Biotechnologist  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotWhat is biotechnology? If you only listen to the news, it's a big, scary science that is going to create all kinds of things we're not sure we want to exist. But the simplest explanation is that it's a combination of biology and technology. It's the science of changing or using living things to come up with new or better things.

In some form or another, biotechnology has been around for a very long time. It includes historical discoveries ranging from the development of antibiotics to modern day stem cell research and cloning. Its diversity is one of the reasons it's so well covered in the news. It's also what makes it a great career.

People who work in biotechnology can work in many different areas. These include health care, industry, agriculture, the military and other fields. And the men and women in these fields are usually not even called biotechnologists.

"Due to the diversity and scope of the biotechnology industry the specific position of biotechnologist does not exist," explains Siobhan Williams. She works with a biotechnology firm. "People working in the bio-economy can be researchers working in a lab, business development people working in an office, manufacturing staff in a manufacturing facility, etc."

"Biotechnologist is a general term that covers all aspects of developing biological products and services for consumer health, agriculture, biodefense, etc.," confirms Kristina Obom. She is associate program chair in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University.

Consider Catherine Rodriguez, a microbiologist with the U.S. Army. She graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. "I accepted a position with the U.S. Army in 2005 starting out as a laboratory technician," she says. "I worked my way up to become a research microbiologist."

Beth Biederman is also working as a microbiologist, and has performed many different tasks in her career. "When I was in manufacturing, my role was more supportive," she explains. "I tested the air for microorganisms and particles that could affect the drug products. I tested the water used in production to ensure it was clean. All incoming samples of the drugs were tested for quality before they were added to the drugs and all completed drugs were tested before they were released.

"Now that I'm in an R&D (research and development) capacity, my roles are different. I am working in the microbiology group. I grow up the different organisms needed by other groups for various testing. I keep track of where they are located in the different freezers and hand them out when requested."

Clearly, what you can do in the field of biotechnology is limited only by your imagination. Some people work standard hours, while others may work extended or flexible hours. The opportunities are equal for both genders, and people with special physical needs can also find suitable positions somewhere within the profession.

Then there is the work itself. From DNA research and solving human health problems to creating better food products and alternative energy resources, biotechnology has it all covered. And with the field's continuing growth, even your imagination may not be able to keep up with the opportunities.

"Health is a large part of biotechnology," says Williams. "But bioenergy, the environment and agriculture are emerging sub-sectors. Biotechnology is a field of constant innovation and discovery." And that's what makes its future both promising and exciting.

At a Glance

Combine biology and technology to develop new products

  • This field involves working with living things
  • You can work in many different areas
  • You'll need a PhD or a master's to get ahead