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A biotechnologist uses biological organisms to create and improve products and processes. They work in areas as diverse as food and agriculture, environmental conservation and medicine.

What does a biotechnologist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Biotechnologists seek to understand and manipulate the basic building blocks of living things, and they use the techniques of molecular biology to do so. They study the genetic, chemical and physical attributes of cells, tissues and organisms, and identify practical uses for this knowledge.

Among other things, a biotechnologist in the area of food and agriculture might produce enzymes and preservatives for use in food and drink products, or they might genetically modify crops to increase yields. An environmental biotechnologist might convert plants into biofuels or create plant-based bioplastics, and a medical biotechnologist will research and produce new pharmaceutical drugs and medical treatments.

The job of a biotechnologist involves:

  • designing and implementing research studies
  • developing new research procedures
  • working with lab technicians on research
  • setting up the laboratory equipment to conduct and monitor experiments
  • collecting, studying and testing samples such as food, cells, tissues, blood samples, bacteria cultures and living organisms
  • recording findings and analysing the results
  • identifying how the research can be applied to improving human life

Typical employers of biotechnologists

  • Pharmaceutical and chemical companies
  • Biotechnology and genetic engineering companies
  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Research institutions
  • Agricultural and crop production companies
  • Food and drink manufacturers

Opportunities are advertised online, by careers services, by specialist recruitment agencies, in newspapers, in relevant scientific publications such as New Scientist and Science, journals published by the professional institutions, and their respective websites.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

You will need a degree if you want to become a biotechnologist. This will need to be in a relevant scientific subject such as biotechnology, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, microbiology, environmental biology or chemical engineering. A postgraduate qualification such as a masters or PhD may well be required.

It is possible to do an integrated masters degree, such as an MBiolSci, an MBiol or an MSc, which will typically last for four years in England and Wales, and five years in Scotland. These are designed to lead to further postgraduate study (eg a PhD), and are particularly suited to those looking for a career in research. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore some of your postgraduate options.

Research work, laboratory placements and experience gained using relevant scientific and analytical techniques can also be particularly helpful in landing a graduate job.

It’s possible for a school leaver to enter the science industry through an apprenticeship as a laboratory technician but, if you ultimately want to become a biotechnologist, you will need to get a degree.

Key skills for biotechnologists

  • Complex problem solving
  • Team work and communication skills
  • An investigative mind
  • Attention to detail
  • Innovative thinking
  • Analytical skills

Next: search graduate jobs and internships

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