What Are the Career Opportunities With a Master’s Degree in Biotechnology?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Cheesemaking began thousands of years ago when someone decided to make good use of curdled milk. In 1928, a distant cousin of the same mold used to create cheese helped spark one of the greatest advances in medicine, the development of the antibiotic drug penicillin.

There is nothing cheesy or moldy, however, about the science they were all practicing.

Both are forms of biotechnology — a term first coined in 1919 — an exciting, fast-growing field that attracts scientifically minded people who want to make a difference in the health sciences and beyond. Biotechnology is any technology that makes use of biology, whether it’s fermentation (think bread or wine) or developing drugs to treat diseases.

People interested in biotechnology often pursue a biotechnology master’s degree to get their careers off the ground. Let’s explore some of the benefits of a biotechnology master’s program and how it can get you into this field.

What is a master’s degree in biotechnology?

A master’s degree in biotechnology is an advanced degree that gives students a deeper understanding of the field and the opportunity to learn about the many different kinds of career doors that it opens. Most people interested in biotechnology start their education with an associate or bachelor’s degree in biology or biotechnology, but many will need a graduate degree in biotechnology to advance past entry-level positions.

Completing a master’s degree in biotechnology generally takes one to two years depending on your pace and the specific biotechnology master’s program. The program will likely include the following:

  • Take coursework in biochemistry, bioinformatics, molecular biology, physiology and cell biology
  • Learn research skills, including leading-edge techniques, research design and data management
  • Hone laboratory communication and management skills

A master’s degree in biotechnology positions graduates to find jobs, but the degree is also sometimes used as a stepping stone to pursue a research doctorate (PhD) or a professional degree (medical degree or doctorate in dental science).

Why choose a career in biotechnology?

People choose a career in biotechnology because of their love of science as well as the variety of career options, solid job growth and strong pay.

  • Job growth. Many careers in biotechnology are growing faster than the average job category, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS.
  • Love what you do. People who have a passion for science will really enjoy biotechnology. Waking up every morning and knowing you’re going to a job you love can make a world of difference in your daily outlook.
  • Strong salaries. Salaries vary greatly depending on factors like education level, industry and location, ranging from approximately $45,000 to well over six figures, according to salary.com.

What are the main branches of biotechnology?

There are several branches of biotechnology, including medical, animal, industrial and environmental.

  • Medical biotechnology concentrates on using techniques to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases. That includes genetic testing, and the creation of vaccines and devices.
  • Animal biotechnology focuses on animal health and conservation, genetics, and breeding. It’s used to improve livestock production and prevent the spread of diseases.
  • The aim of industrial biotechnology is to create products that will lead to more environmentally friendly and cost-effective products used in industry, such as fuels, textiles and paper.
  • Environmental biotechnology includes the monitoring and treatment of environmental concerns. Applications include renewable energy and pollution removal.
  • Plant biotechnology is the use of techniques to make adaptations to plants. That may include protecting plants from disease and pests, and increasing crop production.

What can you do with a masters in biotechnology?

People with a master’s degree in biotechnology have no shortage of career options. The following are some of the more popular types of biotechnology careers:

  • Agricultural engineers assess current techniques and develop new technologies to make farming environmentally friendly and sustainable. Their median yearly salary is $77,110, according to BLS.
  • Biochemists use their training to find solutions to biological problems. They may work for a pharmaceutical company, where they screen compounds for therapeutic use. The median salary for biochemists is $93,280, per BLS.
  • Biomedical engineers develop technology for use in the health sciences. For example, they may develop a way to fine-tune an MRI machine to enhance resolution, which would give clinicians a more accurate tool for detecting health concerns. BLS lists an $88,550 median salary for biomedical engineers.
  • Biotechnology laboratory technicians help scientists with lab research. They may work in a clinic, where they use technology to help clinicians diagnose, treat and monitor diseases. The median annual pay for biotechnology laboratory technicians is $44,500, according to BLS.
  • Environmental engineers help protect the environment by testing, minimizing and managing pollution levels. For example, they may keep our drinking water safe by testing for contaminants. Environmental engineers earn a median annual salary of $87,620, per BLS.

Where can a biotechnologist work?

Biotechnologists often work in university laboratories and hospital clinics, or for pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies. But they can sometimes be found using their knowledge as teachers or in other fields where they can put their knowledge to work, such as marketing, product development and public policy. For example, a company that focuses on products that are based on scientific discoveries often use biotechnologists to perform research that helps to discover these products, but they may also work with the sales, marketing or product development departments to help them understand the underlying science and translate it into useful information for the general public.

Someone with a master’s degree in biotechnology has an advanced level of knowledge that allows them to teach at high schools or community colleges. “STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — can be intimidating to students,” says Andrew Bean, PhD, dean of the Graduate College at Rush University. “Using your biotechnology knowledge to teach students in a way that’s easy to understand helps them overcome that intimidation. That helps open up career pathways for the next generation of biotechnologists, and that’s really important.”

Biotechnology professionals may also find themselves in unlikely terrain, such as intellectual property law or management consulting. In the biotechnology master’s program at Rush University, experts who are currently working in various fields help develop the curriculum, and students often take part in internships that prepare them to meet the needs of various industries.

Is there a demand for biotechnology?

BLS projects a 7 percent growth for biological laboratory technicians from 2018-2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Other biotechnology jobs are expected to grow at least as fast as average as more industries look for people who understand science and are adept at data analysis.

“People looking for jobs that deal with large amounts of data using bioinformatics approaches are especially well-positioned due to a growing need,” Bean says. “Overall, there will be no shortage of opportunities in biotechnology. It is a really fun field where you can combine your interest in science with so many other areas, so that makes it enticing for a lot of people.”

Learn more about biotechnology at Rush University.