When thinking about biotechnology, many people picture a scientist in a lab coat developing a lifesaving drug or medical device. While this image represents one common biotechnology career path, lab work is not the only option. With many exciting discoveries to make and new problems to solve, biotechnology professionals can make a difference in the lives of others in many ways.
There’s more good news for job seekers. The biotechnology industry is a major economic driver, generating approximately $140 billion in revenue. Currently, U.S. biotechnology firms employ over 1.66 million people, but with the need for rapid innovation, the demand for skilled professionals will continue to rise.
So what types of jobs are available in the biotechnology industry? And what kind of skills will give you a competitive advantage in the job market? Kevin Broadbelt, associate teaching professor for Northeastern’s MS in Biotechnology program, discusses today’s top biotechnology careers and how you can prepare to break into the industry.
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What Can You Do with a Biotechnology Degree?
“What most people don’t realize about biotechnology,” Broadbelt says, “is that there are many different career paths for students to pursue. They do not strictly need to pursue a career ‘at the bench’ as an associate scientist or technician at a medical device or pharmaceutical company.”
Broadbelt describes the field as “complex” and “interdisciplinary,” noting that biotechnology goes beyond biology and chemistry. The discipline applies to many industries, he says. Professionals can find exciting, meaningful work in areas outside of initial drug development.
The field—and its careers—span other functional areas that are just as integral in getting a meaningful biotechnology product to market. These areas include:
- Research and development
- Quality assurance/regulatory affairs
- Clinical research
- Government (policymaking)
- Software engineering
- Food, animal, and environmental science
- Sales and technical support
- Business management
- Project management
Because biotechnology has applications in many industries, professionals can choose to work for a variety of organizations, including government agencies, private companies, regulatory bodies, or clinical laboratories. Biotechnology employers range in size and type from small start-ups to global pharmaceutical leaders to federally-funded organizations such as the Department of Agriculture and National Institutes of Health.
Broadbelt emphasizes the extraordinary developments happening in the field, including personalized medicine, gene therapy, industrial disease treatment, and even hazardous waste control. But what’s most exciting about the industry, he says, is that no matter what part of the field you’re in, you can truly have an impact on the world around you.
Here are some of the most in-demand biotechnology careers that are shaping our future.
In-Demand Biotechnology Careers
Median Pay: $88,040
Projected Growth by 2026: 7%
Biomedical engineers combine engineering and biological expertise to design solutions to problems in biology and medicine. With the goal to improve the quality and effectiveness of patient healthcare, they design biomedical equipment, devices, and medical software, such as artificial organs, prostheses, and diagnostic machines.
Median Pay: $91,190
Projected Growth by 2026: 11%
Biochemists study the chemical properties of living things and biological processes, such as cell development, cell growth, heredity, and disease. They conduct complex research projects and frequently isolate, analyze, and synthesize proteins, lipids (fats), DNA, carbohydrates (sugars), and other molecules. They also research the effects of drugs, hormones, and nutrients on tissues and biological processes to develop products and processes that may improve human health.
Median Pay: $82,090
Projected Growth by 2026: 13%
Medical scientists conduct clinical research to improve patient health by investigating diseases and prevention methods. They may also develop and test medical devices. They frequently prepare and analyze medical samples to investigate the causes and treatments of toxicity, pathogens, and chronic diseases. These scientists also help standardize drug potency, doses, and methods for the mass manufacturing and distribution of drugs and medicinal compounds.
Median Pay: $51,770
Projected Growth by 2026: 13%
Also known as medical laboratory scientists, biological technicians collect samples, perform tests, and analyze results of body fluids, tissue, bacteria cultures, and other substances. These technicians use lab instruments, advanced robotics, specialized computer software, and automated equipment to collect, analyze, and model experimental data.
Median Pay: $69,960
Projected Growth by 2026: 8%
Microbiologists study viruses, bacteria and the immune system to produce biomedical and industrial products. These professionals conduct complex research projects and lab experiments to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious illnesses.
Process Development Scientist
Median Pay: $94,739
Process development scientists oversee the manufacturing process in an organization’s lab, looking for ways to increase quality and efficiency. Once a new product has been developed and approved for manufacturing, these scientists develop methods to scale production while adhering to standardized protocols.
Median Pay: $80,629
Biomanufacturing specialists use tools and methods to guarantee products meet stringent requirements of purity, safety, potency and quality throughout the manufacturing process. Biomanufacturing often involves the large-scale production of proteins used to treat or cure human diseases, which requires that these specialists possess a thorough knowledge of federal, state, and industry regulatory standards.
Business Development Manager
Median Pay: $113,769
Business development managers provide detailed market analysis and competitive intelligence to help biotechnology companies formulate and execute growth and investment strategies. They assist in assessing and pursuing expansion, acquisition, and collaborative research and partnering opportunities with other biotechnology institutions to achieve business growth in line with corporate strategic goals.
Director of Product Strategy/Commercialization
Median Pay: $124,726
Biotechnology professionals in these business-related roles are responsible for the development and execution of the commercialization strategy for new biotechnology products including launch, market development, marketing, sales, and logistics, driving growth and profitability while ensuring compliance with regulatory and quality requirements.
How to Prepare for a Career in the Biotech Industry
Broadbelt says there are five key strategies aspiring professionals can employ to advance their biotechnology careers.
1. Build an educational foundation.
Broadbelt says the first key to a successful biotech career is a solid educational foundation rooted in science-related coursework. Advanced programs, such as a Master of Science in Biotechnology, can give you a chance to explore the many avenues you can take in your career—something he considers critical.
“Look for a degree program that will give you the opportunity to get hands-on experience. It will help mimic the accountability and responsibility of a real-world company, where the work is not only about learning, but about owning projects and achieving results.”
2. Stay open-minded.
In a field like biotechnology, Broadbelt says: “Keep the blinders off.” When choosing your path, he says it’s important to look at the wealth of potential roles you can play in the industry, and not limit your options based on your first few experiences in the field.
Since there are so many options, it can be tough to find a good fit right away. While many prefer working for a pharmaceutical giant—“the Pfizers and Mercks of the world”— others prefer start-up cultures where they’ll be expected to wear many hats.
He suggests asking yourself: “Money aside, do I really see myself working here?”—noting that it’s likely you’ll make a good living no matter which path you choose. Research agrees, listing the average annual wage for a U.S. biotech worker as $94,543.
3. Hone your soft skills.
While it’s important to be detail-oriented at the bench, Broadbelt says it’s equally important to hone your soft skills. In today’s biotechnology market, scientific expertise is only one part of the hiring equation.In today's biotechnology market, scientific expertise is only one part of the hiring equation. Click To Tweet
“While technical skill and scientific knowledge are a required baseline, that’s now not enough for companies looking to hire biotech professionals. How efficient are you in your communications? How do you engage with others? Defend your hypotheses? Troubleshoot issues? Handle conflict?”
When you get to the interview, the hiring manager is going to want to talk about your soft skills, he says. They want to know they are hiring the whole package. It’s not just about “how well you can pipette,” but how you can communicate and articulate your ideas to others within the business.
4. Build your professional network.
Establishing a robust professional network is crucial to career success. In fact, studies show that 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking. So although it may seem difficult to find the time, make it a priority to build meaningful connections with those around you, including colleagues, supervisors, advisors, professors, and industry professionals. Join professional organizations, attend local industry meetups, or simply ask a coworker to have a conversation over lunch. Having a strong set of professional contacts can open doors to new opportunities, give you access to industry experts, and even help you land your next promotion.
5. Keep learning and adapting.
One of the biggest challenges biotechnology professionals face, he says, is being prepared for the constant change that occurs in the industry.
“Students need to be prepared: As much as you want to generate a meaningful product, there is a large financial component to the work. We still work within a business model. Jobs can be terminated; departments can be liquidated quickly.”
The good news is, however, because the only constant is change, there’s likely to be a new product or team that will quickly appear in its place, he says. One way to be prepared for this dynamic industry is to never stop learning. Broadbelt suggests upskilling by earning additional certificates in the discipline, attending conferences, and utilizing your network.
Taking the Next Step in Your Biotechnology Career
If you’re interested in being at the forefront of emerging advances in biotechnology, now is an opportune time to earn an advanced degree. As the field continues to evolve, there’s a growing need for skilled professionals to innovate and bring new technologies to market.
If you’re interested in earning your Master of Science in Biotechnology, visit Northeastern’s program page to learn more about how the degree can advance your career.