What makes me a physiologist? In today's scientific world, the distinctions between disciplines are often hard to discern. Just walk into any research lab on the medical campus and you will likely see a lot of similarities: lab benches, micro centrifuges, gel electrophoresis units, plasmid maxi prep kits, etc. Almost all laboratories do some molecular biology, some biochemistry, or some cell biology. So, what makes a Ph.D. in Physiology different? And is that difference important?
A physiologist studies how organisms function. Physiologists study how molecules, cells and organs integrate together to produce wonderfully complicated and intricately woven functions in the whole animal, such as muscle contraction producing movement, digesting a meal into fuels that sustain body function, responding to a stressful situation, or regulating and accomplishing reproduction. Naturally, this leads to the important study of conditions where physiology goes wrong, causing significant disorders such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and infertility. As a result, the approach of a modern physiologist is both molecular and integrative (our name is long for that reason). The modern physiologist must master and take advantage of molecular approaches that have driven research of the past decade and blend with it integrative knowledge of what these molecules, their functions and their interactions mean in terms of how organisms function normally, and how their dysfunction causes disease.
More information about careers as a physiologist can be found at the American Physiological Society's Careers in Physiology site.