Biotechnology Research Training and Degree Program Overviews

Oct 12, 2019

Essential Information

At the undergraduate level, biotechnology programs include coursework on biological organisms, genetics and the biotechnology industry. Graduates may be prepared for careers as research associates. Applicants to undergraduate institutions must have a high school diploma and submit official transcripts. Students from outside the U.S. may need to prove English fluency via the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). At some institutions, admission to the biotechnology major is granted by the relevant department to applicants who have completed a set number of credit hours in biology and maintained a minimum GPA.

Master's degree programs in biotechnology require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, sometimes in a specific field like engineering or one of the physical or life sciences. Most institutions require score reports for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), letters of recommendation, transcripts and a GPA above 3.0 for application. Coursework may cover specific research and laboratory techniques, and an industrial internship, thesis or research paper may be required. After completing this program, graduates may look for careers such as a cell biologist or research biochemist.

Biotechnology Ph.D. programs are terminal degree programs that prepare students for research and teaching positions. Students may choose a specific area of biotechnology to focus on, and programs can be completed in about five years. Students are often required to complete a dissertation and teaching experiences. Admissions requirements for Ph.D. programs resemble those of M.S. programs, albeit more exacting in their standards. Ph.D. programs place even greater stock in applicants' GRE scores, scientific backgrounds and undergraduate GPAs.

Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology

Biotechnology focuses on how biological organisms can be manipulated and subsequently integrated into the manufacture of technologies such as pharmaceuticals and medical products. Bachelor of Science (B.S.) programs in the subject are multidisciplinary and, as such, expose students to an array of studies in chemistry, biology, genomics, genetics, immunology and intellectual property. Programs may also offer specialty concentration tracks in areas such as the regulatory practices of the biotechnology industry.

In general, students in these programs are instructed in the basic scientific principles behind biotechnology and given opportunities to work in laboratories, where they learn applied techniques such as drug discovery and development. Some programs encourage students to complete industry internships. Required capstone projects and senior seminars are also common features of bachelor's degree programs in this field.

Biotechnology courses are grounded in the natural sciences and supplemented by general education topics in mathematics, English and sociology. Advanced topics in biotechnology may include:

  • Cell biology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Plant biotechnology
  • Quality control

Master of Science in Biotechnology

Master's degree programs in biotechnology typically emphasize practical experience in laboratories. Students are trained in advanced laboratory techniques and are required to conduct independent research projects pertaining to key sub areas of biology and engineering. Classroom studies typically cover additional issues in ethics, technology commerce and law. Specialization tracks in agriculture or medical applications may also be available. M.S. programs can usually be completed in one or two years.

Biotechnology courses at the master's degree level typically cover increasingly specific and specialized laboratory techniques as well as theoretical topics in biology and engineering. Common courses include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Bioprocess engineering and laboratory
  • Biotechnology writing
  • Fluids and mass transfer
  • Microbial biotechnology

Doctor of Philosophy in Biotechnology

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biotechnology is a terminal degree usually pursued by students who seek to become research scientists or to work in academia as faculty and administrators. These programs take about five years to complete. During the initial years of most programs, students complete courses focused on biology, engineering and physiology. They also sit for required departmental exams and develop dissertation proposals during this time. During the final years of the program they compose and defend their research dissertations. Some programs also require students to teach undergraduate courses while enrolled.

Core courses in biotechnology Ph.D. programs focus on biochemistry and engineering. Specialization tracks are usually available and may encompass coursework in computer science, physics and environmental science. Topics may include:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Bioseparations
  • Enzymology
  • Gene structure
  • Protein engineering
  • Tissue culture

Popular Career Options

Graduates with a B.S. in Biotechnology often pursue careers in the agricultural or pharmaceutical industries. Graduates of an M.S. program in biotechnology are eligible for advanced positions at biotech companies, government agencies and pharmaceutical companies. Potential job titles include:

  • Animal research associate
  • Plant breeder
  • Assay analyst
  • Biomedical engineer
  • Process development associate
  • Biomedical flight controller
  • Operations analyst
  • Cell biologist
  • Chemical engineer
  • Research biochemist

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) mentions biotechnology as an important growth area within general biological science ( Biochemists and biophysicists are the two occupations that the BLS most closely identifies with biotechnology research. The BLS states that biochemists and biophysicists will see 6% growth in total employment, or about as fast as the average for all professions, from 2018 to 2028. Biotechnology's widespread application to a wide variety of industrial sectors, ranging from genetics research to pharmaceutical development, is cited as the key driver of this major uptick in employment.

In May 2015, most biochemists and biophysicists worked in scientific research and development, pharmaceutical manufacturing and postsecondary institutions. The mean annual wage for all biochemists and biophysicists was $105,940 at that time.

Continuing Education

Since biotechnology is a multidisciplinary field, students may pursue a range of graduate education options upon completion of a bachelor's degree program. Degrees such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Juris Doctor (J.D.) may be relevant to students interested in the economic and legal aspects of biotechnology, respectively. Additionally, some bachelor's degree programs allow students to transition to corresponding Master of Science (M.S.) programs in the field.

According to the BLS, biological scientists with a Ph.D. commonly pursue postdoctoral positions in order to establish their reputations as published researchers. This type of experience is especially important for scientists who seek teaching positions in academia. Many scientists also seek eventual advancement to managerial positions at zoos, botanical gardens or businesses.

Through bachelor's degree programs in biotechnology, students can learn about the fundamental concepts of the field and the methods and procedures that underpin biotechnology research. Graduate-level programs give students the opportunity to engage in independent research.

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