The biotechnology field has always been a lucrative one, and for good reason. In careers ranging from gene therapy to personalized medicine, these professionals are responsible for overseeing some of the most impactful advances occurring in society today.
Recent global circumstances—such as the coronavirus pandemic—have only continued to increase the demand for trained professionals in biotechnology. Luckily, the number of workers in this industry has continued to grow to meet this rising demand. In the last five years alone, the number of biotechnology employees in America increased by approximately 39,000, reaching a grand total of 316,796 today.
Read on to explore what the practice of biotechnology entails, what career paths offer the best salary potential, and what steps you can take today to advance your career.
What is Biotechnology?
Despite the broad associations many have with the practice, Jared Auclair—director of the biotechnology and bioinformatics programs at Northeastern—explains that biotechnology is simply about, “taking drugs from living cells and using biology as technology in order to make the world better.”
From drug development to manufacturing to agricultural sciences and more, the work of biotech professionals spans many industries and disciplines and continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of society.
“Biotechnology jobs in the past have really been based around cell biology and molecular biology—really sort of more basic biology that focused largely on proteins,” Auclair says. “That is still the foundation and a huge part of the sector, [but] over the last two years we’ve seen a humongous expansion into jobs needed for bell- and gene-based therapies, as well.”
Similarly, Auclair explains that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light new career paths for those in this field. “We’re seeing an uptick in [the] need [for those with] expertise in vaccines, as well as the manufacturing of biologics and biological products,” he says.
Luckily, programs like Northeastern’s Master of Science in Biotechnology are designed to prepare these professionals to meet the most current demands of the field. “The demand is high for the people with the exact skill sets that we train on in our program,” Auclair says, noting that he expects many with an interest in science to soon begin pursuing advanced training in a program like Northeastern’s in order to “make sure that we’re ready for the next pandemic.”
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This increased need for trained professionals suggests a very positive career outlook for those in the biotechnology field, with most jobs in the sector expected to grow at a rate faster than that of the average industry.
“I think biotechnology is going to be one of the fields that comes out [of the global pandemic] stronger than others,” Auclair says, adding that, in his experience, the average annual salaries for students graduating with their master’s in biotechnology from Northeastern are already rather high.
“I would say that the typical starting salary for one of our students with a master’s is [between] $75 and $85,000 per year,” he says. “I anticipate that we’ll see that go up a bit in coming years, but overall that’s pretty good for a first job.”
Below, explore the average annual salaries and job outlook for many of the top careers in biotechnology today.
1. Biomedical Engineer: $91,410
Biomedical engineers play a key role in the biotechnology field. These professionals employ engineering skills to develop or evaluate equipment and tools for the medical and biology industries. These tools can include anything from artificial organs to machines that can diagnose or help manage a medical problem. Researching and testing are also large components of a biomedical engineer’s work. Professionals in this field can expect to see an average job growth rate of four percent by 2028.
2. Biochemist and Biophysicists: $94,490
These professionals spend most of their time in a research and lab environment, studying the chemical and physical principles of living things to develop processes or products that might improve people’s lives. These professionals’ responsibilities range from observing the effects of different substances on biological processes to developing new drugs to treat specific diseases or ailments. These careers are expected to grow at an average rate of six percent by 2028.
3. Biotechnology Research Scientist: $87,418
Research scientists conduct biotechnology experiments in a lab as a means of producing or proposing products that can help solve common biological problems such as those in the food safety, agriculture, and medical industries. Though the above salary represents average earnings for someone at the mid-level in this field, those with extensive experience or training can make up to $117,000 per year.
4. Biomanufacturing Specialists: $83,017
Biomanufacturers leverage biological systems to create products for the medical, industrial, and food and beverage industries. Vaccines, for instance, are one very common example of a product developed by a biomanufacturer in the medical sector. Those at the top of the biomanufacturing field can make up to $164,500 per year.
Keep In Mind: Biomanufacturing is one sector of the biotechnology field that Auclair expects to grow as a result of the pandemic. “A lot of our drugs are [currently] imported from India and China,” he explains. “Some of these products are going to have to move back to the United States, [and] we’re going to have to make sure that the workforce is skilled to execute on that.”
5. Medical Scientist: $88,790
Though medical scientists conduct experiments and research in a lab, their primary focus is on improving processes and products that will have a direct effect on human health. This might include creating or testing medical tools and devices, conducting studies on chronic diseases, or leading a team of technicians in standardizing methods for manufacturing and distributing drugs or medical devices. The medical science field is expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of eight percent by 2028.
6. Microbiologist: $75,650
These professionals spend their time researching microorganisms in order to deduce how they interact with certain environments. Professionals at this level not only plan and conduct advanced experiments on their own, but also oversee a team of biological technicians on extended experiments, as well. Microbiologists commonly work as part of interdisciplinary teams on large-scale projects, which can include aspects that relate to medicine, molecular biology, and more. These careers are expected to grow at an average rate of five percent by 2028.
7. Process Development Scientists: $94,739
Process development scientists are in charge of researching and creating the best processes through which to manufacture biotechnology products. They also audit existing processes for efficiency and quality assurance. Though the above salary represents the average for those in this field, top earners can make up to $121,141 per year.
8. Product Management Director: $143,402
These professionals oversee the development process of a product in the biotechnology sector from conception to conclusion. Directors at this level must be familiar with the different biotechnology practices utilized in the development process. They should also be comfortable leading various teams with siloed areas of expertise and helping them work together to create the product at hand. Though the above salary is the median earned for this role, those at the top of this field can make up to $183,000 per year.
Increasing Your Salary Potential with a Master’s Degree
While biotechnology careers pay well, like with any field, there is always room to grow. As Auclair sees it, the most efficient way to advance in the biotechnology field—and, subsequently increase your earning potential—is to pursue a biotechnology master’s degree.
“A master’s degree is sort of a sweet spot,” he says. “An undergraduate degree is great to get you in the door, but you level off really quickly as to how high you can go.” Similarly, he explains, those with PhDs often find themselves limited in their careers, both by the number of positions available for employees at that level and by a competitive job market teeming with master’s degree holders.
“To put it in perspective, I got my PhD and a number of my friends have their master’s degrees,” Auclair says. “In the time it took for me to get my PhD, they were already in jobs I could have gotten if I had just gone into the industry.”
Though he notes that it’s likely easier to land top roles like those in a C-suite with a PhD, Auclair believes that a master’s provides the perfect combination of training and hands-on experience needed to advance quickly and increase your salary in the biotechnology industry.
Pursuing a Master’s in Biotechnology at Northeastern
If you’re ready to increase your salary potential and advance your career in biotechnology with a master’s degree, Auclair recommends a top program like Northeastern’s.
Northeastern’s Master of Science in Biotechnology program prepares students for a successful, lucrative career in this evolving industry by focusing on industry input and the development of well-rounded students.
“Our program is driven by demand in the industry, so we talk to industry partners, see what they’re looking for in their candidates, and then we develop the program based on their input,” Auclair says.
By leveraging industry insights, programs like Northeastern’s can tailor their curriculum to best prepare students to fulfill the developing needs of society. “We try to keep it current,” Auclair says, offering two forthcoming concentrations in agricultural biotechnology and biodefense as examples of how the program has recently adapted to meet industry demands.
The master’s in biotechnology curriculum at Northeastern also includes a unique focus on interdisciplinary skills to develop students that are well-rounded and prepared to take on industry challenges.
“If you ask [our industry partners] what the number one thing they’re looking for in an employee is, it’s not technical skills—they can teach you those. It’s that you’ll fit into the ecosystem of their company,” Auclair says. To effectively fit into an organizational ecosystem, he continues, students need to hone interpersonal or “soft skills” like teamwork, communication, critical thinking, and leadership.
Northeastern also recognizes that the most successful employees are those who enter an organization with both interpersonal skills and practical training under their belts. For this reason, the master’s in biotechnology program is designed with a “focus on practical, skill-based education, as opposed to just a didactic [approach.]”
Experiential learning, for example, provides real-world opportunities for students to try their skills hands-on, allowing them to develop an in-depth understanding of their discipline beyond the classroom. These opportunities give students the chance to get comfortable with advanced lab equipment they will be expected to use on the job.
“We really try to make sure that they’re exposed to what they’re going to see in the industry, and that they’re not wasting time learning how to operate technology that is outdated,” Auclair says.
Keep In Mind: Another way to get this level of training without committing to a full master’s program is to pursue a graduate certificate in biotechnology. These programs are a perfect option for someone with an undergraduate degree in a different subject area hoping to transfer careers, as well as those with a master’s or PhD looking to tailor their career to a specific segment of biotechnology. “Certificates are meant to augment your existing skill sets,” Auclair says. In many programs like Northeastern’s, a graduate certificate also can roll up as a concentration into a full master’s degree.
“The job market for trained [biotechnology professionals] is going to expand in the next few years,” Auclair says. “So if you’re in the workforce and you’re thinking, ‘what’s the next logical step for me?’…a master’s program is a great way to ensure you can be competitive and successful.”
Learn more about Northeastern’s Master of Science in Biotechnology program and take your first steps toward a lucrative career in this growing field.