What Can You Do with a Biotechnology Degree?

Biotechnology is an ancient field of study at the forefront of human potential. Defined as the manipulation of living organisms to produce or modify useful products, biotechnology reaches back over 10,000 years—from the modification of seed crops, to the selective breeding of livestock, to the invention of bread, beer, and wine—and the innovations it’s made haven’t slowed or stopped.

While the 20th century saw biotechnology discover penicillin, uncover the structure of DNA, and begin to map the human genome, the 21st century has pushed even further forward with the advent of personalized medicine, stem cell reprogramming, and bioinformatics.

In the modern era of biotechnology, with the aid of computational science, almost every living process can be mapped if not outright manipulated. New biotechnical techniques and products are developed every year in medicine, agriculture, the environment, and industry. As a result, biotechnology careers can vary dramatically in educational requirements, salary benefits, and work environments as a field that touches multiple disciplines.

Those in biotechnology can discover new ways to optimize food sources, sidestep genetic defects, cure terminal diseases, and extend human life. But regardless of the specialization one pursues, a degree in biotechnology is the first step into a world where the overarching mandate is to change the limits of what’s possible.

Here is a list of 12 careers to pursue with a biotechnology degree and the career outlook data, certification entities, and salary data for each profession.

Become an Animal Scientist

As a broad term, animal science covers the study of the biology of animals under the control of humankind. Biotechnology applies to this in two significant ways: one, the genetic manipulation of laboratory animals, such as mice and rats, in the interests of human development; and two, the study of livestock productivity and welfare. In the former, scientists may study the effects of a disease like Alzheimer’s or addiction to devise new genetic treatments. In the latter, they may develop edible vaccines or investigate the possibility of disease-resistant livestock.

For a profession that covers such a wide range of species and specialties, an animal scientist’s job outlook, educational requirements, salary, and work environment can vary widely. Still, a PhD is often a prerequisite for any position involving the genetic manipulation of biological processes. According to the BLS, animal scientists earn median annual salaries of $65,090 (BLS 2021).

The American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists (ARPAS) provides certification and continuing education for animal scientists and publishes a peer-reviewed journal supporting the field of animal science. Three levels of certification are available: Professional Animal Scientist (PAS), Registered Animal Specialist (RAS), and Registered Animal Product Specialist (RAPS). In addition, certifications are available to prove specialization with various agricultural and companion animals.

Become a Biofuels Engineer, Scientist or Technologist

Biofuels are alternative energy sources created from a combination of biomass and petroleum. Biodiesel and ethanol are considered first-generation biofuel technologies that are leading the way to fully renewable energy sources with the end goal of reducing carbon monoxide emissions and economic reliance on international sources of petroleum.

Biofuels are used for automotive and home heating purposes. The majority of biofuel in the United States is distilled from corn. Still, new developments aim to research whether other renewable by-products from grains, starchy vegetable skins, and fast-growing tree bark can be used to power vehicles and heat homes and businesses.

There are many ways to prepare for a career in biofuels technology, one of which is becoming a chemical engineer. The BLS shows that chemical engineering jobs are growing at 9 percent, approximately as fast as the national average (8 percent). Chemical engineers earn median annual salaries of $105,550 per year, and 2,400 new positions will be in-demand from 2020 to 2030 (BLS 2021). Engineers must earn a professional certification from the National Society of Professional Engineers to legally work.

  • Professional credentials: Professional Engineer (PE) in environmental engineering
  • Certification entity: National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
  • Median annual salary: $105,550

Become a Bioinformatics Specialist

Bioinformatics merges biological science and computer science. As the complexity and scope of biological understanding continue to grow, so does the complexity of the tools necessary to analyze it. As a result, big data and biotechnology concepts are becoming increasingly interdependent. Modern-day bioinformatics specialists take massive amounts of biological data—comparing multiple genes and their mutations, for example—and derive practical insights through computational means.

Whether developing the tools that mine the data or analyzing the integrity of the results, this requires an understanding of biological processes and statistical analysis, mathematics, and computer science. While twin PhDs were once the norm for those working in bioinformatics, more specialized and unified master’s degree programs are emerging as the field matures and the need grows.

According to the BLS, careers in computer and information research scientists, a similar career to bioinformatics specialists, are growing at 22 percent (BLS 2021). An estimated 7,200 new positions are expected to be created between 2020 and 2030, and the median salary for this career is $131,490.

There’s no industry-level certification for bioinformatics specialists, as educational and professional qualifications are often measured through computer programming language proficiency. However, aspiring bioinformatics specialists can take certification courses proving their proficiency in computing languages such as Linux, Python, Ruby, Perl, and Unix through organizations such as CompTIA.

  • Professional credentials: CompTIA Linux+
  • Certification entity: CompTIA
  • Median annual salary: $131,490

Become a Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineers explore the intersection of living and mechanical processes. They design products such as artificial limbs, internal organs, devices that regulate insulin, and laser systems that can be used in corrective eye surgery, helping people to see, hear, and walk again.

Biomedical engineers can work in various settings, from hospitals to research facilities or the commercial industry. The field of biomedical engineering is spread across multiple disciplines and a wide range of responsibilities, including product design, maintenance, sales, and patent law. Jobs in biomedical engineering are expected to grow faster than average in the next ten years as developments in smartphone technology and 3D printing advance alongside an aging population.

Most states require engineers to hold a professional license from the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). The initial engineering license is a PE or Professional Engineer, which engineers can earn after completing a four-year degree, working under a licensed PE for at least four years, passing two intensive competency exams, and earning a license from a state licensure board.

The BLS (2021) shows the median annual salary for biomedical engineers is $97,410.

  • Professional credentials: Professional Engineer (PE)
  • Certification entity: National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
  • Median annual salary: $97,410

Become a Biomedical Researcher

Biomedical researchers and medical scientists conduct research intended to improve overall human health. For example, they can design and conduct studies to investigate human disease, standardize drug delivery methods for mass manufacturing and distribution, or develop programs with health departments to improve overall patient outcomes.

Biomedical researchers, which fall under the same occupational category as bioengineers and biomedical engineers, are primarily funded by the federal government. Still, private pharmaceutical companies also employ a significant percentage too. Grant-funded biomedical researchers are often given the freedom to form their hypotheses and conduct experiments with little supervision but minimal resources.

On the other hand, those in private industry will have larger budgets but less freedom to explore avenues other than those that benefit the parent corporation. Due to an aging population and rapid advancements in medical science, the BLS shows the job outlook for biomedical researchers is expected to grow slightly faster (6 percent) than the average rate for all occupations (8 percent) between 2020 and 2030 (BLS 2021). The median annual salary for bioengineers and biomedical engineers is $97,410.

Biomedical researchers are encouraged to earn laboratory certification from the ASCP or specialize in credentials such as the Certified Associate in Biomedical Technology (CABT). The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) awarded this and other related certificates. The CABT certification lasts for five years, at which point an applicant will have to sit for and pass this or another examination to earn a related credential.

  • Professional credentials: Certified Associate in Biomedical Technology (CABT)
  • Certification entity: Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI)
  • Median annual salary: $97,410

Become a Biopharmaceutical Specialist

Those who pursue a career in biopharmaceuticals discover, design, manufacture, and commercialize DNA-derived biotechnology products, including antibodies, vaccines, biosimilars, cosmetics and skincare, and cellular immunotherapies.

Biopharmaceutical specialists can work at either end of the corporate scale—from the small startup firm to the multinational conglomerate—and the need is growing as quickly as the science. The Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America estimate that one-fourth of all new medicines will be biopharmaceuticals of one sort or another in the future. Due to biopharmaceuticals’ dynamic and complex regulatory landscape, development specialists must have an extensive background in biological sciences and comprehensive pharmaceutical training.

The Center for Professional Innovation and Education (CfPIE) provides several training and certification programs for biopharmaceutical specialists. Their certification programs are divided into biotech and pharmaceutical certification and medical device certification. To earn certification, applicants choose three core courses and one elective course. According to PayScale, in 2022, the median annual salary for a biopharmaceutical specialist is $71,000 per year.

  • Professional credentials: 18 certifications available
  • Certification entity: Center for Professional Innovation and Education (CfPIE)
  • Median annual salary: $71,000

Become a Clinical Research Coordinator

Clinical research coordinators make sure new medicines are safe through rigorous clinical trials and sound scientific research practices. They screen clinical trial patients, develop research programs, or oversee an entire laboratory’s administrative procedures and policies. Clinical research coordinators usually work with large hospitals or independent research centers. Still, they can also work at an executive level to design a pharmaceutical company’s overall strategy or budget resources for projects that meet fiscal demands and regulatory standards.

Although the job outlook for clinical research coordinators is expected to grow faster than average, competition for those jobs is likely to be substantial due to the high salaries, the level of individual control over projects, and the desirable access to resources that go along with them. Top clinical research coordinators often pair a degree in the natural sciences with a graduate-level management degree that gives them the leadership and communication skills necessary to oversee large and complex research operations.

Median salaries for entry-level positions as clinical laboratory technologists start at $57,800 per year for candidates with bachelor’s degrees and increase to $137,900 per year for natural sciences managers or candidates with graduate degrees and multiple years of experience. According to the BLS, these professions are projected to grow faster than the national average compared to all occupations at rates of 11 percent and 6 percent, respectively, between 2020 and 2030 (BLS 2022).

Certifications abound for clinical research coordinators, and many start with the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) Clinical Research Coordinator (CCRC) exam. To be eligible to apply for this credential, candidates must meet one of the eligibility pathways, which typically includes earning a clinical research degree and earning 1,500 hours of professional experience.

  • Professional credentials: CCRC
  • Certification entity: Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP)
  • Median annual salary: $57,800 (clinical lab techs) or $137,900 (natural sciences managers)

Become a Craft Beer Brewer

One of the first recorded cases of biotechnology in action was the production of beer. And while the formula is elegantly simple—yeast plus barley and hops—the particular choice of dosage and strains of those ingredients requires biotechnical artistry. From mango pale ales to cucumber lagers, there’s no limit but imagination to the array of tastes one can create in the $22.2 billion industry that is craft beer brewing. But a lot of hard work goes into it, too, from adhering to FDA regulations to balancing the intricate combinations of flavor and strength to managing a facility and supply chain.

There aren’t official numbers to forecast the job market for craft beer brewers, but industry statistics show an ongoing trend. While overall beer production fell over the last year, craft beer production increased by 5 percent. In addition, the BLS shows careers in agricultural and food science are growing at a rate of 6 percent and that 2,000 new positions will be added between 2020 and 2030 (BLS 2021). The annual mean salary for this occupation is $74,160.

Professional certification for craft beer brewing is available through community colleges and universities. Programs include certificate programs for undergraduate and graduate degrees to teach students the science of craft beer brewing.

Master Brewers Association of the Americas is a non-profit professional organization dedicated to keeping industry standards high in educational programs teaching beer brewing and fermentation science. While they don’t award a credential, they recognize a handful of programs that meet their approved guidelines and learning outcomes.

  • Professional credentials: N/A
  • Certification entity: N/A
  • Median annual salary: $74,160

Become an Environmental Biotechnologist

Environmental biotechnology is the development, use, and regulation of biological systems to repair contaminated environments and establish environment-friendly processes. Those in environmental biotechnology look for natural solutions to environmental hazards; examples include producing biogas from food waste, remotely detecting landmines through bacterial sensors, or remediating the health and biodiversity of the area affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The BLS shows that environmental engineering careers are growing at the same rate as the national average for all occupations (4 percent). Environmental engineers earn median annual salaries of $96,820 per year (BLS 2021). Engineers are licensed through the National Society of Professional Engineers.

  • Professional credentials: Professional Engineer (PE) in environmental engineering
  • Certification entity: National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
  • Median annual salary: $96,820

Become a Genetic Engineer

Genetic engineers rework genetic material to make organisms healthier and more efficient. They directly manipulate an organism’s genes, often using molecular tools to rearrange fragments of DNA. For example, genetic engineers can make a plant more resistant to disease or pests or modify bacteria to carry drugs to targeted tissues by altering those structural elements.

These professionals merge a vital natural sciences education with an engineer’s sense of curiosity and innovation; they “hack” the code of life’s building blocks. While genetic engineers spend most of their time working in laboratories, they’re employed by universities, pharmaceutical companies, and the federal government.

The BLS shows that careers in bioengineering, a similar job to genetic engineers, are growing at a rate of 6 percent (2020-2030), which is about as fast as the national average for all occupations at 8 percent. The median salary for this career is $97,410 (BLS 2021).

Certification for genetic engineers is not standard, but some certifications can help applicants stand out when applying for jobs. For example, earning a Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) proves an applicant is competent with laboratory protocols and serves as a legal requirement for work in some states. As well, Stanford University offers an online certificate in genetics and genomics, which could be helpful for candidates with scientific backgrounds who want to specialize in genetic engineering.

  • Professional credentials: Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS)
  • Certification entity: American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
  • Median annual salary: $97,410

Become a Plant Biotechnologist

Plant biotechnology allows plant breeders to modify the genetic makeup to foster more beneficial traits, such as resistance to pests, disease, droughts, and herbicides. Since the first significant commercial plantings in 1996, the acreage of land devoted to biotech crops has increased 60 times. In the U.S., 80 percent of all corn, 86 percent of all cotton, and 92 percent of all soybeans planted are now biotech varieties.

Over 11 million farmers in small, resource-poor areas planted biotech crops to boost production in the developing world. Creating more durable, more nutritious, and cost-effective crops, those in the plant biotechnology field work toward a sustainable, economic, and environmentally-friendly agriculture system. Most in this field have at least a master’s degree, with a PhD usually required for positions that use biotechnological techniques in genetic manipulation. According to the BLS, biological technicians, similar to plant biotechnologists, earn median annual salaries of $48,140 (BLS 2021).

Beyond laboratory certification, plant biotechnologists can pursue specialized industry certifications in plant science from BASF. Having this certification provides international industry-recognized certifications with an emphasis on agricultural productivity.

  • Professional credentials: BASF Plant Science Certification
  • Certification entity: BASF
  • Median annual salary: $48,140

Become a Soil Scientist

Soil science is at its core the base of life science. Human beings depend on healthy soil to grow food and clothing crops, filter water, and create healthy ecosystems. Soil science is one of many branches of environmental science, and professionals in this field work to protect contaminated soil or prevent contamination from happening. By studying the material that creates life, soil scientists contribute to climate change research initiatives, environmental restoration, and shape policies that prevent pollution.

Most environmental science positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in environmental science or a related field. However, graduate certificates in soil science such as the one offered at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are available to those with bachelor’s degrees who want to focus their degrees and possibly earn credits toward a master’s degree.

The BLS shows that careers in environmental science are growing as fast as the national average (8 percent) and shows that 7,300 new positions will be needed from 2020 to 2030 (BLS 2021). They earned a median annual salary of $76,530.

Certification is not required, but is highly recommended to enhance a soil scientist’s credentials, skills, and specialty areas. For example, the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management (IHMM) offers a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) certificate for soil scientists managing teams that work with dangerous substances. In addition, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) offers the Certified Professional Soil Scientist (CPSS) designation for soil scientists focused on assessing the fundamental performance objectives and professional performance objectives.

  • Professional credentials: Certified Professional Soil Scientist
  • Certification entity: Soil Science Society of America (SSSA)
  • Median annual salary: $76,530
Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond, MEd Writer

Rachel Drummond has contributed insightful articles to MedicalTechnologySchools.com since 2019, where she offers valuable advice and guidance for those pursuing careers in the healthcare field, combining her passion for education with her understanding of the critical role that healthcare professionals play in promoting physical and mental well-being.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.