Biotechnology careers offer strong salaries in a growing field. Students working toward a career in biotechnology gain important communication, research, and critical thinking skills. Biotechnologists work in diverse environments, including laboratories and manufacturing plants.
The following guide covers common educational requirements, career opportunities, and resources within biotechnology.
Why Pursue a Career in Biotechnology?
Biotechnology programs prepare students for lucrative careers in the field. Biotechnology majors may be able to pursue concentrations like biodefense and biotechnology enterprise, and they should possess the critical thinking skills required to complete STEM coursework. Students also learn to work effectively with myriad instruments and devices, developing an effective toolbox of technical skills.
Required coursework for biotechnology majors teaches several applicable skills, resulting in ample career opportunities. While biological technicians earn a median annual salary of $45,860, salaries can grow rapidly as worker's increase their experience and education.
Biotechnology Career Outlook
Biotechnology careers include positions like biomedical engineer and laboratory technician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biomedical engineers earned a median annual salary of $91,410 in 2019. The BLS projects 5% job growth for these professionals between 2019 and 2029. During the same period, the BLS projects 7% growth for clinical laboratory technicians, who earn a median annual salary of $53,120.
As medical technology continues to evolve, the need for experienced professionals in the biotechnology field should continue to grow. The following table provides average annual salaries for a few biotechnology careers based on experience.
|Research Laboratory Technician||$36,580||$38,540||$44,940||$50,630|
|Research Associate, Biotechnology||$51,920||$58,160||$62,380||$67,200|
|Research Scientist, Biotechnology||$81,270||$82,760||$86,060||$92,510|
Skills Gained With a Biotechnology Degree
Biotech careers require a broad skill set. For example, biological technicians must know how to set up and maintain laboratory instruments and equipment, while medical scientists need expertise in research methodologies and design to assess the effectiveness of new technologies.
Biotechnology programs equip students with the knowledge and skills through intensive classroom instruction, laboratory work, and field-based learning experiences, such as internships and fellowships. Some specialized roles may also require additional on-the-job training.
Biotechnology professionals need strong analytical skills to conduct scientific experiments. A biomedical engineer, for example, may need to analyze the results of multiple animal model experiments to determine the safety and effectiveness of a new artificial organ. Biotechnology programs feature extensive laboratory work to help students develop these skills.
Biological technicians, scientists, and engineers must communicate their processes and findings to expert and nontechnical audiences. They also need strong written communication skills to draft research papers, technical reports, and policy briefs. To hone these skills, students write papers, collaborate on group projects, and make presentations to their instructors and classmates.
- Critical Thinking
In addition to conducting experiments, biotechnologists must think critically about their findings. For instance, when testing pharmacological compounds, researchers must determine whether a substance has an effect on a given disease while considering other variables, such as the unique character of a test subject's immune system. Case studies and laboratory practice help students practice critical thinking.
Experimental observation requires meticulous recordkeeping. In biotechnology programs, students must track all aspects of their testing environment and intervention, including the conditions under which they assess new devices and medicines, the exact procedures they follow, and all results. Most programs feature at least one course on basic laboratory procedures.
Jobs in biotechnology require diverse technical skills. A bioinstrumentation specialist, for example, must know how to develop, evaluate, and use electronic instruments, such as magnetic resonance imaging devices. These instruments aid in the diagnosis and treatment of medical issues. The exact types of technical skills developed in a biotechnology program depend on your chosen concentration and career path.
Biotechnology Career Paths
Careers for a biotechnology major can take varying forms, leading to jobs in diverse environments. Many programs — especially at the graduate level — offer concentrations to prepare students for specific career paths in biotechnology. Read on to learn more about concentrations in specific fields and the careers to which they lead.
Individuals who choose a concentration in biodefense often go on to work for the military, government agencies, or private defense contractors. These students take coursework in subjects like vaccinology, the immunology of infectious diseases, and biodefense and infectious disease laboratory methods.
Specializing in bioinformatics equips you with the knowledge and skills needed to analyze, manage, and draw findings from biological and medical data. In addition to taking computer science and information technology classes, bioinformatics students typically explore topics such as biostatistics, next-generation DNA sequencing and analysis, and molecular phylogenetic techniques.
- Biotechnology Enterprise
During their undergraduate or graduate studies, aspiring biotechnology entrepreneurs may study financial and personnel administration, technology transfer and commercialization, and regulatory affairs within the biotech sector. This coursework, usually coupled with an internship or field-based learning experience, helps students prepare to launch and lead their own business ventures.
- Regenerative and Stem Cell Technologies
Regenerative and stem cell technologies can treat a variety of diseases and disorders, including Alzheimer's, heart disease, and spinal cord injuries. In this concentration, students take courses in gene therapy, stem cell biology, and stem cell culture laboratory methods.
- Regulatory Affairs
Some students opt to work in regulatory affairs, ensuring an organization's biotechnology research and development complies with various local, state, and federal codes and regulations. Coursework in this area includes clinical trial management, marketing in a regulated environment, and regulatory strategies in biopharmaceuticals.
How to Start Your Career in Biotechnology
Your professional opportunities within the biotechnology industry largely depend on the type of degree you earn. For example, earning an associate degree may qualify you for some entry-level roles, like biological, medical, or clinical laboratory technician.
However, jobs in biotechnology increasingly require additional education, as professionals in this field must conduct experiments, work with large datasets, and develop and use complex medical devices and instruments. With a bachelor of science in biotechnology, career options include biomedical engineer and senior biological technician. Earning a master's degree in biotechnology prepares you for specialized and supervisory roles, such as laboratory manager.
While you may find some biochemist, biophysicist, and medical scientist opportunities available to master's degree-holders, advancement into these positions typically requires a doctorate. Additionally, you generally need to hold a doctorate to teach or conduct biotechnology research at a college or university.
Associate Degree in Biotechnology
Most associate programs consist of 60 credits and require two years of full-time study. Students begin by taking general education classes in subjects like English composition, psychology, and the humanities. They advance into major coursework, exploring subjects like organic chemistry, genetics, and professional ethics in medicine and biotechnology.
An associate degree can serve as a bridge to a bachelor's, which is the minimum requirement for most jobs in the field. Many public colleges and universities maintain transfer agreements with community colleges in their state, making it easier to apply credits from your associate degree toward a program at a four-year institution.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Biotechnology?
- Clinical Research Associate
Clinical research associates support the work of scientists. For example, they may monitor and record the vital signs of patients undergoing experimental procedures. They may also analyze bodily fluids and tissue samples. In smaller research labs, you can take on these roles with an associate degree or postsecondary certificate.
- Research Laboratory Technician
Research laboratory technicians provide administrative and technical assistance in laboratory settings. They may order and organize supplies, set up instruments, and record data at the direction of a scientist or research associate. When hiring for these positions, employers usually prefer candidates with some form of postsecondary training.
- Quality Assurance Associate
Quality assurance associates help ensure the safety and effectiveness of medical devices, drugs, and other biotechnology products. They often inspect raw materials, ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, evaluate prototypes, and conduct inspections of production facilities. You can apply for these jobs with an associate degree, although advancement typically requires a bachelor's.
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology
Bachelor's programs in biotechnology equip students with knowledge and skills in areas like bioinformatics, molecular and cellular biology, and current trends and applications in life sciences. Most programs also require students to complete a series of courses in laboratory management and safety, preparing graduates for the extensive laboratory work they must complete to earn their degree.
Some programs require students to participate in an internship at a hospital or research center. Others may require students to apply their classroom learning to an independent research project, often referred to as a capstone.
High school students can prepare for undergraduate programs in biotechnology by completing coursework in biology, chemistry, and statistics.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Biotechnology?
- Research Associate
Research associates conduct experiments and analyze data. Many work in clinical settings, such as a pharmaceutical development laboratory. They generally work under the supervision of a research scientist, although they have more independence than technicians and clinical assistants. Most of these roles require a bachelor's in biotechnology or a related field.
- Research Scientist, Biotechnology
Biotechnology scientists conduct research for organizations and companies in a variety of industries. For example, they may develop better preservatives to prevent food spoilage. They may also test whether a new cancer treatment is safe for human use. While you can become a research scientist with just a bachelor's, many of these jobs require a master's degree.
- Laboratory Manager
Laboratory managers oversee the daily operations of a lab or research center. Some focus exclusively on administrative responsibilities, such as creating budgets and hiring staff, while others play a greater role in directing research activities. Larger organizations may prefer to hire candidates with a master's, although you can often become a lab manager with a bachelor's and significant professional experience.
Master's Degree in Biotechnology
The exact nature of master's coursework depends on the concentration you choose. For example, a student concentrating in drug design and discovery may take classes in drug targets, FDA case studies, and good laboratory and manufacturing processes. Alternatively, a learner specializing in biotechnology entrepreneurship generally explores more business-oriented topics, such as intellectual property, startup strategy, and personnel management.
Regardless of your area of interest, most biotechnology master's programs require students to either write a research-based thesis or participate in a field-based learning experience.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Biotechnology?
- Senior Research Associate
Senior research associates supervise the work of junior associates and technicians. They offer guidance on proper experiment design and drawing sound judgments from results. They typically specialize in a particular facet of biotechnology, such as drug development or medical device manufacturing. Most companies prefer to hire research supervisors with a master's degree.
- Senior Research Scientist, Biotechnology
Senior research scientists generally lead project teams composed of other scientists, laboratory technicians, and research associates. In addition to overseeing research and development activities, these scientists may need to perform certain administrative functions, such as applying for grants or training new hires. These roles often require a master's or doctoral degree.
Doctoral Degree in Biotechnology
To teach or conduct biotechnology research, you typically need to earn a doctoral degree. You may also need a doctorate to qualify for senior leadership or scientific roles.
The time required to earn a doctorate can vary considerably. Most full-time students begin by taking 2-3 years of courses in subjects like neuroscience and neuropharmacology, the regulation of gene expression, and molecular therapeutics. Students must then pass a comprehensive examination to formally begin the dissertation process.
With support from their faculty advisor, doctoral candidates create a dissertation proposal, conduct original research, and summarize their methodology and findings in a written document that is usually 100-200 pages in length. Candidates must then defend their dissertation before a faculty committee to earn their doctorate.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Biotechnology?
- Director, Product Development
Product development directors are responsible for the invention, design, manufacture, and launch of new products. At a biotechnology company, for example, a director may oversee the development of a neural interface that allows individuals to better control prosthetic limbs. An advanced degree can give you a competitive edge when applying for this kind of leadership post.
Professors teach students and conduct research at colleges and universities. They may also undertake certain administrative duties, such as chairing a biology department, reviewing student applications, and participating in the faculty search process. While you can sometimes serve as a professor at a community college with just a master's, most of these positions require a doctorate.
- Medical Scientist
Medical scientists conduct research meant to improve human health and wellness. They oversee clinical trials, conduct studies of diseases and disorders, and invent medical devices. They often specialize in a field like neurology or cardiology. Medical scientists typically have a Ph.D. in a life science discipline, although some earn an MD instead.
How to Advance Your Career in Biotechnology
After earning a degree in biotechnology, there are many ways to advance your career. Further education provides the most obvious way to bolster career prospects. Whether in the form of continuing education, certificate coursework, or specialized master's and doctoral work, additional academic work boosts career opportunities and salaries.
Working actively with professional organizations and networking can also open doors to more lucrative and fulfilling positions. Read on to learn more about how to advance your biotechnology career.
Certifications and/or Licensure
While licensure isn't required for most biotechnology careers, professional certification can help workers in the field increase their salaries and earn promotions.
For example, certified biomedical technicians possess the training necessary to repair complex medical equipment. The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation offers a certification for professionals interested in following this path. Additionally, conducting research in a lab setting does not necessarily require additional credentials, but earning a medical lab scientist certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology can boost your career prospects.
After you choose a specialization within the field of biotechnology, consult professional organizations for more information regarding available certifications that may be pertinent to your career.
Taking advantage of continuing education opportunities is an effective method to advance your career in biotechnology. In this increasingly competitive field, specialized academic training can boost career opportunities. Biotechnologists work with complex medical instruments and conduct complicated experiments, which often requires sophisticated training. Higher levels of education can also lead to specialized, supervisory roles.
Advanced degrees require substantial investments of time and money. However, certificate programs provide a relatively quick and inexpensive alternative path toward more specialized knowledge.
Elite institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and Tufts University offer certificate programs that analyze current research and bring different approaches to the discipline. Other online certificate programs take a more technical approach, focusing on the hardware and software implemented in the biomedical field. Individuals can also take advantage of open courseware to learn more about a particular subject that interests them.
While advanced degrees and additional academic certificates can help you develop new skills, investing in professional relationships, staying current on new research, and actively participating in professional organizations is also important.
Networking and expanding meaningful professional connections with others in the field may open exciting new career opportunities. Participating in professional conferences and becoming active on biotechnology social media groups can also boost your visibility. Organizations like the Biomedical Engineering Society and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering offer training, conferences, and public policy advocacy.
How to Switch Your Career to Biotechnology
Biotechnology is a broad area of biology, covering topics like genomics, applied immunology, and the development of pharmaceutical therapies and diagnostic tests. As such, careers in biotechnology take many forms. Professionals with a science background may feel more at home in the field, but the industry also offers roles in sales and research.
If a career in lab-based research and development is your goal, you must seek appropriate academic and technical knowledge. Transitioning to that environment from a similar discipline may not require additional education.
Where Can You Work as a Biotechnology Professional?
Biotechnology students can apply their research and development skills in many different professional environments. Biotechnology professionals often work in the medical industry, taking on roles in pharmaceutical manufacturing and medical equipment production. Graduates also work with the military in public and private sector positions.
Read on to learn about five common industries that employ biotechnologists.
- Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing
Many biotechnologists work in the pharmaceutical industry. They may conduct research, maintain laboratory instruments, and analyze organic substances like blood and drugs.
- Federal Executive Branch
Biotechnologists frequently pursue research-based public sector jobs at the FDA, NASA, and Department of Defense. Largely working in laboratory settings, these professionals develop medical equipment and research organic compounds.
- Scientific Research and Development Services
Professionals in this industry work to create and improve upon products and services related to biotechnology. They may find employment in a variety of fields, including physical and life sciences or engineering.
- Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories Management
Experienced biotechnologists with advanced education typically fill these roles. Seasoned scientists and effective managers handle tasks such as staffing, project management, and budgeting.
- Electromedical Instrument Sales
Medical instrument sales requires biotechnologists with creative, interpersonal, and technical skills. These professionals may sell instruments to universities, hospitals, and other healthcare settings.
Resources for Biotechnology Majors
Professional organizations, open courseware, and industry-specific publications all offer information that may be beneficial for a career in biotechnology. Read on to learn more about each of these resources.
- Professional Organizations
Biomedical Engineering Society: Founded in 1968, BMES represents more than 7,500 biomedical engineers and bioengineering professionals around the globe. The society hosts a variety of research conferences and networking events, publishes three scholarly journals, and gives awards to educators and practitioners. BMES also sponsors mentorship programs at its college chapters.
BioSpace: BioSpace connects and informs organizations and professionals working in fields that advance health and quality of life. In addition to a national jobs board, BioSpace offers a variety of career resources, including guides on preparing for an interview and crafting a resume and cover letter. The organization also creates profiles of individual life sciences employers.
Biotechnology Innovation Organization: BIO is a trade association representing biotech companies, colleges and universities, and government agencies. The organization publishes a biotechnology jobs report, policy briefs on issues like patient access, and economic development best practice guides. BIO also hosts conferences organized around topics like intellectual property and food and agricultural development.
American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering: AIMBE represents accomplished scholars and scientists in bioengineering. While its membership is restricted to 1,500 fellows, anyone can access the institute's free online resources on subjects like medical device patenting, regulatory affairs, and the use of nanotechnologies to target disease. AIMBE also provides resources specifically for students considering careers in the field.
Society for Biomaterials: SFB promotes advancement in all aspects of biomaterial science. Students can apply for a biotechnology scholarship, participate in a biomaterials education challenge, and join a college chapter of the society. SFB also hosts a jobs board and organizes an annual conference.
- Open Courseware
MIT Biology OpenCourseware - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Offered through MIT's biology department, these undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral courses focus on topics like experimental molecular biology/biotechnology and social studies of bioscience and biotech.
Open Courseware for Biotechnology - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Rennselaer's chemical and biological engineering department provides at least a dozen online courses focused on biotechnology. Topics include challenges for fermentation engineering, photobioreactors, and analysis of microbial growth rate.
Biotechnology OpenCourseWare - Delft University of Technology: The oldest and largest Dutch university of technology, Delft offers several free courses online. The biotechnology course provides the basic framework of process design for bio-based products like feedstock, chemicals, and biofuels.
Journal of Biotechnology: This journal publishes research on novel and innovative aspects of biotechnology. Articles include expansive works of research and shorter reviews, covering topics like genetic and molecular biology, chemical and bioprocess engineering, and advances in computer software related to the field. This journal also provides an open-access companion journal.
Nature Biotechnology: This publication features biotechnology research and engages with social and political issues emerging in the field. Published monthly, the journal covers topics like agriculture and ethical issues.
Trends in Biotechnology: Taking a broad view of biotechnology, Trends in Biotechnology publishes original research, reviews, and other editorial work. Major themes include bioprocessing, therapeutics, and agro-environments. The journal also accepts articles focusing on law and intellectual property, bioethics, and the economics of biotechnology.
Journal of Commercial Biotechnology: This journal is an international publication for bioscience business professionals. Published quarterly, the journal appeals to professionals looking to enhance their knowledge of the biotechnology industry, improve their management and strategy skills, and keep up with relevant changes in the field. Covered topics include policy, finance, and bioethics.
Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology: This journal publishes research from a variety of professionals. Scientists, engineers, clinicians, and business professionals contribute to this publication, bridging the gap between scientific discovery and clinical application.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is a degree in biotechnology worth it?
A degree in biotechnology is a great option for science-minded students and can lead to lucrative careers with solid job growth prospects. Learners with a natural inclination toward STEM coursework and an interest in working in a laboratory setting have the potential to thrive academically and professionally.
- Is biotechnology in demand?
Many biotechnology jobs are in demand. For example, the BLS projects 5% job growth for biological technicians between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than the average projected growth for jobs in the U.S.
- What kind of jobs can you get with a biotechnology degree?
Biotechnology graduates can pursue careers in the public and private sectors, working in pharmaceuticals and conducting lab-based research.
- How much do biotechnology majors make?
According to PayScale, biotechnology graduates with a bachelor's degree earn average salaries of more than $70,000 per year. However, biotechnologists in executive and management positions routinely earn more than $100,000 annually. Some entry-level positions may not seem especially lucrative initially, but increasing your education and experience can pay significant dividends.