Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What does the Biotechnology sector produce or what service does it provide?
A. Current applications of biotechnology are predominantly practiced in the fields of agriculture and medicine. Modern techniques allow for the production of new and improved foods. Virus resistant crop plants and animals have been developed and advances in insect resistance have been made. Biotechnology applications in the field of medicine have resulted in new antibiotics, vaccines for malaria, and improved ways of producing insulin. Diagnostic tests for serious genetic diseases such as hereditary cancers and Huntington's chorea have been developed as well as ways of detecting and treating AIDS.
Q. List the occupations available in the Biotechnology sector.
A. Most people probably think of the lab technician or research scientist when they think of biotechnology. There are many exciting opportunities for scientists and non-scientists in the biotechnology sector. Complementing the creative endeavors of researchers and engineers are the efforts to commercialize biotechnology products with the input of business management and marketing personnel. On the production side of things, quality assurance technicians, sales reps, and equipment maintenance people are required. The expertise of intellectual property and patent lawyers are also a necessary component in the process. New career opportunities in the area of bioinformatics and biostatistics are on the increase. We have compiled a list of possible career opportunities for biotech.
Q. What do the people working in different Biotechnology occupations do?
A. Research scientists don't just work in the lab all the time, much of their time may be devoted to writing papers, or grant proposals, attending seminars and conferences, and they may or may not be involved in teaching university students. Laboratory technicians and lab assistants spend most of their time in the lab, doing the day to day tasks of carrying out the research. They would be working with a variety of sophisticated equipment, preparing chemicals, and possibly maintaining experimental microbial, plant, or animal tissue cultures. They may be required to work with plants in a greenhouse or field setting, or to work with lab animals. Sales reps obviously try to sell their products. They may be selling the products of the biotechnology industry to farmer, doctors, or other industries, or selling scientific equipment and supplies to biotech researchers. Quality assurance technicians work in labs or other types of production facilities testing the products that are for sale to ensure that they are safe and that they meet the required standards. In the fields of bioinformatics or biostatistics the work would mostly be on the computer. However, an understanding of the science involved would also be required. You could be designing and maintaining data bases of scientific information, or analyzing the results of a series of plant growth trials.
Q. What type of training do these Biotechnology occupations require and where can it be acquired? How long is the training process?
A. Research scientists require a M.Sc. or Ph.D. This requires at least 6 to 8 years of university training. Lab technicians typically require a B.Sc. or M.Sc. which requires 4 to 6 years of university training. A lab assistant may only require one to two years of training in a technical college. Quality Assurance Technicians or Scientific Sales Reps probably need a B.Sc. in a related field. Marketing and Human Resources people probably need a B.Comm., and management personnal would probably be best qualified with some scientific training and then a B.Comm. or M.B.A. (4 to 6 years university training). Someone working in the bio-informatics field will typically need a degree in computer science complimented with several courses in biology or biotechnology. However, you could get into this field after doing a science degree in a related field and then a one year post-graduate diploma in information systems. A Biostatistician would usually have at least a masters degree in statistics or biometrics.
Q. What is exciting about a career in Biotechnology?
A. Biotechnology is a very exciting sector. It is a relatively new field and many aspects of it are constantly changing. It has already made numerous contributions to solving significant problems in medicine and agriculture and promises to continue contributions in those areas as well as solving environmental, energy and possibly other problems as well. Those who work in the research lab - the scientists, lab technicians and lab assistants - are constantly learning new things, problem solving and working on the forefront of scientific discovery. Those who work in the business sector - the managers, production supervisors, lawyers, technicians and salesmen - get to develop and promote some of the most dynamic and significant products available. With such a diversity of job opportunities, it is possible to grow into different roles and levels of responsibility and salary over time as your interests and abilities grow. Opportunities also exist both domestically and internationally if desired.
Q. What are the working conditions in the Biotechnology sector? (health and safety concerns, steady work, etc.)
A. Working conditions vary considerably from one part of the sector to another. Of course, in any lab there are health and safety concerns, but most biotech labs use many different types safety precautions, and the jobs are probably safer than working in a factory or on a farm. In general hi-tech companies are leaders in the health and welfare of their employees. For the most part, these jobs are permanent and full-time. However, there are opportunities for job-sharing, part-time or temporary work if that is what is desired.
Q. How do Bioinformatics and Bioprocessing complement each other?
A. Before we delve into this question, it would be helpful to know how these subjects are defined. Bioinformatics is the application of computer technology to the management of biological information. An example of this would be the analysis and documentation of an organism’s genetic sequence. Bioprocessing uses living cells to manufacture a desired product. An example of this would be using genetically altered bacteria to produce a therapeutic drug. Individuals with an aptitude for computer-based work/study would do well with bioinformatics. Those that prefer a more hands on experience in the laboratory space would like bioprocessing. How do these two disciplines complement each other? A Bioinformatics scientist that has a strong basis in the practical applications of Bioprocessing can better understand the ‘bench’ side of the laboratory work. A bioprocessing technician who understands the specifics of the sample analysis can better tailor their work for improved results. The interdisciplinary nature of biotechnology makes for a well-rounded laboratory technician and being familiar with both Biotechnology tracks can only be seen as a positive.
Q. Is a minor built into the Biotechnology degree?
A. No. There is not a minor built into the Biotechnology degree nor is there a minor required to complete the degree plan. Given the amount of Biology and Chemistry courses built into the course requirements, some students elect to minor in those subjects.