Biotechnologist Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a biological technician career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a biological technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Biotechnologist

Biotechnologists, also known as biological technicians, work full time in laboratories to assist scientists with tests and experiments. Reading the pros and cons of being a biotechnologist may help you decide if this is the right career for you.

Pros of a Biotechnologist Career
Average-growth field (10% growth from 2012-2022)*
Ability to conduct experiments*
Laboratory work environment*
May work on finding cures for diseases*

Cons of a Biotechnologist Career
Strict safety procedures when dealing with dangerous substances*
Risk of contamination*
Strong job competition*
Pay is average (median hourly wage was roughly $20 in 2014)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

The role of a biological technician is to work with laboratory equipment under the supervision and direction of other scientists and biologists. Equipment will include microscopes, test tubes, scales, robotics and automated tools. As a biological technician, you would use these tools to gather and study substances, such as food, living organisms, blood samples and bacteria cultures. You would then be expected to perform a number of tests on samples, document your findings and interpret experimental data. Finally, you would summarize your findings to be evaluated by your supervisors. Biological technologists are able to work within a variety of areas for research. For instance, those working in medical research are able to study various medicines and treatments for disease. However, there are strict safety procedures that must be followed when dealing with harmful substances and toxic materials to prevent contamination.

Job Growth and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biological technicians can expect a good job outlook, with a 10% increase in employment predicted for 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). This average demand in employment may be due to the growing need for biotechnology research in the medical, agriculture and energy fields. Furthermore, in May 2014 biological technicians saw a median annual wage of approximately $41,000. That same year, the tenth percentile of workers in this field earned an annual wage of about $26,000 or less, while the 90th percentile earned roughly $68,000 or more.

What Are the Requirements?

The entry-level requirement for this field is a bachelor's degree in either biology or a related field. Before entering the workforce, you'll need to gain work experience in a laboratory. Courses in biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics are vital; however, you should also consider taking courses in computer science in order to develop an understanding of the type of automated equipment and specialized software you will work with in this field. In addition, consider participating in a summer internship with a pharmaceutical or medical company to gain work experience.

Top Skills for Biotechnologist Careers

You will need strong critical-thinking, communication, technical and observation skills to excel in this field. In fact, advertisements for biological technicians tend to seek candidates with strong problem-solving skills and the ability to work independently. An ability to learn new techniques and concepts was also a frequent request. Here are examples of what some real employers looked for during April 2012:

  • A university medical center in Chicago advertised for a research technician in the biological sciences. The position required the ability to collect specimens, analyze data, prepare reports, maintain equipment and follow regulatory policies and procedures. Requirements included a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences, as well as one year of laboratory experience and competency with various computer programs.
  • A government contractor based in North Carolina sought a marine biological laboratory technician with the ability to process fish aging structures, handle laboratory chemicals, conduct field sampling of fish and verify data. This employer listed at least an associate's degree in the biological sciences and the ability to lift heavy objects as requirements. Strong organizational skills and knowledge of databases were also requested.
  • A health care laboratory based in California requested applications from candidates for a medical laboratory technician opportunity. Candidates needed an associate's or bachelor's degree in the biological or physical sciences. In addition, they also needed to be licensed as a medical laboratory technician by the Department of Public Health. Several years of relevant experience were preferred.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

To stand out as a biological technician, you may wish to consider completing safety training courses with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OHSA). Completion of these programs may improve job prospects with laboratories working with hazardous materials and contaminates. Also, check with your state's Department of Public Health. Your state may require that you become licensed as a biological technician, depending on your area of specialization. Furthermore, you may be able to advance in the biological sciences by earning a graduate degree. For instance, you could become eligible for work as a microbiologist after working for several years as a biological technician, or by earning a higher degree.

Alternative Career Paths

Agricultural and Food Science Technician

If you decide to specialize in the agricultural and food sciences, then this career path could be right for you. The minimum entry-level requirement is an associate's degree in animal science or a related field. According to the BLS, as of May 2011 these technicians earned a median annual wage of roughly $34,000. The median hourly wage was around $16. Still, this field grew at rate slower than average. The BLS predicted that from 2010-2020, employment would grow by only seven percent.

Microbiologist

If you're interested in a more advanced biology career, you might consider becoming a microbiologist. Microbiologists focus their research on microscopic organisms. While you can advance to this career by initially working as a biological technician, this field typically requires at least a bachelor's degree in microbiology. Some positions even require a doctorate (Ph.D.) in this field of study. Microbiologists can expect this field to grow about as fast as average, with a 13% increase in employment predicted from 2010-2020. In May 2011, the median annual wage for this profession was around $65,000. The median hourly wage was roughly $31.

Biochemist or Biophysicist

If you're interested in a highly biology career, you might become a biochemist or biophysicist. These positions require that you earn your Ph.D. in either biochemistry or biophysics. You would work in laboratories full time, exploring the physical and chemical properties of living organisms for research purposes. In May 2011, the median annual pay was roughly $79,000, and the hourly rate was about $38. Employment in this field is expected to grow at a much faster than average rate of 31% due to an increased demand for lifesaving treatments.

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Grand Canyon University

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Kaplan University

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American InterContinental University

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Penn Foster High School

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Fortis College

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CDI College

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Windward Community College

Westmoreland County Community College