What Can You Do with a Biotechnology Degree?
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Biotechnology is an ancient field of study that has is 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 processes and products are developed every year in the areas of medicine, agriculture, environment, and industry. As a field that touches multiple disciplines, biotechnology careers can vary dramatically in educational requirements, salary benefits, and work environments. Those in the field of biotechnology can go on to 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.
Please note that all career outlook data is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics unless indicated otherwise.
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. By altering those structural elements, genetic engineers can make a plant more resistant to disease or pests, or modify bacteria to carry drugs to targeted tissues.
These professionals merge a strong 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 the majority of their time working in laboratories, they’re employed by universities, pharmaceutical companies, and the federal government. Employment options and remuneration packages increase with one’s level of education and experience with salaries reaching upwards of $140,000 a year.
Become a Bioinformatics Specialist
Bioinformatics merges biological science and computer science. As the complexity and scope of biological understanding continues to grow, so does the complexity of the tools necessary to analyze it, and the concepts of big data and biotechnology are becoming increasingly interdependent. Modern day bioinformatics specialists take massive amounts of biological data—comparing multiple genes and their mutations, for example—and derive applicable insights from it through computational means.
Whether developing the tools that mine the data, or analyzing the veracity of the results, this requires not only an understanding of biological processes, but also of statistical analysis, mathematics, and computer science. While twin PhDs were once the norm for those working in bioinformatics, more specialized and unified programs are emerging as the field matures and the need grows.
Become a Biopharmaceutical Specialist
Those who pursue a career in biopharmaceuticals discover, design, manufacture, and commercialize DNA-derived biotechnology products that include antibodies, vaccines, biosimilars, 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. It’s estimated by the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America that in the future, one-fourth of all new medicines will be biopharmaceuticals of one sort or another. Due to the dynamic and complex regulatory landscape of biopharmaceuticals, development specialists must have an extensive background in biological sciences as well as comprehensive pharmaceutical training.
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 variety of 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.
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, but they can also work at an executive level in designing a pharmaceutical company’s overall strategy, or budgeting resources for projects that meet both 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 strong due to the high salaries, the level of individual control over projects, and the enviable 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.
Become a Plant Biotechnologist
Plant biotechnology allows plant breeders to modify the genetic makeup of a plant 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 over, and 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.
In the developing world, over 11 million farmers in small, resource-poor areas planted biotech crops to boost production. Through creating more durable, more nutritious, and more cost-effective crops, those in the plant biotechnology field are working towards a sustainable, economical, and environmentally friendly system of agriculture. Most in this field have at least master’s degree, with a PhD usually required for positions that use biotechnological techniques in genetic manipulation.
Become an Animal Scientist
Animal science, as a broad term, covers the study of the biology of animals under the control of humankind. Biotechnology applies to this in two major 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, and 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, the job outlook, educational requirements, salary, and work environment of an animal scientist can vary widely, but a PhD is often a prerequisite for any position involving the genetic manipulation of biological processes.
Become a Biomedical Researcher
Biomedical researchers and medical scientists conduct research intended to improve overall human health. 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 are largely funded by the federal government, but private pharmaceutical companies employ a significant percentage, too. Grant-funded biomedical researchers are often given the freedom to form their own hypothesis and conduct experiments with little supervision but minimal resources. One 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 as well as rapid advancements in medical science, the job outlook for biomedical researchers is expected to grow by almost double the average rate in the next ten years.
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 a biotechnical artistry. From mango pale ales to cucumber lagers, it can seem there’s no limit but imagination to the array of tastes one can create in the $26 billion industry that is craft beer brewing. But there’s a lot of hard work that 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 there are industry statistics that show an ongoing trend: while overall beer production fell over the last year, craft beer production increased by five percent.
Become an Environmental Biotechnologist
Environmental biotechnology is the development, use, and regulation of biological systems to both repair contaminated environments and establish environment-friendly processes. Those in the field of 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. Employment in the renewable energy sector, one which interacts with environmental biotechnology on several different axes, continues to grow two and a half times faster than the national average.