What Is a Biotechnologist?

A biotechnologist works with organic material and utilizes it for a variety of commercial, medical, and agricultural applications.

What Does a Biotechnologist Do?

Biotechnology is an area of applied rather than theoretical biology. Biotechnologists typically work in labs with organic materials. Their work concerns (depending on their area of expertise) applications such as health and medicine development, agricultural engineering and agritech, developing new green technology and other practical applications of the natural science. Their daily tasks vary and will include responsibilities such as designing and carrying out experiments on living or dead matter, applying scientific methodologies, information technology and laboratory equipment, recording and measuring results, including analysis, and processing data for senior researchers and decision makers.

Typical jobs include developing processes for converting plants to biofuel production, researching the genetic code of bacteria and viruses, developing eco-plastics or create transgenic agricultural products. They may work as a team or on their own on individual projects, work on team research papers and possess excellent communication skills for collaboration (sometimes with international teams). Some organic material is potentially dangerous, and the biotechnologist needs to understand good safety practices. Depending on the place of work and area of study, the biotechnologist could be working with bacteria, viruses and sometimes harmful chemicals as part of their experimentation.

Where Does a Biotechnologist Work?

No data presently exists at BLS pertaining specifically to biotechnology. This is a growing field, so it may in the near future receive its own research area. For classification purposes, biotechnology is most closely related to biochemistry and biophysics. According to data released in May 2017, the biggest employer of this type of professional was R&D in life and physical sciences and engineering. They employ nearly half of qualified graduates at 47%.

The second highest employer was education - from schools to universities. Typically in teaching roles in schools and research and lecturing roles in colleges and universities, this sector employs around 15%.

The next was pharmaceuticals and medicine sector at 14%. They work to develop to treatments of tomorrow. One area of focus at present is in the discovery of new antibiotics to fight back against resistant bugs.

Interestingly, 3% work in the wholesale trade. This would typically be in roles checking quality control of products such as raw material for biofuel, biofuel itself, eco-plastics and any other mass-produced material used in trade sales (not retail). Also in this sector, their expert specialist knowledge means they can work in sales.

Finally, 3% work in management scientific and technical consulting services. These third-party organizations work on a contract basis to supply any specialist service any organization may wish to outsource.

What Is the Average Biotechnologist Salary?

According to BLS data from May 2017, the average salary for all biochemists and biophysicists was $82,180. The lowest 10% pay grade claimed a salary of around $45,000 while the highest 10% of earners enjoyed a salary around $158,410. The BLS report suggested the highest pay rates were available to those who work in wholesale trade, typically in specialist sales work, encouraging research facilities, retailers, hospitals and so on buying new biotech products. The average was $111,700. The second highest salary payer was management, scientific and technical consulting at $100,800. R&D in physical and life sciences were third and still over the average at $88,120. The fourth was the pharmaceutical industry at $80.060. The fifth was the education sector with an average pay of $53,600.

Biotechnology Jobs & Job Description

Recent Biotechnology Job Listings

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What Is the Job Demand for Biotechnologists?

BLS estimates that demand for all biochemists and biophysicists will grow around 11% between 2016 and 2026. However, the niche for biotechnology could be far higher than that as industries seek to increase investment in several key areas - mostly renewable energy and green fuel (biomass, green diesel), agritech and genetic engineering, and eco plastic. Some concern has been expressed over financial limitations for such technology through public spending cuts. The industry will grow, but it remains to be seen just how much investment is likely from both private and public sources under various government administrations between now and 2016.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Biotechnologist?

High School students must demonstrate strength in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry and physics) to be considered for a relevant biotechnology degree course. You will also require strong performance in math and information technology related subjects. Hard sciences can be difficult; therefore, your school may recommend taking a summer prep school before deciding whether to pursue this course type and which college or university at which to study.

As for your college major, the usual options apply. Biology and biochemistry are the most obvious but because this is a multidisciplinary subject, you have several others open to you. Any relevant engineering course (but particularly environmental engineering) and data science will also be useful. Regardless of the major, students will require skills covering all these areas so it's useful to choose minors and electives that cover the full scope of skills you will need for your career as a biotechnologist.

Postgraduate study is essential. We strongly recommend choosing a master's course and PhD at colleges that closely follow your strengths. PhDs are essential in this area including a thorough post-doc program. Here, you will be able to explore your interests and strengths and determine your area of biotech expertise.

Biotechnology - Related Degrees

What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Biotechnologists Have?

Biotech is expected to be one of the most important scientific disciplines of the next few decades. Here are some representative bodies.