Immunologist

Research and Development

Clerical or OrganisingNature or RecreationScientific or AnalyticSkill Level 5Skill Level 6


Immunologists focus on finding and implementing solutions to diseases affecting the immune system. Immunologists need to either complete a medical degree and a fellowship in immunology or a doctoral degree. Most immunologists work in medical or research capacities. Future Growth Very Strong

Immunologists specialize in immune disease and infection research, also applying treatment methods. They may work in medical facilities or laboratories. The educational requirements vary by place of employment. (Source: Study)

Knowledge, skills and attributes

Medical Immunologist

Medical immunologists typically work in private offices, clinics or hospitals, coordinating with other providers to diagnose and treat immunological issues. Job duties include conducting and evaluating diagnostic tests, balancing risks and benefits to establish treatment plans and conducting immunological therapies.

Research Immunologist

Research immunologists, on the other hand, generally work in labs. They conduct scientific studies examining cell reproduction and the diseases that affect the immune system, such as allergies and cancer. Some researchers also spend time in the field, examining subjects in their natural environments to gain a better understanding of elemental causes. A career in research immunology can be stressful and demanding, because research projects are usually funded by academic institutions that set strict deadlines and conditions. (Source: Study)

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent communication skills

  • the ability to organise and carry out research

  • teamworking skills

  • a high level of self-motivation

  • meticulous documentation and record-keeping

  • confidence in using technology and systems

  • flexibility and adaptability

  • the ability to use your initiative. (Source: Prospects UK)

 

Duties and Tasks

As a healthcare scientist (also known as a clinical scientist) working in immunology you'll help to diagnose, monitor and treat patients with a range of immune system disorders, including:At work

  • allergy
  • autoimmune disorders - when the body's defence system attacks itself (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis)
  • primary immunodeficiency - where part of the immune system is missing or doesn't function as it should
  • antibody deficiency.

You'll work as part of a team, including immunologists (medical doctors specialising in immunology) and biomedical scientists, to research the causes of patients' immune system problems. (Source: Prospects UK)


As a healthcare scientist working in clinical immunology, you'll need to:

  • investigate patients' immune systems and research the causes of any problems
  • undertake a range of laboratory-based activities to help diagnose, monitor and treat patients with a variety of immunological disorders, including HIV, leukemia and Type-1 diabetes
  • work with patients and run specialised patient clinics
  • help colleagues with the interpretation and validation of test results
  • help prescribe specific types of treatment for individual patients
  • discuss patient treatment plans with relevant staff such as immunologists, specialist nurses and paediatricians
  • produce reports and provide key information to medical staff about a patient's condition
  • maintain accurate and detailed records.

At a senior level, you may also need to:

  • teach or train medical students and other hospital staff
  • apply for and manage departmental and/or laboratory finances and resources
  • take responsibility for working towards targets
  • liaise with immunology colleagues on a regional or national basis.

Antibody

What to expect

  • If you're working in a laboratory-based role, you'll liaise closely with medical and other hospital staff. In a clinical role you'll have more direct contact with patients and their families, as well as other clinical professionals.
  • Self-employment is rare due to the specialised equipment and materials required to do the job.
  • In addition to clinical immunology, you can also work in academic settings and in industrial research.
  • You may need to visit other hospitals or clinics, but travel during your working day is uncommon.  (Source: Prospects UK)


Antigen mindmapping

Education and training/entrance requirements

Medical Immunologist Requirements

Becoming an immunologist in the medical field involves an exhaustive training process. A student must earn a bachelor's degree preferably in biology or chemistry and complete four years of medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). The M.D. graduate then fulfills up to seven years of residency in internal medicine followed by at least a 2-year fellowship in immunology.

Research Immunologist Requirements

A career as a research immunologist typically requires a Ph.D. in biology or microbiology. This entails first earning a bachelor's degree and then attending usually eight years of graduate school to complete the master's and doctoral degree programs. Research immunologists should have excellent communication skills, because they often collaborate with other scientists and oversee small teams of researchers.

A research immunologist should possess a doctoral degree, while a medical immunologist requires an university degree and completion of medical school with a lengthy residency and fellowship. These specialists could see a 14.9% increase in employment. (Source: Study)


Employers

Most healthcare scientists working in immunology are employed in immunology laboratories in  hospitals.

Other employers include:

  • independent and academic laboratories within the pharmaceutical industry
  • government agencies
  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
  • scientific Civil Service.

You may choose to follow a research career, working in a university or research institute. Alternatively, you could work in industry for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, who employ immunologists to improve their understanding of the immune system and how to apply this to the development of new medical products and therapies. (Source: Prospects UK)



Professional development

Once qualified, you must keep up to date with the ongoing developments in research and analysis techniques. Continuing professional development (CPD) is an essential and can include:

  • attending conferences workshops and lectures

  • publication in peer-reviewed journals

  • presenting research and papers at conferences

  • undertaking work exchanges abroad

  • applying for research grants. (Source: Prospects UK)

 

Did You Know? 

The Conversation|
The Conversation 17 April 2017

University of Tasmania's "research on spotted hyenas set out to study them in both captive environments as well as more natural settings so that we could understand the importance of the environment in regulating their immune systems.

We found that basic immune defences were different in captive hyenas and wild hyenas. Wild hyenas have higher levels of several types of antibodies than captive hyenas.

Another aspect of the spotted hyena’s ecology we studied was the strict social order of their clans. High-ranking hyenas are nearly always females. Males emigrate from other clans and enter the new clan at the very bottom of the social hierarchy.

We found a link between the ranks of hyenas and their immune profiles. For example, high-ranking hyenas had higher levels of basic immune defences. This was true between females – where a higher rank correlated to higher immunity – and between males and females where the same was true of females with a higher rank.

This could be due to several possible reasons. One is that high-ranking hyenas get more food and thus have more energy available for their immune systems to use to fight infections.

In general the hyena immune system at the most basic level looks similar to other more well-studied species. But our research shows that the environment as well as social structures play a key role in regulating immune defenses."

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