Biotechnology degree guide (with definition, steps and jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 10 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Biotechnology is a branch of biology that focuses on using living processes, systems and organisms to create new products and technology that help boost the quality of life. Many of these new products and technologies born out of biotechnology go towards helping the environment and the planet's health. Having a thorough understanding of a degree in biotechnology and the opportunities it creates helps determine whether this is an area you'd like to study. In this article, we provide a detailed guide to biotechnology degrees, including the kinds of job opportunities available to graduates.

What is a biotechnology degree?

A biotechnology degree combines the knowledge and study of technology and biological science to create innovative and effective new products with biological cells by changing the genetic makeup. This degree offers students a wide range of transferable skills which are applicable across a wide range of different career paths. The study of biotechnology is complex and requires high levels of commitment, intelligence and analytical skills to successfully complete a degree.

Related: A guide to science degrees: courses, careers and salaries

What are the entry requirements for a biotechnology degree?

Degrees in biotechnology are accessible across many universities, both at undergraduate and master's levels. To access an undergraduate degree in biotechnology, the entry requirement for most universities is the study of chemistry alongside mathematics at A-levels. Some universities require the study of an additional science subject at A-Level to access this course, so always check individual university entry requirements. Some of the subjects you can consider include:

  • biotechnology

  • biology

  • chemistry

  • mathematics

  • technology

  • physics

Related: How to become a biotechnologist: a step-by-step guide

What does the study of biotechnology include?

At most universities, a degree in biotechnology is typically broken down into different core modules to study throughout the different years of your course. Some of these modules include:

  • Microbial biotechnology: This module provides students with key knowledge about how microorganisms apply to pharmaceutical products, food production, medicine and the natural environment.

  • Plant biotechnology: This area of study involves students working to genetically modify plants to increase the plant's resistance to disease and increase the growth rate of the crops.

  • Animal biotechnology: This module requires students to have a thorough understanding of the nutritional needs of animals and the different physiologies of animals. They then apply a range of technologies to help develop preventative disease treatments alongside working to improve the health and the growth of animals.

As you progress through your degree, you have an opportunity to choose areas of biotechnology you're most interested in and passionate about. General topics that students cover across the course of this degree include:

  • gene expression analysis

  • cells and genes

  • immunology

  • microbiology

  • molecular pharmaceuticals

  • biotechnology ethics

  • genomes

  • gene editing

  • protein expression

How long does a biotechnology course take?

An undergraduate degree in biotechnology takes three years of full-time study to complete. In some cases, some universities may offer placement opportunities for third-year students, extending the degree to four years rather than three. Depending on your university, the completion of a master's degree in biotechnology takes between one and three years, with the average duration of the degree being two years. If you choose to complete your master's degree part-time, you may take two to four years to complete it.

Related: What is a BSc degree? Definition, types and benefits

What to expect when studying biotechnology at university?

Each university offers a range of teaching methods for degrees in biotechnology, but you can expect the following teaching methods:

  • Lectures: Lectures, sometimes referred to as tutorials, are the most popular teaching method at universities. Lecturers lead the class, in which students are usually expected to take notes about the latest theories and research in the field.

  • Seminars: Seminars are another popular teaching method that involves grouping students from the same course together in smaller groups to have discussions with tutors about specific topics. Seminar groups often revolve around group work and projects.

  • Laboratory sessions: A degree in biotechnology involves practical work, which is where the laboratory sessions come in. During these sessions, students carry out practical work in the labs and conduct different experiments and tests that work alongside the theoretical content of the degree.

  • Computer laboratory sessions: Computer lab sessions are also common within degrees in biotechnology as students use computers for technological analysis of results and data. They also use computer labs to conduct independent research.

  • Workshops: Workshops are a teaching method that allows students to have a more hands-on approach to their learning, with a tutor usually discussing themes, topics and concepts related to the course module. Workshops are a valuable opportunity for students to develop practical and knowledge-based skills.

  • Problem-based learning: Problem-based learning is where students work together in groups to solve a problem presented to them by a tutor. Students use their knowledge and taught skills to decipher solutions for the problem, and this method helps to develop their communication and team working skills.

  • Self-study: All university degrees expect students to devote extensive time to self-study and revision so students can solidify their knowledge. Self-study is for students to complete assignments and essays that tutors can mark, with the grades contributing to their overall degree.

Students can also expect a wide range of assessment methods across their degrees in biotechnology, including:

  • coursework essays

  • group projects

  • oral examinations

  • laboratory reports

  • written exams

  • research studies and projects

  • presentations

Skills you learn by completing a degree in biotechnology

There is a wide range of skills that students develop by completing a degree in biotechnology, including:

  • Problem-solving: Problem-based learning helps to develop problem-solving skills. As biotechnology is a complex degree subject, the ability to persevere and handle problems effectively is strongly developed.

  • Analysis: Students develop their analytical skills by conducting experiments and gathering data. They also analyse written reports and other pieces of their coursework.

  • Teamwork: Students develop strong teamwork skills through working on group projects and assignments. They collaborate to achieve successful results in experiments.

  • Organisation: Organisation is key for meeting deadlines and managing the workload of a degree in biotechnology. This instils the necessity of organisation and structure across many aspects.

  • Attention to detail: Attention to detail is important when conducting scientific analysis. The practice of paying attention to the small details is a very transferable skill that students learn from this degree.

  • Communication: Both written and oral communication skills are strongly developed throughout this degree. For example, students work and communicate results and solutions to their peers and their tutors in both written essays and oral presentations.

Career options for biotechnology graduates

Below are some popular career options that are accessible to biotechnology students once they've completed a degree in biotechnology:

1. Animal scientist

National average salary: £31,035 per year

Primary duties: Animal scientists work to conduct extensive research on animals, usually domestic and farm-based animals. They do this to determine ways to improve their genetics and health, prevent deadly diseases and safely maintain food production. Areas of research may include looking at their physical features, biological processes and their behaviour.

Related: 12 biotechnology careers (including duties and salaries)

2. Clinical research coordinator

National average salary: £31,290 per year

Primary duties: A clinical research coordinator manages the logistics of running a clinical trial, from recruiting patients to reporting results. They ensure that the trial runs smoothly and that all participants complete their assigned tasks on time. This might include managing patient recruitment, keeping track of who has been screened for eligibility, scheduling appointments with patients, collecting data during visits and communicating with other departments within the company or medical centre where they work.

3. Biomedical engineer

National average salary: £34,878 per year

Primary duties: A biomedical engineer is an expert in medicine and technology. Biomedical engineers work to test and design new medical procedures that can then get implemented in practice. They also work to modify, design and manufacture new devices, products and equipment for the medical sphere. Areas of work include designing and improving medical devices, such as diagnostic tools, surgical instruments and prosthetics.

Related: 5 biomedical engineer jobs (plus salaries and duties)

4. Biofuel engineer

National average salary: £35,496 per year

Primary duties: The primary duties of a biofuel engineer includes finding and developing different uses for fuels by analysing and researching plant sources. The mission of biofuel engineers is to find ways to effectively reduce carbon footprint and find ways to maximise renewable biofuel energy. Biofuel engineers require a strong understanding of the chemical processes involved in biofuel production. They also work with data from research and experiments conducted by other engineers and scientists to determine whether or not these processes are effective.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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