Job descriptions and industry overviews

Biotechnologist: job description

19 Jul 2023, 08:45

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.

A biotechnologist in a lab holding a conical flask containing a purple liquid.

Biotechnologist : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Biotechnologists use biological organisms and processes in industrial and other practical settings. Their work has an impact on many aspects of daily life. For example, medical biotechnologist will research and produce new pharmaceutical drugs and medical treatments. A biotechnologist in the area of food and agriculture might produce preservatives for use in food and drink products and an environmental biotechnologist might convert plants into biofuels.

Typical duties include:

  • studying organisms and their genetic make-up, including carrying out experiments.
  • designing and implementing studies.
  • developing new research procedures.
  • gathering and analysing data.
  • applying research to develop new products or resolve problems.
  • working with other professionals, such as lab technicians.
  • Managing patent applications.

Biotechnology is a rapidly growing field and employers tend to be clustered around centres of scientific research and expertise such as Oxford and Cambridge.

You’re likely to work standard ‘office’ hours, although you’re more likely to be based in a lab. You may need to work unsociable hours around deadlines, or if you’re working in an industry where operations run 24 hours a day, in which case you might need to work shifts.

Graduate salaries

Salary survey websites suggest that starting salaries range from £17,000 to £19,000. Earnings increase with experience and will also be affected by which sector you work in: salaries tend to be higher in the private sector.

Typical employers of biotechnologists

  • Pharmaceutical and chemical companies.
  • Biotechnology and genetic engineering companies.
  • Universities.
  • Healthcare organisations such as the NHS Blood and Transplant Service.
  • Research institutions.
  • Agricultural and crop production companies.
  • Food and drink manufacturers.

Opportunities are advertised on targetjobs and by careers services and university departments. You can also find them on specialist jobs boards.

The recruitment process could involve a technical interview. Read our article on on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into this profession for graduates and school leavers. Graduates usually need a degree in a 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.

You could 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.

Work experience – especially research and lab experience – will help your job applications stand out and give you insights into working in this field. If your degree doesn’t include a placement year, look for internships and summer placements. Work experience in this field isn’t always advertised or formally organised, so you may need to make speculative applications and consider less formal opportunities such as work shadowing.

It’s possible for school leavers to enter the science industry through a degree apprenticeship.

Key skills for biotechnologists

  • The ability to apply scientific knowledge and skills to practical situations.
  • Complex problem-solving skills.
  • Teamwork and communication skills.
  • An investigative mind.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Innovative thinking.
  • Analytical skills.
  • Commercial awareness.

Next, head to our article on how to get a graduate job in science and research .

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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