The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for biological technicians will increase by 7% from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average rate of growth for the economy as a whole. Related occupations, such as biochemists and biophysicists, medical scientists, and medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, should experience comparable growth over that same period.
Jobs in biotechnology pay extremely well. For example, in 2018, biomedical engineers earned a median salary of $88,550, roughly $50,000 more per year than the median pay for all other occupations. Biochemists and biophysicists enjoyed a median salary of $93,280 that same year.
This page provides an overview of biotechnology careers, including information on the various types of degrees available and advice on finding a job after graduation. It also features a list of resources for both biotechnology students and professionals.
Skills Gained in a Biotechnology Program
Biotech careers require a broad skill set. For example, biological technicians must know how to set up and maintain laboratory instruments and equipment. Medical scientists need deep expertise in research methodologies and design to assess the effectiveness of new technologies.
Biotechnology programs equip students with the knowledge and skills they need 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 and other complex analyses. 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 both 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.
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.
Finally, 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, that aid in the diagnosis and treatment of medical issues. The exact kind of technical skills you develop in biotechnology programs depends on your chosen concentration and career path.
Why Pursue a Career in Biotechnology?
Careers in biotechnology give you the chance to work on the cutting edge of technological development, treat chronic medical issues, and even save lives. In addition to providing the opportunity to enhance societal health and wellness, jobs in this field offer exceptional salaries.
While biomedical engineers earned a median salary of $88,550 in 2018, the top 10% of these specialists, typically those with the most education and experience, earned more than $144,350 that year. Even those in entry-level roles, like biological technician or medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, make significantly more than the national average.
Academic achievement and work experience can lead to even more lucrative positions. Many natural sciences managers, for instance, have both a master's degree and multiple years of relevant professional experience. These individuals are in charge of overseeing the work of teams of scientists while directing an organization's research and development activities. In 2018, natural sciences managers earned a median salary of $123,860, with the highest earners commanding salaries in excess of $208,000.
Finally, many students choose to work in biotechnology because they enjoy the prospect of lifelong learning. In addition to holding a doctorate, medical scientists and biochemists must stay abreast of the latest research through continuing education.
How Much Do Biotechnology Graduates Make?
The salary you can expect as a biotechnology graduate depends on a variety of factors. According to PayScale, the median salary for individuals with a bachelor of science in biotechnology majors is $66,000. Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce reports that biomedical engineers with a graduate degree earn, on average, about $17,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's.
Where you live and the industry in which you work can also affect your compensation. Medical scientists working in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, for instance, earned a median salary of $115,450 in 2018, while those serving in public and private hospitals earned only 82,560.
How to Become a Biotechnology Research Scientist
Earn Your Degree
Most jobs in biotechnology require at least a bachelor's degree. For example, you must have a bachelor's to take on professional roles such as biological technician, biomedical engineer, or medical laboratory technologist. To supervise biotechnicians, you may also need to complete graduate-level coursework in subjects like financial administration and personnel management.
In order to conduct biotechnology research, however, you typically need to hold a doctoral degree. Depending on your academic and professional interests, you can earn a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in fields like biochemistry, biophysics, or biology. Aspiring biotechnology research scientists may also choose to earn a doctor of medicine (M.D.) degree. Students in M.D. programs often specialize in fields like neurology, gerontology, or oncology.
Ph.D. programs typically combine classroom and laboratory instruction with independent research. Students must write and defend a dissertation to earn their doctorate. M.D. programs do not require a thesis but typically include significant periods of supervised practice, like internships, residencies, and fellowships. M.D. and Ph.D. programs prepare students to both conduct research and provide direct care to patients.
While some graduate schools and universities offer online Ph.D. programs, you generally cannot earn an M.D. online.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Biotechnology Research Scientist?
You must have at least a bachelor's degree to become a biotechnology research scientist. Most bachelor's programs consist of 120 credits, and full-time students usually graduate in four years. Part-time students may need 6-8 years to meet all of their program's graduation requirements.
You can earn your bachelor's faster in one of several ways. For example, if you already hold an associate degree, you may be able to transfer up to 60 credits into an undergraduate program at a four-year college or university.
Some online, accelerated programs allow you to advance through your coursework as soon as you meet certain milestones or demonstrate an understanding of core concepts. Self-paced learning enables you to graduate faster but does not offer the same structure or support of cohort-based programs.
Finally, some research roles require an advanced degree. Most full-time students can earn a master's in two years, while a doctorate may require 4-7 years of full-time study.
Concentrations Available for Biotechnology Majors
- Upon graduation, students who choose a concentration in biodefense often work for the military, government agencies, or private defense contractors. In order to detect and respond to various biothreats, 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 are being used to treat a wide 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 is in compliance 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.
What Can You Do With a Biotechnology Degree?
Your professional opportunities within the biotechnology industry largely depend on the type of degree you have earned. For example, earning an associate degree qualifies you for entry-level roles like biological, medical, or clinical laboratory technician.
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 or senior biological technician. Earning a master's degree in biotechnology prepares you for specialized and supervisory roles, such as laboratory manager.
Finally, while you may find biochemist, biophysicist, or medical scientist opportunities available to individuals holding a master's degree, advancement typically requires a Ph.D. or similar doctoral degree. You generally must also hold a doctorate in order to teach or conduct biotechnology research at a college or university, especially if you plan to seek tenure.
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-specific 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 generally the minimum requirement for most jobs in the field. Many public colleges and universities hold transfer agreements with community colleges in their state, making it easy to apply credits from your associate degree toward a program at a four-year institution.
- 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 just 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 may take on these jobs with just an associate degree, though 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 them 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.
- 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, though 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 invent a new preservative that better prevents 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, though you can often become a manager with a bachelor's and significant professional experience.
Master's Degree in Biotechnology
Master's programs in biotechnology usually consist of 30-60 credits. Full-time students typically need one or two years to earn their advanced degree.
The exact nature of your 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. 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 master's programs require students to either write a research-based thesis or participate in a field-based learning experience.
- 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 the 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, like applying for grants or training new hires. These roles often require either a master's or doctoral degree.
Doctoral Degree in Biotechnology
To teach or conduct biotechnology research, you must first 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 three 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, usually 100-200 pages in length. Candidates must then defend their dissertation before a faculty committee to earn their doctorate.
- Director, Product Development
Product development directors hold broad responsibility 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 admission cases, and participating in the faculty search process. While you may 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, though some earn an M.D. instead.
Where Can I Work as a Biotechnology Graduate?
Biotechnology graduates go on to work in a wide variety of industries. You may, for instance, work at a college or university, supporting the research of a faculty member while you pursue a doctorate. You may instead work in research and development for an agricultural company, genetically engineering crops to produce larger yields. Some biotechnology professionals serve in government roles, ensuring that new medicines and medical devices are safe for the public.
In addition to the industry in which you work, where you choose to live also plays a large part in shaping your professional opportunities.
Employment of biotechnology professionals varies by state. For example, nearly 11,000 biological technicians worked in California in 2018, while only about 80 worked in Rhode Island. Massachusetts, however, boasted the highest number of technicians per capita.
Where you live also affects your salary. In 2018, biological technicians working in Massachusetts earned a median salary of $61,790, or roughly $17,000 more per year than the median pay for these roles across the country.
Generally, urban areas offer more jobs and higher salaries than rural locations, though people who live in smaller communities often enjoy a lower overall cost of living.
- Scientific Research and Development Services
Approximately 24,000 biotechnology professionals work in scientific research and development for private firms. Although some conduct basic research, most assist in the development of new nanotechnologies, drugs, or medical equipment.
Average Salary: $50,630
- Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
Another 18,750 biotechnologists work in higher education, supporting the efforts of research professors and scientists. In contrast to technicians working in the private sector, these professionals often conduct basic research without direct application.
Average Salary: $47,070
- Federal Executive Branch
Biological technicians working for federal agencies may test new medicines for the FDA, assist NASA scientists in developing biological sensors for astronauts, or create new medical devices for the Department of Defense.
Average Salary: $42,140
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
Hospitals employ biological technicians to analyze blood and tissue samples. They may help oncologists uncover the early signs of cancer or equip general practitioners with the information needed to provide long-term care to a patient.
Average Salary: $49,830
- Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing
Finally, just under 5,000 biotechnology professionals work in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. Depending on their role, they may research diseases, assess new treatments, or monitor manufacturing equipment.
Average Salary: $52,420
How Do You Find a Job in Biotechnology?
Many national job search websites, like Indeed and SimplyHired, advertise biotechnology jobs across the country. To find opportunities in your area, you can also contact the local chapter of one of the professional associations listed below. In addition, attend networking events organized by your college's career services office, your local chamber of commerce, or a biotech organization in your community.
Professional Resources for Biotechnology Majors
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 both educators and practitioners. BMES also sponsors mentorship programs at its college chapters.
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, with information on work environment and earning potential.
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.
AIMBE represents accomplished scholars and scientists in the field of bioengineering. While its membership is restricted to 1,500 fellows, anyone can access the institute's free online resources on subjects such as 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.
SFB promotes advancement in all aspects of biomaterial science, which is the use of substances engineered to interact with biological systems for a medical purpose. Students can apply for a biotechnology scholarship, participate in a biomaterials education challenge, or join a college chapter of the society. SFB also hosts a jobs board and organizes an annual conference.