How To Become a Biotechnologist - Education & Experience

Biotechnology is about hacking the elements of life. Biotechnologists can develop new products that improve the world around us by manipulating cellular and biomolecular processes.

This may sound like the future—and it is—but it’s also a critical part of the past. Biotechnology is over 6,000 years old, dating back to the creation of bread, cheese, and preserved dairy products. From that tasty history, biotechnology has come a long way, and it’s now manipulating genetic makeup to reduce disease, harnessing biomass to cleanly fuel the world, and transforming agricultural processes in productive and sustainable ways.

Those wanting to bring old-world concepts into cutting-edge research and development can look forward to thriving career opportunities in biotechnology. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the demand for biological technicians, a similar career to biotechnologists, is projected to grow at a rate of 5 percent between 2022 and 2032 (BLS 2023), which is faster than the national average (3 percent).

Comparing the two positions, biological technicians typically have a bachelor’s degree and fewer years of experience than biotechnologists, who often have advanced degrees and more work experience. Therefore, aspiring biotechnologists are recommended to seek out biological technician opportunities and choose to further their education and earn leadership positions as biotechnologists as their careers progress.

Biotechnology is an expansive field. In 2023, the global biotech industry generated approximately $1.2 billion in revenue, and bioscience firms in the US employ nearly 400,000 people. A search for biotechnology jobs will reveal various roles, from laboratory scientists and research associates to quality assurance professionals and manufacturing specialists.

Many biotechnologists choose to work in biopharmaceutical production, and others work in areas like food science, cosmetics manufacturing, biofuel optimization, or genetic manipulation. With applications as broad as the imagination, biotechnology plays a critical role in shaping a cleaner, healthier, and more interesting future.

Step-By-Step Guide To Becoming a Biotechnologist

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four years)

After graduating from high school, an aspiring biotechnologist must earn a bachelor’s degree. While it is possible to pursue this career with an undergraduate degree in one of the life sciences or a related engineering area, the most linear pathway is to major in biotechnology.

Admissions requirements for undergraduate programs vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater), SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

Brandeis University
Arizona State University
Johns Hopkins University (AAP)

University of Maryland Global Campus

The University of Maryland Global Campus offers a hybrid bachelor of science (BS) in biotechnology. While all classes are available online, the overall requirements may include an onsite component. Applicants are expected to have already gained technical and scientific knowledge of biotechnology through transferable credit and practical experience.

Graduates of this program will be able to find solutions to global issues such as food insecurity, bioremediation, and the SARS-COV-2 virus (Covid-19). Combining applied coursework and laboratory skills with a biotechnology internship experience and upper-level study, the program’s curriculum prepares students for careers in biomedical research, pharmaceuticals, and more.

The UMGC curriculum includes classes such as inquiries in biological science; molecular and cellular biology; bioinformatics; laboratory management and safety; and current trends and applications in the life sciences. The program consists of 120 credits, and students can transfer up to 90 credits which may be completed in four years.

  • Location: Adelphi, MD
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: In-state ($318 per credit); out-of-state ($499 per credit)

Indiana University, Bloomington

Indiana University, Bloomington offers a rigorous on-campus BS in biotechnology. Designed to give fundamental training in basic scientific principles and specific training in advanced topics, graduates are prepared for either immediate employment or further advanced study.

In addition to general education and core curriculum requirements, students take 35 credits of upper-division classes, including molecular biology; societal issues in biotechnology; structure, function, and regulation of biomolecules; organic chemistry; and the theory and applications of biotechnology. The program consists of 120 credits and may be completed in four years.

  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Indiana residents ($11,446 per year); non-residents ($39,118 per year)

Northeastern University

Remember that some programs, such as the on-campus Plus One Accelerated Program at Northeastern University, offer a combined BS/MS degree, which students can apply for at the undergraduate level. This program includes experiential learning opportunities and biotechnology and pharmaceutical processing courses, analytical chemistry, and microbiology.

In addition, students attending Middlesex Community College can apply for scholarships and transfer coursework from a two-year to a bachelor’s and later a master’s level program through the Biotechnology A2M Scholars Program.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Five years
  • Estimated Tuition: $541 per credit

Step Two: Gain Practical Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After earning their bachelor’s degrees, many aspiring biotechnologists gain some practical work experience before determining the course of their career. Entry-level jobs, internships, and fellowships allow one to put their newly learned skills into practice, build a professional network, and sift out which niche of biotechnology to pursue.

Work experience is often the best education on the market, and some employers may even subsidize further graduate-level education. Job and internship openings are best found through professional networks or LinkedIn and Indeed.

Step Three: Earn a Certificate or Master’s Degree In Biotechnology (One to Three Years)

After earning their bachelor’s degrees and gaining some practical work experience, many biotechnologists elect to earn a master’s degree or a graduate certificate. While it’s not a requirement for all types of work that a biotechnologist may pursue, many biotechnology job postings require a graduate-level degree.

A master’s degree or graduate certificate can boost one’s resume and professional network and cement one’s expertise in a particular niche. Application requirements for master’s programs vary from school to school. Generally, they include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater), letters of recommendation, work experience, GRE scores, and a personal statement.

Temple University

Temple University’s biotechnology graduate certificate program is geared toward biotechnology professionals wanting to advance their careers. This 12-credit program offers academic credentials that students can complete in one or two semesters.

Topics covered include technologies related to nucleic acid sequencing, the manipulation of microbes, and issues surrounding advances in genetics and genomics. Students can take this program part- or full-time, and courses can be applied to related graduate degree programs in bioinformatics and biotechnology.

Course options include environmental biotechnology; analytical biotechnology; ethics regulation and policy in biotechnology; nucleic acid technologies; microbial biotechnology; and biotechnology laboratory.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: One to two semesters
  • Estimated Tuition: Pennsylvania resident ($1,301 per credit); out-of-state ($1,696 per credit)

University of California, Santa Cruz – Silicon Valley Extension

The University of California, Santa Cruz – Silicon Valley Extension provides a biotechnology certificate program. Professionals from various disciplines who want to pivot into a career in biotechnology are ideal candidates for this course of study. This 19-credit program includes courses such as introduction to biochemistry; principles of immunology; principles of drug discovery and development; biology of cancer; human physiology in health and disease; viruses, vaccines, and antiviral therapy; and gene therapy: hacking the genome.

All students begin with the core course, such as “Principles of Drug Discovery and Development.” Full-time students can complete this program in nine to 12 months.

  • Location: Santa Clara, CA
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Nine to 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $5,610

Northeastern University

Northeastern University offers an MS in biotechnology that can be completed entirely online. In addition to a biotechnology core, the curriculum allows students to choose from several different concentrations: agricultural; biodefense; molecular biotechnology; process science; manufacturing and quality operations; biopharmaceutical analytical sciences; pharmaceutical technologies; scientific information management; biotechnology regulatory science; or biotechnology enterprise. Students can complete the program at part-time or full-time enrollment in two to three years. Notably, some concentrations require a two-week Boston residency.

This 30-credit program includes core courses such as molecular cell biology for biotechnology; foundations in biotechnology; the biotechnology enterprise; scientific information management for biotechnology managers; cell culture processes for biopharmaceutical production; experimental design and biostatistics; and protein chemistry.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,730 per credit

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University has an MS in biotechnology program that students can complete online or in person at one of two Maryland campuses. Students may choose a generalist track or specialize in one of six concentrations: biodefense; bioinformatics; biotechnology enterprise; molecular target and drug discovery technologies; regulatory affairs; or regenerative and stem cell technologies.

The ten-course curriculum is thesis-optional and includes courses such as biochemistry; molecular biology; advanced cell biology; and cellular signal transduction. Students can complete the program in one to three years with part-time or full-time enrollment.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 to 36 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $5,210 per course

Step Four: Earn a PhD In Biotechnology (Optional, Four to Seven Years)

While it’s not a requirement to practice, some biotechnologists choose to earn a doctoral degree—especially if their interests lie in academia, leadership, or research. Doctoral programs in biotechnology are often highly individualized and include several years of advanced study, teaching requirements, and a culminating thesis.

Admissions requirements vary from program to program but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive GPA in the previous degree (3.0 or greater), letters of recommendation, work experience, a personal statement, GRE scores, and in-person interviews. Do note that in many cases, a master’s degree is not needed for acceptance into a PhD program; in some cases, students can combine the two degrees.

Clarkson University

Clarkson University in New York state offers an Interdisciplinary Bioscience and Biotechnology PhD program. Once admitted to this 90-credit program, students can specialize in one of four areas: molecular bioscience and biotechnology; biomedical sciences and neuroscience; computational biology and bioinformatics; or ecology, evolution, and the environment.

This program is delivered in hybrid and on-campus formats. To be considered for admission, applicants must have a four-year degree in biology or a related field with at least three semesters of biology, four semesters of chemistry, two semesters of physics, and two semesters of mathematics.

  • Location: Potsdam, Schenectady, and Beacon, NY
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to six years
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,932 per credit

Emory University

Emory University provides a PhD program through the Molecular and Systems Pharmacology (MSP) graduate program. In the first year of the PhD curriculum, students engage in research through laboratory rotations and take classes in the principles of pharmacology, toxicology, biochemistry, and cell biology. After that, students can opt to specialize in toxicology and a chemistry-biology interface program.

Applicants must submit an application to the graduate school, pay a $75 fee, and provide three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a resume, and transcripts. Once accepted to the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, students receive stipend support, tuition scholarships, and health insurance subsidies.

  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to six years
  • Estimated Tuition: Tuition for full-time registration for nine or more credits is $22,900 per semester

Tufts University

Tufts University has a PhD program in biotechnology at its Massachusetts campus. Offered through the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, the program is heavily focused on research, with coursework in biochemistry and cellular metabolism; biochemical engineering; molecular biology; protein purification; and the principles of cell and microbe cultivation.

PhD students must also complete one to three teaching assistant assignments, participate in the departmental seminar series, pass an oral and written qualifying exam, and defend a final thesis.

  • Location: Medford, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two to six years
  • Estimated Tuition: Covered by scholarships for full-time PhD students

Step Five: Join a Professional Society (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After a biotechnologist has completed their journey through academia and gained practical experience, the final step is to join a professional society.

Professional societies in biotechnology can congregate around a particular industry niche (e.g., agriculture, biopharmaceuticals) or act as interdisciplinary points of connection and collaboration. In addition, many professional societies host conferences, push for advocacy issues, foster professional networks, provide opportunities for continuing education, and publicize developments in the industry at large.

While joining a professional society isn’t a requirement for biotechnologists, it’s an essential step in helping the industry progress. Check out the list of professional resources at the end of this article.

Professional Certification for Biotechnologists

Having professional certification serves several purposes. It shows employers that a job seeker is professionally committed to high-quality work and continuing education. In addition, since biotechnologist positions require laboratory work, having a standardized professional lab certification is an official way to show that one has the necessary skills for a job.

Biotechnologist certification may be required to work in some states, so job-seeking biotechnologists need to research before applying. Lastly, certification can provide continuing education or serve as a credential for leadership positions.

Since biotechnology workplaces range from manufacturing to agriculture, certifications vary widely. However, here are some certification programs for biotechnologists.

American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification (BOC): This organization is the oldest and largest certification body for laboratory professionals, with over 600,000 people certified. Many biotechnology professionals offer many certifications and find the medical laboratory science (MLS) certification an ideal place to begin.

There are multiple routes to eligibility, and once an MLS has been earned, biotechnologists can prove their specialization knowledge by earning additional certificates in molecular and microbiology.

Center for Professional Innovation and Education (CfPIE): CfPIE provides technical training for pharmaceutical biotech, medical device, and skin & cosmetics professionals. Offering more than 350 classes a year, CfPIE has 80 course titles to choose from.

Aspiring professionals in these industries can take in-person or online classes and earn certifications such as Biopharmaceutical Development Certified Professional, Medical Device Compliance Professional, and Skin/Cosmetic Certified Professional.

Helpful Resources For Biotechnologists

Biotechnology is a constantly evolving and relevant field. If you want to listen in on high-level biotechnology conversations and learn how it applies to today’s world, check out some resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in medical technology, particularly the modernization of the medical laboratory and the network effects of both health data management and health IT. In consultation with professors, practitioners, and professional associations, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best. For, he’s interviewed leaders and subject matter experts at the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).