programs and Campus Education.

  • Interactive Program Match: WorldWideLearn.com features an interactive tool to help you investigate the resources at individual master's degree programs. Fill out a form indicating your academic program criteria, and the system matches you with schools that meet your specifications. You can also input your contact information to speak directly with a school representative.

  • School Information Pages: Fill in any missing information by following links to school information pages. Here you'll find detailed information about degree requirements, course descriptions, research facilities, special programs and networking events, as well as links to faculty CVs and publications.

Together, these research resources give you access to the information you need to find the program that best aligns with your laboratory science career goals and interests.

Program Research in Four Stages

Researching dozens of laboratory science master's degrees can quickly become overwhelming. In addition to a master's degree in laboratory sciences, you'll also find relevant programs under slightly different names: clinical laboratory science (CLS), health sciences, medical technology, and clinical pathology. To streamline the process and make sure you cover all your bases, structure your research by priorities:

1. Accreditation

Locating accredited programs is the first priority of a school search. Accreditation status indicates the program's educational merit, according to standards set by U.S. Department of Education-approved accreditation agencies. You can find a list of approved regional and national accreditation agencies at the DOE's website.

Look for degree directories that represent only accredited programs. WorldWideLearn.com only partners with accredited institutions. The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS) features a list of accredited online graduate programs in clinical laboratory science. For post-professional programs, see the Professional Science Master's Degree site's list of applied laboratory sciences degrees.

2. Program Format: Campus or Online Master's Degree?

Next, consider the logistics of your graduate education. Today's laboratory sciences programs allow you to earn a master's degree online or on campus.

Campus programs feature immediate access to program resources: face-to-face instruction, laboratory training using campus facilities, and collaborative work with peers and faculty mentors. This program is ideal for aspiring academics, who also rely on university networking and teaching opportunities.

Online master's degrees have the advantage of convenience and relevance to your professional career. Post-professional programs are often structured to let you complete the hands-on lab training and specialized project at your work site, provided you have access to the necessary technology. Otherwise, online programs may manage the hands-on portion of the curriculum by setting up a supervised internship at a local laboratory, or requiring intensive week long campus residencies.

3. Academic Resources

Next, explore the resources available at each program to find the best match with your specialization interests and professional direction. Program features to consider include:

  • Curriculum
  • Degree Format and Requirements
  • Faculty
  • Employer Relationships
  • Career Support Services
  • Student Life
4. Quality Metrics

Finally, rank programs based on educational quality and admissions selectivity. You can gauge program quality by taking into account:

  • Reputation. Ask a faculty member in your field for recommendations, and consult ranking publications such as U.S. News & World Report's Best Science Graduate Schools.
  • Selectivity. Average admitted students' GPA and test scores and admissions acceptance rate help you understand the school's selectivity profile.
  • Placement. Job placement rate, a list of employers, and salary statistics give you an idea of your career prospects upon graduation.
  • Student demographics. Relevant characteristics include years of industry experience.

You can find these metrics on school websites or by asking the program's admissions counselor for department data.

Step Two: Apply to Graduate Laboratory Science Programs

Once you've narrowed down your list to five or six programs, you're ready to prepare your applications. Plan to encounter the following steps to admission:

1. Complete Prerequisites

Eligibility for graduate study generally requires:

  • A bachelor's degree in clinical laboratory sciences
  • Prerequisite courses, if your degree is in another field.
  • National certification as a medical technologist, cytotechnologist, clinical laboratory scientist, or histotechnologist
  • Two years' work experience in a clinical laboratory
  • GRE or TOEFL (for international students)

WorldWideLearn.com's Education Resources Guide helps you meet these requirements by connecting you with test preparation resources, prerequisite courses, and online learning tools.

2. Prepare Application Materials

Most schools provide a link to the application online. In addition to filling out the information form, you will need to supply the following materials:

  • Academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Test scores
  • Personal essay
  • Resume

Since some of these documents rely on outside sources, it's important to start your application well in advance of the deadline.

3. Finance Your Master's Degree in Laboratory Science

One option for funding your education is to preserve your main source of income. Many graduate students choose to earn a master's degree online while they work. Otherwise, you can secure financial aid by following these steps:

  • Meet with financial aid advisers at your top schools.
  • Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This comprehensive application covers all federal financial aid programs, from Pell Grants to Stafford Loans.
  • Ask your employer about continuing incentives for lab scientists.
  • Apply for scholarships through the university, professional associations such as the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science (ASCLS), and nonprofits.
  • Apply for a low-interest student loan, if necessary..

For more information, visit the WorldWideLearn.com resource page on graduate education funding.

Conclusion

A master's degree in laboratory sciences takes you out of the trenches of lab work and into a position of responsibility. Build the technical expertise and scientific knowledge to develop your own research experiments, manage a lab, or forge new diagnostic or research techniques. By planning your graduate education, you are building a foundation for a leadership role in the laboratory sciences.

Sources

  • American Society for Clinical Pathology.
  • ASCLS Online Directory, American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science.
  • Best Science Graduate Schools, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
  • Clinical Laboratory Science Graduate Program (Master of Science), University of North Dakota.
  • "Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Database of Accredited Post secondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Department of Allied Health Sciences, University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
  • Master of Laboratory Investigation, Vanderbilt University.
  • National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Lab Science.
  • PSM Program List, Professional Science Masters.

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