Biotechnologist

Biotechnology is the intersection of biology and engineering. Professionals in this field can manipulate organisms to produce everything from antibiotics to hormones. While many of the advances in this field are centered around medicine, such as vaccines and synthetic DNA, there are endless applications in the industrial, environmental, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors as well. 

While it may seem like biotechnology is a new field, it has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used yeast to brew beer and make bread, which was a rudimentary form of biotechnology. This field was modernly recognized in the 1970s when scientists discovered how to change the DNA in E. coli bacterium to eventually be able to produce synthetic insulin.

Working in this field requires specialized education and training in biotechnology. Aspiring biotechnologists must have at least a bachelor’s degree to start this career, although a master’s or doctorate is more common. Not only do advanced degrees give candidates an advantage when applying for work, but they are also better suited to do the complicated original research work necessary to make discoveries in this field. 

In the absence of an advanced degree, many biotechnologists will earn a certificate in biotechnology. While certification and licensure aren’t required for this field, passing the ​​Biotechnician Assistant Credentialing Exam (BACE) can demonstrate competency in this field. Some employers may even require BACE certification. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track data on biotechnologists specifically but has figures on two related occupations: biological technicians and biochemists/biophysicists. The BLS (May 2021) reports that the 76,150 biological technicians in the US earn $51,770 per year on average. The BLS (May 2021) found that the 35,050 biochemists/biophysicists made $113,460 on average. Furthermore, the BLS (2021) anticipates that openings will swell 9 percent and 15 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030 for biological technicians and biochemists/biophysicists, respectively.

Keep reading to learn more about this cutting-edge field that has the potential for life-altering discoveries.

Biotechnologist Specializations & Degree Types

To work as a biotechnologist, professionals must have a base level of education in this field. At a minimum, it is necessary to earn a bachelor’s of science in biotechnology, although many employers prefer an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctorate. Most students complete a degree in biotechnology, although it is possible to enter this career by completing a degree in a similar field such as microbiology, chemistry, or biology. 

There are many specializations aspiring biotechnologists can choose from when completing their education. Some specializations are on the administrative side of this field, such as biotechnology management, quality assurance, and compliance. Other specializations are on the research and development side, such as pharmaceuticals, food, agriculture, medicine, and industrial.

Admissions Requirements for Biotechnologist Programs

The admission requirements for biotechnologist programs vary based on the level of degree completed. Bachelor’s degrees often only require that applicants have completed high school or a GED and have taken a standardized exam such as the ACT or SAT. 

Master’s degree programs in biotechnology will have more demanding admission requirements, including already having completed a bachelor’s in this or a related field, work experience, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a current resume. 

Doctorate programs may require applicants to demonstrate proof of original research and have approval from a faculty member with whom the students will complete additional research.

Biotechnologist Program Accreditation

It is essential that students verify the accreditation status of any program they enroll in. Accreditation is a voluntary step institutions undertake that evaluates the quality of their facility, faculty, staff, and curriculum. Accredited schools are held to a high standard of quality and must meet stringent student outcomes to ensure that not only do they have a great program but that students are completing it as well. 

Schools can obtain regional accreditation for the institution as a whole or programmatic accreditation for a specific degree. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) serves as the primary programmatic accreditor for biotechnology programs. Some master’s programs may be accredited by the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE).

On-Campus Biotechnologist Degree Programs

Indiana University, Bloomington – College of Arts and Sciences 

At Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences, students have several options for an undergraduate biotechnology degree. They can choose to complete a bachelor’s of science, a bachelor’s of arts, a bachelor’s of science and a master’s of science combined program, or a biotechnology minor. All of the degree programs prepare students for work in biotechnology as the degrees have been designed by scientists at Indiana University and professionals in the biotech industry. 

To help students stay abreast of the latest developments in biotechnology, this program hosts a Biotechnology Seminar Series with industrial scientists and executives in this field. Not only will students learn about cutting-edge technology, but they will also have the opportunity to network with these outstanding professionals. Lab classes in this program are taught at state-of-the-art facilities where both faculty and students can undertake independent research projects.

  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Duration: Four to five years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Tuition: $39,118 per year

Northeastern University 

The bachelor’s of science at Northeastern University’s college of professional studies will train students to help improve lives through science. Students will gain a strong foundation in biology and chemistry as well as genomics, proteomics, and biomaterials. While this is a traditional four-year bachelor’s program, there is an option to complete a PlusOne program where students can earn their master’s of science with only one additional year of study. 

A key component of this program is an experience-based learning model that allows students to acquire relevant real-world skills that they can put into practice in a future workplace. With both part-time and full-time options, this program is highly flexible. In total, students must earn 120 credits to graduate from this program. Required classes include organic chemistry, biotechnology and pharmaceutical processing, quality control, biochemistry, and calculus.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Duration: Four to five years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $28,250 per semester 

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

The world-class research infrastructure at Worcester Polytechnic Institute provides an exceptional foundation for their PhD degree in biology and biotechnology. This interdisciplinary degree will train students to perform hypothesis-driven research under the close mentorship of outstanding faculty. Research currently being conducted at this campus includes cancer biology, brain plasticity, immunology, and pollinator decline. Students will also gain professional skills such as grant writing, ethics, design, and presentations.

At the end of the second year of study, students must complete a qualifying exam. After passing this exam, students will prepare and complete a written thesis and oral defense. To be considered for admission, students must have already completed a master’s degree and submit three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and official college transcripts.

  • Location: Worcester, MA
  • Duration: At least three years
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Tuition: $1,610 per credit

University of Houston – College of Technology 

At the core of the bachelor’s of science in biotechnology at the University of Houston College of Technology is a strong science foundation with an eye toward real-world applications. This interdisciplinary program combines courses from the College of Technology and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The Emphasis in this program is on environmental biotechnology. Laboratory and lecture classes are integrated to provide an experiential, hands-on learning process. 

There are two curriculum tracks students can choose from: bioprocessing or bioinformatics. This allows students to tailor their degrees to their interests and career goals. To complete this program, students must complete a capstone experience demonstrating the skills they have learned. Other required classes include principles of bioprocessing, quality assurance and quality control in biotechnology, regulatory environment, and organic chemistry. 

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $28,297.56 per year

University of South Florida – Morsani College of Medicine

The master’s of science in biotechnology at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine is designed for professionals looking to increase their education and skills to enter this career. 

While most graduates of this program go on to work in this field, some may choose to complete additional education such as a PhD program, medical school, dental school, or pharmacy school. Students will receive education in various fields, including chemical engineering, biology, computer science, health sciences, and biological engineering. 

This accelerated program can be completed in as little as one year of full-time study. To be considered for admission to this program, candidates must submit proof of prerequisite training in biological sciences, chemistry, and engineering. They must also submit two letters of recommendation, a required supplemental information form, a statement of purpose, a current resume, and GRE test scores.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $15,864 per year

Online or Hybrid Biotechnologist Education Programs

Morehouse School of Medicine

The 35-credit online master’s of science in biotechnology at Morehouse School of Medicine can be completed in 12 months or more of full-time study. This flexible program is designed for working students looking for additional education and training to advance their careers. Graduates of this program go on to work in the biotechnology industry for academia, government, and private companies. This degree has a strong entrepreneurial focus to help students learn how to launch their own businesses with their biotechnology discoveries. 

The semesters in this program are divided into two 8-week terms allowing students to focus on just two classes at a time. Required classes include project management, making medicine, ethics, biochemistry, and biomedical data science and statistics. Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, prerequisite coursework in college math and science, two letters of recommendation, and a current resume.

  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Duration: Three semesters
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $950 per credit 

Johns Hopkins University – Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

The master’s of science in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences is an online degree program with onsite options for students who live close to the school. There are part-time and full-time options, which allow students the flexibility to complete their degree at their own pace. There are six concentrations offered in this program which include bio-defense, bioinformatics, biotechnology enterprise, molecular targets and drug discovery, regenerative and stem-cell technologies, and regulatory affairs.

This program consists of four core courses and six elective courses. There is an optional additional culminating thesis course that students can take to gain hands-on experience in this field. The thesis must be completed over two semesters and is a hypothesis-based original research study. 

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Duration: 12 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: $5,008 per course 

University of Maryland Global Campus 

Students interested in developing innovations in pharmaceutical, biomedical, or agricultural fields can complete their online bachelor’s of science at the University of Maryland Global Campus. This flexible program was designed with the input of industry experts, scholars, and employers to help prepare students for a successful biotechnology career. 

Highlights of this program include developing original research, exploring genome analysis, using scientific procedures, and gaining technical support skills.

To declare this major, students must have already completed the required lower-level coursework in biotechnology. This can be completed as part of an associate’s of applied science or as transfer credits from another Institution. It is recommended that students have a strong background in chemistry, math, or biology and a working understanding of molecular biology to succeed in this degree program.

  • Location: Adelphi, MD 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 
  • Tuition: $499 per credit 

University of Wisconsin 

The University of Wisconsin offers both a master’s of science and a graduate certificate in biotechnology through flexible and convenient online learning. Learn how to combine life science and data science with a short four-course certificate or the comprehensive 11-course master’s. The master’s program offers three concentrations: quality assurance and compliance, business management, and research and development. All classes are available asynchronously, which means students can complete their studies on their own time.

Candidates are encouraged to reach out to an enrollment advisor to determine whether the certificate or the master’s program is the best fit. Admission requirements for the master’s program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, official transcripts, prerequisite coursework in biology and chemistry with labs, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. To apply for the certificate program, candidates need one semester of college-level biology with lab experience. 

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $850 per credit

University of California, Santa Cruz, Silicon Valley Extension

Professionals who want to demonstrate competency in biotechnology can complete the online biotechnology certificate through the University of California Santa Cruz Silicon Valley Extension. 

This certificate consists of ten credits of core classes and nine credits of electives. A prerequisite class in experimental methods in molecular biology is required if students don’t have previous education in this field. After completing the required coursework, students must have a certificate of completion review to ensure they have met all the requirements.

  • Location: Santa Cruz, CA
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Tuition: $5,610 for the entire program

How Long Does it Take to Become a Biotechnologist?

The time it takes to become a biotechnologist can vary based on the level of education pursued. It takes four years of education post-high school to earn a bachelor’s in biotechnology, the minimum level of education required to enter this field. Advanced degrees such as a master’s or PhD can take one to eight years to complete.

How To Become a Biotechnologist  – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

A career in biotechnology starts with graduating high school or earning a GED. A diploma or GED demonstrates a student’s ability to complete a course of education and provides a base level of education. Students interested in this career should focus on physics, chemistry, and biology classes to prepare them for future studies.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Program (Four Years)

A bachelor’s degree is required for a career in biotechnology. Most aspiring biotechnologists earn a bachelor’s of Science and biotechnology, although it is possible to complete a major in a related field such as chemistry, biology, or other physical science.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience (Timelines Vary)

Once the base level of education has been completed, aspiring biotechnologists can apply for entry-level work in this field. Typical employers include pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, universities, and research institutes.

Step 4: Earn an Advanced Degree (Timelines Varies)

While it is possible to enter this career with just a bachelor’s degree, most employers require applicants to have earned a certificate, master’s, or doctorate in this field. The most common degree earned is a master’s of science in biotechnology. 

Many programs offer specializations or concentrations such as quality assurance, business management, or research and development.

What Do Biotechnologists Do?

Biotechnologists work anywhere where biology and technology intersect. They are employed by universities, research organizations, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, engineering firms, and laboratories. Day-to-day tasks will vary based on job title and employer, but typical duties can include:

  • Performing research in a lab setting
  • Designing experiments to test hypotheses
  • Collecting data both in the lab and in the field
  • Maintaining lab equipment
  • Keeping careful records of all experiments, procedures, and outcomes
  • Producing reports of the findings
  • Consulting with managers on the next steps for projects
  • Adhering to regulatory requirements from the local, state, and federal authorities

Biotechnologist Certifications & Licensure

In general, there are no state licensing requirements for biotechnologists. However, some of the work a biotechnologist may complete can fall under an adjacent discipline, such as medical laboratory technologist, which may require licensing. Biotechnologists should contact their local licensing board to ensure they have any necessary credentials for the work they are performing.   

Biotechnologists can earn voluntary certifications to demonstrate competency in this field. The primary certification professionals pass the Biotechnician Assistant Credentialing Exam (BACE). Originally created for the state of Florida, this exam has become a national standard in this field. 

There are no eligibility requirements for this exam, so anyone who feels prepared to take it can register and sit for the test. This test has two components: a knowledge assessment and a practical one. Topics covered in this exam include: 

  • General topics in biotechnology
  • Biochemistry/chemistry
  • Technical skills/applications
  • Biological systems
  • Workplace safety & behavior
  • Biotechnology skills
  • Laboratory equipment
  • Applied mathematics in biotechnology
  • Research and scientific method

How Much Do Biotechnologists Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) has salary information for two occupations related to biotechnologists: biological technicians and biochemists/biophysicists. 

On average, the 76,150 biological technicians in the US earn $51,770 per year. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $31,170
  • 25th percentile: $37,820
  • 50th  percentile (median): $48,140
  • 75th percentile: $61,530
  • 90th percentile: $78,090

On average, the 35,050 biochemists and biophysicists in the US earn $113,460 per year. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $61,090
  • 25th percentile: $79,000
  • 50th  percentile (median): $102,270
  • 75th percentile: $132,390
  • 90th percentile: $167,210

Biotechnologist Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a biotechnologist: 

Become a Biomedical Engineer

Biomedical engineers apply engineering principles to medical and biological research. They can also be responsible for installing, calibrating, and maintaining complex medical or laboratory equipment. Typical places of employment include medical facilities, manufacturing, research, and universities. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Society of Professional Engineers

Become a Bioinformatics Scientist

Bioinformatics scientists analyze large data sets of biological information to improve human health through pharmaceuticals, medical technology, computer information science, and biology. This highly technical field requires a keen understanding of math, data, algorithms, biology, and biotechnology. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: None

Become a Microbiologist

The study of microorganisms and non-living particles is called microbiology. Microbiologists analyze algae, single-celled organisms, bacteria, prions, and viruses to make discoveries that can advance human well-being. Most microbiologists work in development or research. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American College of Microbiology, National Registry of Certified Microbiologists, American Board of Medical Microbiology
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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