Molecular Biologist

Location: Beltsville, MD
Deadline: August 26, 2016

Job Overview


You can make a difference! The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP) needs bright, energetic and committed professionals to facilitate the domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products and to protect the health and care of animals and plants in the United States. MRP offers an array of occupations and is committed to diversity in the workplace. We operate in domestic and global markets. Be part of an organization that protects the health and agriculture of the American people. Join our team!


This position serves as a scientist for the PPQ, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.  The position serves as an authority in molecular and biochemical diagnosis of plant pests and provides final identification of plant pathogens and other plant pests based on sophisticated state-of-the-art molecular and biochemical techniques for detecting, identifying, and differentiating plant pests, especially plant pathogens that threaten U.S. agriculture.  The incumbent analyzes pest risk, makes recommendations to management, trains other identification personnel in diagnostic methods and interpretation of test results, and collaborates with scientists, plant health regulators and others, worldwide.
This position coordinates diagnostic operations for PPQ programs, determines the quarantine status of organisms intercepted at ports of entry, and manages PPQ’s pest interception database.  The position also serves as the national authority in performing confirmatory diagnosis of organisms intercepted or sampled in plant quarantine programs from activities such as port of entry inspection, pest detection survey, pest control and eradication programs, smuggling interdiction efforts, export certification inspection and foreign commodity preclearance programs.

Salary Information: 
First time hires to the Federal government normally start at the lowest rate of the salary range.

APHIS is an emergency response agency. This means that all Agency employees may be asked or assigned to participate in rotating temporary duty assignments to support emergency programs at some time during their careers with APHIS. For details click: APHIS Emergency Response



The duties described are for the full-performance level. At developmental grade levels, assignments will be of more limited scope, performed with less independence and limited complexity.

The duties may include, but are not limited to:

  • Responsible for making final, authoritative taxonomic determinations of plant pathogens and other plant pests intercepted at ports of entry from all parts of the world.
  • Recommends to management, quarantine actions for perishable and other commodities held at ports of entry based on risk analysis of the identified pest.
  • Searches, reviews, and evaluates current foreign and domestic scientific literature and contacts colleagues for information on new diagnostic testing techniques, particularly for exotic organisms of economic or environmental significance. 
  • Serves as an Agency authority in resolving scientific problems associated with organisms encountered in quarantine programs which require molecular or biochemical diagnostic work to determine their identity.
  • Initiates and cultivates working relationships with scientific colleagues nationally and internationally.  Cooperates with PHP national taxonomic specialists and National Plant Diagnostic Network land grant university laboratories.
  • Evaluates formal requests from field identification personnel for authority to identify plant pests intercepted through PPQ activities using molecular and biochemical techniques. 
  • Identifies and evaluates problem areas or deficiencies in identification skills of field personnel regarding use of molecular and biochemical diagnostics.
  • Provides scientific information and recommendations to technical field personnel and informs them of new diagnostic techniques and other information in order to improve their effectiveness in identification and risk decision-making.  

Travel Required

  • Occasional Travel
  • Travel for training and work assignments may be required.

Relocation Authorized

  • No

Job Requirements

Key Requirements

  • US Citizenship is required.
  • Selective Service Registration is required for males born after 12/31/1959.
  • Subject to satisfactory completion of one year probationary period.



Applicants must meet all qualifications and eligibility requirements by the closing date of the announcement including the following specialized experience and/or education, as identified by grade level.

Degree: biological sciences, agriculture, natural resource management, chemistry, or related disciplines appropriate to the position.

OR  Combination of education and experience: Courses equivalent to a major, as shown above, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

FOR THE GS-11 LEVEL: Applicants must have one year of specialized experience equivalent to the next lower level that may have been obtained in the private or public (local, county, state, Federal) sectors which demonstrates:

  • Experience with performing, optimizing and monitoring molecular (Polymerase Chain Reaction [PCR] and real-time PCR) and serological methods for identification of viral plant pathogens
  • Experience with nucleic acid sequence analysis of microorganisms.
  • Experience with sampling and sample preparation of plant material
  • Experience preparing routine reports and making presentations

OR 3 years of progressively higher level graduate education leading to a Ph.D. degree or Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree in a field of study such as biological sciences, agriculture, natural resource management, chemistry, or related disciplines.

Equivalent combinations of education and experience are qualifying for this grade level.

FOR THE GS-12 LEVEL: Applicants must have one year of specialized experience equivalent to the next lower level that may have been obtained in the private or public (local, county, state, Federal) sectors which demonstrates:

  • Experience with conducting molecular experiments independently while focusing on quality control to ensure reliable outcomes and continual process improvement.
  • Experience with developing, optimizing and performing molecular (Polymerase Chain Reaction [PCR] and real-time PCR) and serological methods for diagnosis of viral plant pathogens.
  • Experience with nucleic acid sequence analysis of microorganisms.
  • Experience with project and/or processes management (examples include but are not limited to identifying technical problems; proposing solutions in molecular laboratory procedures, techniques, or processes; or plan studies that require making significant departures from previous approaches)
  • Prepare and present scientific and technical reports

(Note: There is no education substitution for this grade level.)

are required. This position requires specific coursework or a degree in a specific field to be basically qualified. This education must have been successfully completed and obtained from an accredited school, college, or university.

COMBINATION OF EDUCATION & EXPERIENCE AT THE GS-11 GRADE LEVEL: Applicants may have combinations of successfully completed education and specialized experience to meet total qualification requirements. The total percentages must equal at least 100 percent to qualify for that grade level. To learn more about combining education and experience for this series, click the following:  Combining Education and Experience for Professional and Scientific Positions

Experience refers to paid and unpaid experience, including volunteer work done through National Service programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (e.g., professional; philanthropic; religious; spiritual; community, student, social). Volunteer work helps build critical competencies, knowledge, and skills and can provide valuable training and experience that translates directly to paid employment. You will receive credit for all qualifying experience, including volunteer experience.



Special Conditions:

  • As a condition of employment, satisfactory completion and favorable adjudication of a background investigation and/or fingerprint check may be required for this position.
  • Successful completion of a one-year probationary or trial period (if new hire to the Federal service).
  • This position is designated a public trust position and is subject to satisfactory completion and favorable adjudication of initial background investigation and reinvestigation as a condition of employment. 
  • Position may be eligible for telework.
  • Work requires periods of moderate exertion in terms of moving equipment to conduct research. 
  • Since APHIS responds to agricultural emergencies, if within the incumbent’s scope of work and when appropriate, the incumbent may experience long work hours, weekend work, and travel. 
  • The work requires the extensive reading of numerous scientific documents, prolonged use of highly specialized serological and molecular biological instruments, and frequent use of a computer.
  • May travel domestically and internationally and must be capable of handling personal luggage.  
  • Work is normally in a laboratory or office. 
  • Working with toxic chemical agents is common in a laboratory setting. 
  • May work at times in a Bio-safety Level 3 agriculture facility that will require changing clothes into work-suits.  APHIS and State policy requires changing clothing upon entry and showering prior to exit of the facility. 

Security Clearance

Public Trust - Background Investigation