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Biotechnology Careers: Options and Requirements

Biotechnology is a subject generally studied at the graduate level. Continue reading for an overview of the degree programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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In many ways, biotechnology provides a way for humans to understand and manipulate their environment. The three careers outlined below are all options that use advanced degrees in biotechnology. Biotechnology careers can be found in a science lab, in a nursery or out in the field, depending on one's interest and area of expertise.

Essential Information

Biotechnology is a wide ranging term broadly referring to the use of cellular and biomolecular processes to produce products or processes that aid humans and the environment. Biotechnology is used to diagnose genetic diseases and produce new pharmaceutical drugs, more efficient breeds of crops or animals and environment friendly biofuels.

Career Geneticist Genetic Counselor Plant Breeder
Education Requirements Doctorate Master's Doctorate
Licensure Requirements May require state medical license Certification and licensure required in some states Licensure requirements vary by state
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -1% (for biological scientists, all other) 29% 7% (for all soil plant scientists)
Median Salary (2015)* $75,150 (for biological scientists, all other) $72,090 $60,050 (for all soil and plant scientists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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  • Biotechnology Lab Technician
  • Science Technologies

Career Options

Careers in biotechnology include geneticists and plant breeders. Read on to learn about these careers.

Geneticists and Genetic Counselors

One career option in biotechnology is becoming a geneticist. Genetics is the study of the mechanisms of heredity and variation in living organisms. Geneticists study the evolution, interaction and duplication of plant, animal and human genes. There are many career options for geneticists including:

  • Research geneticist
  • Medical geneticist
  • Genetics counselor

Research geneticists conduct laboratory research in areas like biomedical genetics, developmental genetics, biochemical and molecular genetics, forensics, plant and animal genetics and population genetics. Medical geneticists help diagnose and treat human genetic disorders such as Down syndrome in hospitals and private clinics. Genetics counselors study familial health records, observe recurring inheritance patterns and identify individuals at risk for developing genetic disorders.

Requirements to be a Geneticist

Most geneticists earn a graduate degree. Medical geneticists attend four years of medical school and complete a 2-year residency to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. They go on to complete another 2-year residency in clinical genetics in order to become a medical geneticist.

Requirements to be a Genetic Counselor

Genetic counselors usually earn a master's degree in genetics counseling. Prior research and laboratory work, counseling experience and volunteer work with physically challenged individuals are useful for graduate school applications. Aspiring genetic counselors can improve their professional standing by becoming Certified Genetic Counselors after taking the annual American Board of Genetic Counseling exam (www.abmg.org).

Salary and Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers in the category of biological scientists that includes geneticists had a median salary of $75,150 in 2015; that same year, genetic counselors earned a median salary of $72,090 (www.bls.gov). Geneticists are projected to experience very slow job growth from 2014 to 2024; genetic counselors are expected to increase at a much-faster-than-average rate of 29% during that same decade, according to the BLS.

Plant Breeders

Another career option in biotechnology is the field of plant breeding. Plant breeders selectively breed plants to produce new varieties that give better yields, are more nutritious and better resist diseases and pests. They use biotechnology to manipulate the genetic material of plants. Their work is closely related to that of molecular plant geneticists who identify gene functions to find the genes responsible for enhancing the desirable properties of plants.

Requirements for Plant Breeders

An undergraduate degree in biology, biochemistry, agronomy, plant science, horticulture or forestry is good preparation for a graduate program in plant breeding. Plant breeders using biotechnology usually have a doctoral degree in plant breeding. Doctoral candidates take courses such as:

  • Translational genomics
  • Genome analysis
  • Comparative genomics
  • Soil biology and ecology

Salary and Career Information

Soil and plant scientists, including plant breeders, are projected to experience an about-average job growth of 7% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. The BLS also reported that workers in this field earned a median salary of $60,050 in 2015.

Geneticists and genetic counselors study the human genome and may work in identifying genetic disorders, or understanding hereditary diseases. Plant breeders study plant hereditary traits and work in selecting the right qualities and features needed to meet a specific goal, such as higher yield and larger size for food plants. All of these careers require graduate degrees.

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