If you’re interested in an academic research career in biotechnology, you’ll find a diverse range of roles, spanning multiple research areas and disciplines.
From genetics to virology, biotechnology researchers have contributed to some of the world’s most pioneering technological advances.
You may be a sciences or engineering graduate embarking on a biotechnology-related PhD, or an early career researcher looking for your next project. Whatever the stage of your career, you will find biotechnology research positions available in higher education, research institutes, an almost limitless array of industrial and commercial settings and government/public sector organisations.
Here we look at the research jobs available in biotechnology, the typical career path into this varied field and what it’s like to work in the sector.
Biotechnology research reaches across engineering, technology and medical, agricultural, biological, physical and environmental sciences. Therefore, the area of research you choose will depend on your first degree and/or Masters and biotechnology-related doctoral specialism.
Following completion of a PhD, you will need to look for postdoctoral research contracts which align with your chosen biotechnology specialism. Research projects and activities tend to be fixed-term contracts, so it’s likely that you’ll complete a few postdoc projects before being considered for promotion to senior research associate/fellow or lecturer/senior lecturer.
Alternatively, you may want to consider research posts in related institutes, government or public sector organisations and biotech/life sciences companies.
Working as a Biotechnology Researcher
What’s it like to work as a biotechnology researcher?
Your day-to-day duties will depend on the level of research role you’re applying for. However, in all biotechnology research roles, you’ll be spending a significant amount of time in a lab-based setting, analysing data and testing products and technology.
Working with the research lead and team, you would be expected to contribute and present your research according to your specialist knowledge. If you choose to work in a university, there may also be some ad hoc teaching and demonstration involved.
- Contributing to research and performing complex data tasks
- Conducting lab-based experiments and analysis of results
- Using highly specialised computational equipment
- Working with a multi-disciplinary team to publish research results
- Collaborating with project partners and biotech industries
- Delivery of workshops and demonstrations and PhD, MSc and BSc project supervision
- Presenting at conferences around the world
Where to find jobs
Biotechnology research and industries have grown exponentially in recent years, particularly in the UK. The success of the COVID-19 vaccine has also helped highlight the biotech industry’s impact on global healthcare technology and research.
As a result, demand for experts and researchers across all areas of biotechnology is high. Universities work closely with project partners and biotech, life sciences and biomedical engineering industries to collaborate on a huge range of research and development projects and initiatives.
Biotechnology research projects, groups and clusters are generally well-funded in the UK, through both public bodies and industry. To find out more about the types of biotechnology research projects currently receiving funding visit the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
If you choose to work as a researcher in a university, here are some of the roles you may come across during your search:
- Research assistant
- Postdoctoral researcher
- Research technician/workshop technician
- Research fellow or associate
- Senior research associate/fellow
- Biotechnology (or related discipline) lecturer/senior lecturer
Salaries in biotechnology and engineering research vary depending on the field and specific research activities of the university. However, postdoctoral researchers and research associates can expect to start on a salary of around £30,000 to £39,999 p.a.
Before embarking on an academic research career in biotechnology, you will generally need to have completed doctoral studies in a specialist field. For graduates who want to work in biotech industries, a PhD helps you to develop the data interpretation and research skills you need to progress your career at a faster pace.
There are a wide range of PhD studentships available in biotechnology, which is considered a priority industry and area of research. A PhD takes around 3-5 years to complete; most are fully funded and come with a stipend in the range of £15,000 and £17,000 p.a.
You can find current PhD studentships in fields related to biotechnology here.