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Biotechnology professionals are in the business of adapting nature to meet new needs. In general terms, they harness biological principles or processes and apply them in a new way that can help people. One example: using microorganisms to make cheese or vaccines to prevent disease. The field has widespread implications for a multitude of industries, from manufacturing and agriculture to health care and even defense. Biotechnology has also generated many new jobs. Here is a brief review of just a few careers in biotechnology and what they entail.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), there are several different types of careers in the biotech industry, each with its own role to play -- and its own education requirements. Among them:
- Biochemists and biophysicists. These professionals study the chemical and physical principles of living things in conjunction with biological processes, like cell development and heredity. They might study the effects of various substances on tissues, or how genetic mutations can cause -- or prevent -- disease. The BLS reports that most biochemists and biophysicists must earn doctoral degrees.
- Biomedical engineers. Biomedical engineers combine biology and engineering in ways that advance human health. They might develop artificial organs or limbs, or develop special lasers that make certain eye surgeries safer. The BLS notes that most entry-level biomedical engineers are required to hold bachelor's degrees in biomedical engineering or a closely related field. A graduate degree is often preferable for candidates who want to enter research or the academia.
- Biological technicians. Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct research in a laboratory environment by conducting tests and experiments. The BLS reports that most biological technicians must earn bachelor's degrees to enter the field.
- Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians. Like biological technicians, these professionals often support other professionals doing biotechnological research. They might collect samples and perform tests on body fluids, tissues and other substances. Some professionals are required to earn associate degrees; others must earn bachelor's degrees. Lab techs must also often be licensed to practice.
As with other industries, demand for careers in biotechnology vary by specific title, education and even geography. Generally, however, the BLS reports that an aging population (with increasing medical needs) and federal health reform that has expanded public access to health care is driving new demand for medically-minded biotechnology professionals. For example, the BLS (bls.gov, 2014) projects that employment of medical and clinical laboratory technicians will grow by 30 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- much faster than the average for all occupations nationally. Demand for biomedical engineers is also expected to grow quickly -- 27 percent over the same decade -- as is demand for biochemists and biophysicists: 19 percent.
Just as with career outlook, how much certain biotechnology careers pay can vary tremendously from one job, employer or region to the next. The following is a list of various careers in biotechnology along with their 2013 national median annual earnings, as reported by the BLS:
- Biochemists and biophysicists: $84,320
- Biomedical engineers: $88,670
- Medical and clinical laboratory technicians: $37,970
There are a number of factors that can influence one's earnings potential. More experienced biotech professionals may earn more than less experienced colleagues. Geography plays a role, too: Biotech careers in areas with strong employment demand or with higher-than-average cost of living may command higher salaries than in lower demand, less expensive areas. The BLS provides geo-specific salary information for a wide breadth of careers in biotechnology.
Here is a breakdown of the type of education required of certain professionals in 2012, for instance, as reported by O-Net, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor:
- Biomedical engineers: 45 percent of positions required a bachelor's degree; 35 percent a master's degree; 20 percent a doctoral degree
- Biochemists and biophysicists: 41 percent of positions required a doctoral degree; 32 percent a post-doctoral degree; 18 percent a bachelor's degree
- Medical and clinical laboratory technicians: 58 percent of positions required an associate's degree; 28 percent a bachelor's degree; 12 percent a post-secondary certificate.
- Biological technicians. 76 percent of positions required a bachelor's degree; 8 percent a high school diploma; 5 percent a master's degree.
While those in the biotechnology field can't be guaranteed to land careers in biotechnology, they may be able to help themselves by investing in the right training for the job.