Biotechnologist: Job Description, Duties and Career Outlook

Biotechnologists require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

If you have a strong research background and think working in a laboratory setting sounds appealing, you should look into a career as a biotechnologist. These professionals can be employed in one of many subfields by private or public employers conducting research on living systems. A bachelor's degree is enough to enter the job market, but a master's or doctoral level degree is probably required to be an independent or senior researcher.

Essential Information

Biotechnologists modify or manipulate living organisms to develop new products, such as pharmaceuticals or biofuels. They conduct experiments and develop materials in public and private laboratories. Biotechnology employment can be found across several industries, and biotechnologists can be employed as biochemists and biophysicists or medical scientists. Degree requirements can vary for biochemistry and biophysics jobs; those that involve independent research might require a Ph.D. Medical scientists need to have a doctoral degree and a M.D.; depending on their duties, a valid medical license may also be required.

Biochemist and Biophysicist Medical Scientist
Required Education Bachelor's, master's or Ph.D. Ph.D. and M.D.
Other Requirements None Medical license for some jobs
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 8%* 8%*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $82,150* $82,240*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Biotechnologist

Biotechnologists develop products from living systems. Biotechnology commonly refers to genetically derived materials, but can also refer to developments based in microbiology, molecular biology and cell biology. Biotechnologists work within several different industries including agriculture, food manufacturing, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Biotechnology professionals may specialize in one or more subfields. Specialties include genomics, the comparative study of gene structures; proteomics, which is the study of protein structures; and bioinformatics, which combines biology, computer science and information technology. Products developed by biotechnologists include high-yield crops, disease-resistant farm animals, gene therapy treatments, drugs and biofuels.

Duties of a Biotechnologist

Entry-level biotechnologists can work as research technicians. They set up instruments and laboratory equipment used to conduct and monitor experiments such as centrifuges, flasks and spectrophotometers. They also record data and may prepare reports for a leading research scientist.

Senior biotechnologists design research studies, analyze data and develop procedures. For example, a scientist using recombinant DNA technology must choose the best method to insert foreign DNA into an organism, which can trigger development of new proteins or create an organism with more desirable characteristics.

Outlook for Biotechnologists

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected employment of biochemists and biophysicists, who work largely for scientific research and development services and the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industry, to increase 8% (as fast as average for all occupations) from 2014-2024. Two popular research areas are biofuels and biomedical research.

The BLS also expected employment for medical scientists to increase due in part to the growth of biotechnology. Medical scientist jobs were projected to increase 8% from 2014-2024 as well, according to the BLS. Common employers of medical scientists include research and development services; colleges and universities; and medical and surgical hospitals.

In summary, job growth mimics a national uptick in industries involving the manipulation or modification of living organisms. Biotechnologists can work in medicine, engineering, or manufacturing, in positions requiring anything from a bachelor's degree to a Ph.D. in a related field. They often work in laboratories, and might be involved in report writing or experiment design.

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