Biotechnologist Career Profile

Biotechnologists are scientists who work with the processes of life. Biotechnology covers a very wide range of subjects and types of work. This science started in the early times of human history, and its range has expanded from brewing beer and using bacterial cultures to make yogurt, to discovering and using stem cells and finding cures for diseases. Biotechnologists study and develop uses for biological systems and products for use in medicine, industrial processes, and consumer goods and materials. They also work in pure research, discovering new science and new information about how the natural world works.

The work environment

Biotechnologists work in different environments, depending on their roles. In some cases they work in several different types of workplace, including:

  • Academic research facilities
  • Testing facilities
  • Consultation roles
  • Laboratories

The work involves:

  • Product development and testing: This is a “mainstream” role in biotechnology. It’s a combination of development of a product, which may involve multiple versions of a product idea, and intensive testing of these products. Testing is a primary data acquisition and quality control in all forms of biotechnology.
  • Analysis: There are multiple areas of work requiring analysis of products, research materials, and data related to product development and testing. These analysis are the raw materials of biotechnology, the development of the pure science and knowledge base.
  • Research: Research is one of the most fundamental functions of biotechnology, which has produced dramatic advances in medicine, biology, biochemistry, pharmaceuticals and many other sciences and industries. This is true cutting edge science, an area of biotechnology which is a primary career objective for many people entering the discipline. Research work may be based on grants to independent researchers, academic programs, corporate or government initiatives. 

Wages: Median wage is approximately $80,000 for a fully qualified biotechnologist, but may vary considerably based on role, consultancy contracts, and Intellectual Property issues.

Hours: Nominally standard business hours, but in practice based on research program schedules, contract requirements, and individual preferences and demands.

The career environment

Biotechnology workers and biotechnology researchers have unusual career dynamics. The career paths in biotechnology contain many different options for career development. Job skills and specializations are very portable across the range of the profession, even at entry level.

A biotechnologist can achieve a very well rounded level of experience in several fields. Many career advisers recommend that biotechnologists develop skills and experience in several areas, to maximize their career opportunities. That recommendation is based on the fact that biotechnology roles are often defined by hybrid areas of professional expertise.

Biotechnology roles are based on the nature of tasks, and those tasks can vary. Over specialization can actually limit career options. A biotechnologist who’s too specialized can find themselves with only half the skill sets required for a position.

Career mobility is based on the ability to fill the roles of positions and advance along a career track which can also be a moving target because of the nature of the profession. Biotechnology itself is expanding and developing so rapidly that many of the career options now available didn’t even exist when today’s PhDs entered college.

This is the biggest growth area in modern science, and there are no real limits to its career potentials. Aspiring biotechnologists are advised to keep an open mind on career possibilities, and stay current with industry employment markets.