What is a biotechnologist?
A biotechnologist uses techniques of molecular biology to understand and manipulate the genetic, chemical and physical components of living organisms in order to design products and processes that enhance the quality of human life. There are a number of areas biotechnologists can choose to specialise in, such as pharmacology, genetics or stem cell research.
The specific duties of a biotechnologist can vary depending on the industry in which they work as well as the level of seniority they hold, but as a general rule they will be required to:
- Design, implement and monitor research studies in a laboratory that utilise living organisms (such as food, cells, tissues or bacteria)
- Perform data analysis to interpret experiment results and produce findings reports as well as give presentations to other members of staff
- Set up and maintain laboratory equipment and technology
- Stay up to date with the latest advances in biotechnology to advance new techniques, products and processes
- Work to strict regulatory and quality standards to ensure experiments are safe
The types of biotechnology
Biotechnologists are required to work across a range of different industries, as the field has grown enormously over the last few years. The main types are:
- Medical biotechnology – primarily involves finding cures as well as preventing diseases with the goal of improving human health. The field specialises in producing vaccines, antibiotics, medical devices and other vital treatments.
- Industrial biotechnology – the application of molecular biology to improving efficiency and reducing environmental effects of industrial processes. Includes the sectors of chemicals, detergents and food.
- Agricultural biotechnology – focuses on developing genetically modified plants and improving animal health to increase productivity and efficiency.
Types of employers
Biotechnologists can of course work across a wide variety of industries; therefore, you can find jobs available with:
- Biotechnology organisations
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Chemical companies
- Universities and research institutions
- Food and drink manufacturers
- Environmental companies (like waste management firms)
To find out who’s hiring right now, you can search our biotechnology jobs here.
Qualifications and experience required
You will usually need a degree in a relevant scientific subject to begin a career as a biotechnologist. Subjects such as microbiology, biochemistry, chemical engineering and biomedical science may be particularly useful for learning the fundamentals of the role. You may be able to begin a career in biotechnology through undertaking an apprenticeship, however will likely still need to undertake a degree in the future.
On top of this, in order to progress into a career in research, you will also need to have a postgraduate qualification such as an MSc, MRes or PhD.
In terms of experience required, employers will likely also expect you to have some knowledge of the industry for which you are applying, therefore it is highly beneficial to gain some relevant work experience through university or likewise. Some large companies offer graduate training schemes that offer full training and the opportunity to gain a higher qualification. This can be a great way into the industry.
You may also be able to pursue a career as a biotechnologist by starting out as a laboratory technician or research assistant.
How to become a biotechnologist
The skills needed for this career include:
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- Organisation, patience and attention to detail
- The ability to work well within a team
- Problem solving skills, analytical skills and the ability to work well under pressure
- Self-motivated and able to work under your own initiative when needed
- Good technical skills
- Knowledge of chemistry including the safe use and disposal of chemicals
The industry for which you are applying will determine which specific technical skills will be required of you. For example, if your role is focusing on pharmacology you will need to be familiar with concepts such as cell culture, PCR, ELISA and Next Generation Sequencing. On the other hand, if you are working within industrial biotechnology for an ingredients company, you may need to understand techniques including cell fusion, rDNA and gene cloning.
Within an interview, you are likely to be asked questions that explore your problem-solving abilities and show examples of when you have put these into practice during a project. They might also want to know about a time you have work independently or within a team successfully, or give information about your knowledge of scientific methods.
There are a variety of ways to search for biotechnologist jobs, depending on the type of company you are aiming to work for. University and hospital websites are a great place to start if a medical route is the one for you, or scientific publications such as New Scientist Jobs. You may also find opportunities listed on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Specialist recruitment agencies, such as CK Science, are another effective way to search for and land jobs, as they are able to offer tailored support and advice.
Download CV and cover letter templates here.
The starting salary for a recent graduate usually ranges between £18,000 and £25,000 depending on the industry, type of company and area of focus. Larger companies like pharmaceutical and biotechnology organisations tend to pay more than hospitals and universities/research institutions as the opportunities tend to be more numerous.
After a few years of experience, salaries on average tend to hover around £30,000 but can be more.
After working as a biotechnologist for a few years, it is possible to progress onto senior scientist or consultancy roles. Whether this is possible will depend on the area of specialism and particular company. It is beneficial to hold a high-level qualification.
You could also pursue a role in academia which would allow you to get papers published and become a recognised professor in your field.
- Research Assistant – an entry-level role that requires individuals to help plan and conduct experiments alongside scientists, collect and log data and produce findings for researchers to present reports. Read the full job profile here.
- Laboratory Technician – primary role is to support complex scientific investigations by carrying out routine laboratory-based technical tasks and experiments, such as sampling, testing and recording results. Read the full job profile here.
- Microbiologist – studies microorganisms in order to understand how they affect our lives and how they can be used to benefit human health. Read the full job profile here.