Why You Should Major in Biotechnology
- Biotechnology involves using biological organisms to create products and new technologies.
- Jobs in biotechnology can vary significantly in salary, demand, and outlook.
- Most biotechnology majors specialize in medicine, agriculture, energy, or the environment.
- Popular biotechnology subfields include gene therapy and vaccine development.
When the world came to a sudden halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone turned to the one group of people who could lead us back to safety: medical scientists. And not just any medical scientists, but those who held biotechnology degrees and could develop vaccines and drugs to combat the virus.
This is just one example of the many types of career paths biotechnology majors can pursue. Society constantly faces problems, which can often be solved using a combination of biology and technology. That's why there will always be a job market for biotechnology majors.
If you're considering a biotechnology degree, this article can help you decide whether it's right for you.
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What Is Biotechnology?
Biotechnology refers to the combination of biology and technology, with professionals using living organisms and the principles of biology to develop products and solve problems. Obviously, that's a very broad definition that can apply to many jobs, some of which don't even seem like they'd have much in common with one another.
Biotechnology majors typically focus on one of four areas: medicine, agriculture, energy, or the environment. Though they can work in nearly any industry, these fields remain the largest areas of concentration for biotechnology degree-holders.
What Is the Job Demand for Biotechnology?
As societal needs evolve, so too does the demand for biotechnology professionals. Over time these changes will determine which jobs are most in demand, and which are left by the wayside.
A biotechnology major equips you with transferable skills that can be used for a wide array of jobs.
These societal shifts are why not all biotechnology jobs boast the same level of demand. In general, biotechnology is a good major to choose, as the field equips you with transferable skills that can be used for a wide array of jobs. But when we zero in on specific subdisciplines, things change.
For example, the job prospects for wildlife biologists and medical scientists — both a type of biotechnologist — differ dramatically. Currently, just 19,300 wildlife biologist jobs are available in the U.S., compared with 130,700 medical scientist positions.
Here are some examples of jobs you could get with a biotechnology major:
|Job||Median Annual Salary||Entry-Level Education||Projected Job Growth (2019-29)|
|Agriculture and Food Scientist||$65,160||Bachelor's||6%|
|Clinical Laboratory Technologist||$53,120||Bachelor's||7%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Earning a Biotechnology Degree
Before you start your journey to earning a biotechnology degree, ask yourself whether you're interested in taking the following courses:
- Math: Calculus, trigonometry, statistics
- Biology and Chemistry: Genetics, organic chemistry, anatomy/physiology
- English: Technical writing, oral communication
If these topics appeal to you, a good starting point would be a bachelor's degree. This will allow you to work in most entry-level positions doing lab work or data collection. If you're interested in leading research projects and publishing studies, you'll need at least a master's degree or doctorate.
In some cases, it may be possible to earn an advanced biotechnology degree online, though it's more likely you'll be doing it in person. Most science training programs require you to complete a thesis research project that will generally involve in-person work.
What Skills Will You Gain in a Biotechnology Program?
It might feel overwhelming to choose just one biotechnology career track. Fortunately, many of the skills you'll learn in this degree program are transferable across jobs and industries. Here are some of the major skills you'll gain in a biotechnology degree program:
- Lab Work: Biotechnology classes teach you how to work safely and follow standard operating protocols in a lab environment.
- Communication: Your discoveries will be useless if no one knows about them. This is why biotechnology programs place a heavy emphasis on developing students' reading, writing, and public speaking skills.
- Quantitative Skills: You'll learn how to collect and present data for maximum effect.
- Entrepreneurship Skills: Most lucrative biotechnology work today is being developed by startups and fledgling companies, so you'll need to be familiar with basic business practices.
What Fields Can Biotechnology Majors Enter?
As previously stated, most biotechnology majors end up in one of four main areas:
Biological organisms are basically just really complicated machines. You can fix machines, but it takes a ton of work and funding, especially for serious problems like cancer and genetic diseases.
It's estimated that roughly 50% of people are alive today because of the Haber-Bosch process, which produces fertilizer. To feed the rest of the world's growing population, we'll need more Habers and Bosches.
Like it or not, humans have mostly been a scourge on this planet. But by developing the right technology, we can clean up our mess, save nature, and create a long-lasting world we're proud of.
Energy is necessary but expensive to produce. As oil becomes scarcer, alternative energy technology will take over, raising the need for specialists in this field.
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3 Popular Biotechnology Subfields You Can Specialize In
There's a lot going on in the field of biotechnology these days. Here are three of the hottest areas you can study and work in.
Vaccine Development and Manufacturing
The coronavirus outbreak has shown us the startling effects devastating diseases can have on society.
The best way to remedy a pandemic on a population-level scale is to create a vaccine. But vaccines aren't easy to develop for every microorganism — especially not overnight. And with the human population increasing and encroaching more on wildlife areas, experts predict that the frequency of pandemics will only ramp up going forward.
Though frightening, at least these prospects ensure job security for people with biotechnology degrees.
Most of the drugs available today work by tweaking the levels of chemicals already found in your body. But what if you could go back to the source — your genetic code, that is — to adjust those blueprints to produce those chemicals, all without having to rely on drugs?
That's the mission of gene therapy. For instance, say your pancreas doesn't produce insulin and you develop diabetes as a result. Instead of administering medication, scientists could attempt to re-hardwire your insulin-producing cells.
Gene therapy is a subfield that requires a lot of careful ethical consideration, yet offers nearly limitless possibilities.
Another consequence of our increasing population is the rise in pollution. But what if we could engineer things that eliminated this pollution — specifically, using microorganisms?
Known as bioremediation, this branch of science is poised to take off in a huge way. With this technology, we can clean up polluted and abandoned mines, break down plastics in the ocean, and even scrub carbon dioxide from the plumes of manufacturing plants.
If something needs to be cleaned up, there's a good chance that there's a microorganism out there that can do the job. We just need a biotechnologist to find or create it first.
The Value of a Biotechnology Career
Today's world faces a lot of challenges that will continue to pose problems for us in the future. Not all of these issues can be solved with biotechnology, but many can.
Aside from benefiting society, a biotechnology major can be personally advantageous. You'll learn transferable skills, study thought-provoking problems, and most likely earn a high salary, especially if you work in the private industry.
Indeed, the possibilities for biotechnology jobs are as endless as your ideas.
Feature Image: Thana Prasongsin / Moment / Getty Images