What Do Biotechnologists Do? - Education Requirements & Role

If you have a passion for biology and want to make day-to-day tasks easier for others, consider the education requirements and role of a biotechnologist. Discover if a career in biotechnology is right for you.

Career Information at a Glance

Biotechnology is a wide field that utilizes biological organisms to improve products and processes. From developing medicines to improving industrial processes, a career in biotechnology provides a variety of paths. Read on to find out what is required for several positions in biotech.

Biochemist and Biophysicist Medical Scientist
Degree Required Bachelor's/master's for entry-level; PhD for research and development PhD
Education field of study Biology
Engineering
Chemistry
Physics
Biology
Other life sciences
Medicine
Key Responsibilities Secure funding through grants; set up and conduct experiments; analyze data; share results with others Work toward improving human health by setting up and conducting experiments; analyzing data; leading others who help with the research
Key Skills Analytical; technical skills; critical thinking and problem-solving skills; interpersonal skills for team work; organization skills Analytical; technical skills; critical thinking and problem-solving skills; interpersonal skills for team work; organization skills
Salary (2017) $91,190* $82,090 (medical scientists, except epidemiologists)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 11% * 13% (medical scientists, except epidemiologists)*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What is Biotechnology?

Biotechnology is an amalgamation of biology and technology used to develop processes and products from living organisms such as food, fuel and medicine. Though biotechnology may seem like a modern discipline, it has existed for hundreds of years. For example, the production of alcohol is an established product of industrial biotechnology, in which yeast acts as the living organism, converting sugars from starch sources like barley into alcohol. However, over the last century, there have been a number of scientific advances that have allowed biotechnologists to manipulate biological organisms and its products to form what is now known as modern biotechnology. The most common areas of biotechnology are industrial biotechnology, agricultural biotechnology and the medical sciences.

What Do I Need to Study to Become a Biotechnologist?

Studying biotechnology is multidisciplinary, incorporating areas like engineering, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. Genomics and bioinformatics are also key elements to developing a career in biotech. A biotechnologist would normally require an advanced degree to improve career prospects; however, a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a biology-related discipline can lead to entry-level positions. A related master's degree will be useful for those looking to specialize in biotechnology and enhance their knowledge. A PhD related to biotechnology, possibly combined with a medical degree, is essential for medical scientists who would like to pursue work in top-level research or teaching.

What Career Options Do I Have as a Biotechnologist?

Biotechnologist have a variety of career options because its applicability is so wide. Biotechnology is involved in numerous industrial sectors such as agriculture, marine biotech, food science/production, pharmaceutical, human health, nanotechnology, environment and bioengineering. Biotechnologists may be most commonly known in the area of medical research where the most common occupations are geneticists, clinical research associates, laboratory technicians, and bioengineers. However, agricultural and industrial biotechnology are areas that could be of interest. Careers in agricultural biotechnology include plant breeders and animal research associates. Industrial biotechnology careers include process development associates and assay analysts.

How Much Does a Biotechnologist Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from May 2017, the average annual pay for a biochemist or biophysicist was $91,190 a year with the salary ranging between $48,410 and $177,840 per year. Biochemists and biophysicists in wholesale trade, management and consulting services earned the most, while those working in the education sector earned the least. The average annual salary for medical scientists was $82,090 that same year. Medical scientists earned between $45,120 and $160,520, according to the BLS. Pharmaceutical and manufacturing paid the most, while education paid the least in earnings.

What Makes Biotechnology an Exciting Career?

Biotechnology can be a very rewarding career and is one of the fastest growing industries with jobs all over the globe. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the number of jobs for biochemists, biophysicists and medical scientists is expanding at rates faster than average, from 2016-2026. With recent advancements in modern biotechnology, such as discoveries in nanotechnology, using cleaner energy, increasing crop yields, genetic engineering, and gene/stem cell therapy, the biotechnology industry is improving people's daily lives, as well as working to address global food shortages.

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