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Biotechnology Careers

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How to Become a Biotechnologist

Biotechnology is the place where technology and the life sciences meet. Specialists in this cutting edge field alter the genetic material of living organisms to create new medicines and to improve crops and animals. Biotechnology specialists usually work in one of three areas: medical and pharmaceutical research, agriculture, and manufacture of biotechnology products.

Geneticist career
Geneticists are the people involved in mapping the genes in human DNA, but they also research the DNA of plants and animals. These laboratory scientists usually work in medical or agricultural research.

Biomedical engineer career
Biomedical engineers are experts in biology, medicine, and engineering. They develop state-of the-art medical devices from prosthetic limbs to laser systems used in surgery to artificial organs. Hospitals and research facilities are the major employers of biomedical engineers.

Clinical research coordinator and associate careers
These clinical research specialists test and monitor new drugs and medical procedures to make sure they're safe. They recruit, screen, and monitor patients in clinical trials. They may also design these tests and analyze the results. Clinical research coordinators and associates work for large hospitals and private laboratories.

Plant breeder career
For centuries, people have crossbred plants to produce hybrids with desirable traits. However, today's plant breeders use biotechnology principles to modify the genes of plants and to incorporate genetic material from other organisms into the plants' DNA. Workers in this highly regulated industry typically work in offices or research laboratories.

Animal research associate careers
Animal research associates primarily work with laboratory animals. Their job tasks include genetic modification of lab animals, running diagnostic tests, caring for animals, taking tissue samples, and documenting research. These workers work in research facilities, private clinics, animal hospitals, and farms.

Product development associate
The focus of product development associates is improving product yield and reducing costs in the manufacturing processes of biotechnology products. They work in manufacturing facilities.

Assay analyst career
Assay analysts work in laboratories with tissue and cell cultures. Their job duties include preparing, maintaining, monitoring and testing samples in Petri dishes and slides.

Degree Programs and Training for Biotechnology Specialist Career

Geneticists usually have PhDs in their field and are among the most highly trained biotechnology workers. Prior to entering a doctoral program, they typically earn a bachelor's degree in biology or genetics.

Biomedical engineers must have bachelors' degrees in biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, electronics engineering or a related area to qualify for entry-level jobs. Clinical research coordinators and associates also begin their careers with bachelors of science degrees or registered nurse training, although associate and master's degrees are appropriate for some positions.

On the agricultural side, Plant breeder and animal research associate positions usually require a bachelor's degree. Advanced training for plant breeders includes masters and doctoral programs.

Production jobs may require less education. Process development associates usually earn bachelor's degrees in science or engineering, but assay analyst jobs may require only a high school diploma.

Biotechnology Specialist Career Certification and Licensing

The federal government regulates biotechnology products and research, and workers must be informed about these restrictions.

Biotechnology Specialists' Earnings

Earnings of biotechnology workers vary widely. The average salary of federally employed geneticists, who typically hold PhDs, was $91,000 in 2007. Other federally employed biological scientists earned $72,000 in the same year. Technicians and production workers earn considerably less.

Biotechnology Specialists' Employment Outlook

Biotechnology is an exciting, growing field. The fields of agricultural services, drug manufacturing, and health services are increasing. However, employment in biotechnology is subject to fluctuations in funding.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 Edition; Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.