Molecular Biologist








Career Planet chats with Dr Anita Burger: 

  • Senior Scientist in Molecular Biology

Job title:

  • Senior Scientist in Molecular Biology working in Research and Development.

Employed by:

  • A pre-start up Biotech Company, SunBio, which is housed in the Institute for Wine Biotechnology, Stellenbosch University, Western Cape


Career Planet: How long have you been employed in your current job?  

Dr Anita Burger:

  • Three years.

Dr Burger tells us a bit about her job…

Fifty percent of my time is spend on reading, planning and writing.  Molecular biology is a very dynamic discipline with new developments and loads of new information published daily in scientific journals.  To stay competitive it means that one has to read regularly.  Planning is crucial to the successful completion of research project; so a lot of time goes into the initial planning of a project.  However, since research and development involve exploring the unknown, things do not always work according to plan and continuous planning and re-strategising is part of the job.  A scientist also does a lot of writing – either a proposal for a new project, a project report to a client or funder or writing a scientific paper to contribute to the scientific community.

The other fifty percent is spend doing experimental work on the bench – extracting DNA, RNA and proteins, doing nucleotide sequence analysis, studying differences in gene expression and isolating and analysing specific metabolites.  In order to develop specific products we first need to study and understand the molecular basis of the mechanisms involved.

Career Planet: Did you have an idea of the type of career you wanted to follow When you were at school? 

Dr Anita Burger:   

  • No, not really.  I loved Natural Science and Mathematics and was intrigued by the pictures of researchers in white lab coats pouring transparent fluids from the one volumetric flask to the other.

Career Planet: Have you always followed this type of career path? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  •  Yes, although not everything in one go.

Career Planet: What other jobs have you had along the way?  

Dr Anita Burger:

  • Nothing outside the physiology and molecular biology arena.

Career Planet: When and where did you study? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • 1981 – 1984: B.Sc (Ed.), University of the Free State 
  • 1985:  B.Sc Hons (Plant physiology and biochemistry), University of the Free State
  • 1986 – 1987: M.Sc (Plant physiology and biochemistry), University of the Free State
  • 2000 – 2004: Ph.D Plant Biotechnology, Stellenbosch University

Career Planet: What made you decide to choose that path of study? 

Dr Anita Burger: 

  • I love science and mathematics and am intrigued by the not-so-obvious.  As a scientist involved in research and development you get to be creative and innovative.

Career Planet: How long was it before you found employment in the field that you studied for? 

Dr Anita Burger: 

  • I accepted a position while doing the final year of my M.Sc.  That was in 1987.  Maybe it is different now. Students complain about the limited number of positions available, but if you believe in yourself, market yourself assertively and have a good network of friends and acquaintances in different positions, getting a job should not be that difficult.  It may not be your ideal job – but take whatever becomes available.  Exposure and a wide field of expertise will get you that ideal position eventually.

Career Planet: Do you work office hours or flexi-time? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • Flexi-time, to some extent.  Sometimes the nature of the science necessitates working odd hours – then you take the next morning or afternoon off.

Career Planet: What happens in your typical working day? 

Dr Anita Burger: 

  • Coming in at 09:00, I immediately start with the experiments which I’d planned for the day.  As most of the experiments are time-dependant (some running up to three hours), one usually has three of four experiments for the day.  As the experiments finish one can start with the interpretation of the results and if necessary, planning to trouble shoot or re-strategise.  Before I leave I do the planning for the next day’s experiments.

Career Planet: Do you work in a relaxed or an informal environment? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • In a relaxed environment.

Career Planet: What is the dress code for your job? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • Relaxed.

Career Planet: Are you satisfied with the salary you are earning? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • No. It is reasonable, but not according to the years of training and the input given by the scientist.

Career Planet: Does your job restrict you to a certain geographical area? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • No.

Career Planet: Describe the kind of person that you think most suits this type of work 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • Creative, optimistic, innovative, patient, energetic and enquiring.

Career Planet: What is the best reward this job has given you?  

Dr Anita Burger:

  • I was awarded a medal by the South African Association for Botanists for the best Ph.D in 2004.  Their decision was based on the contribution that my Ph.D made to the scientific community and to the South African Wine industry.

Career Planet: Do you have hobbies? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • Dancing, music, visiting new places, hiking, the theatre, sport and reading.

Career Planet: Do you have any advice for those thinking of following a similar professional route? 

Dr Anita Burger:

  • If you are not solely following your passion, enquire about the different areas of molecular biology (medical, pharmaceutical, etc.) and the benefits and scope of positions in that field.