A bachelor's degree and the ambition to help advance science serve as two fundamental qualifications you need for an exciting career in biotechnology. In this field, you can analyze and manipulate living systems to develop useful new products for energy, medicine, criminal justice, or national security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that careers in the life, physical, and social science fields will grow by 10% between 2016-2026, faster than the national average for all occupations. People working in this occupational group receive a median annual salary of $66,070, and those with a master's degree can earn much more.
This page offers a comprehensive guide to acquiring your online master's in biotechnology.
What to Know About Online Master's in Biotechnology Coursework
Students pursuing a master's in biotechnology online develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue careers in food safety, environmental conservation, biodefense, agricultural engineering, or pharmaceutical development. Some schools require online students to take labs or bootcamps in which they visit campus and delve into actionable, real-world biotechnology alongside their peers in the program. Other schools allow distance education learners to complete the program entirely from home.
Most degrees require 30-45 credits and take at least two years to complete. Many factors affect the path to completion, however. Some schools require cohorts in which a group of students enters together and takes all courses in lockstep. While these programs make course planning and consistency easy, they may lengthen degree completion times. Other schools maintain generous transfer credit policies, which can shorten a student's time to completion.
While online biotechnology master's degrees overlap in the subject matter taught, the specific curriculum offered varies from school to school. Nearly all universities require a fundamental set of courses in biology, scientific enterprise, regulatory affairs, health sciences, and labs. The list below provides a sample curriculum.
- Advanced Cell Biology: Often broken into two courses -- advanced cell biology I and advanced cell biology II -- this class covers cell organization and subcellular structure. Topics include cell dynamics, organelle biogenesis, cellular evolution, the mechanics of cell division, transport across cell membranes, and sites of macromolecular synthesis and processing. Students also explore cell biology's experimental techniques.
- Molecular Biology: One of the fundamental building-block courses of an online biotechnology master's degree, molecular biology provides a complete, structured overview of concepts such as DNA replication, translation, transcription, chromosome structure, nucleic acid structure and function, and regulation and remodeling of gene expression in prokaryotes and eukaryotes. The course serves as a prerequisite to applied molecular biology courses.
- Science, Medicine, and Policy in Biodefense: This course begins with a look at the history of biological warfare followed by a study of the most significant biological threat agents, their diagnostics, medical consequences and treatment, and forensics. Students consider relevant national security policies and defense strategies to better understand biological warfare, its consequences, and potential protections against its use.
- Virology: This course covers the fundamentals of viruses. Topics include animal viruses, plant viruses, bacteriophage, prions, viroids, and unconventional agents. The major focus rests on animal viruses, with specific study in gene therapy, antiviral drugs, vaccines, viral replication, viral transformation, and viral recombination and evolution. Students also consider the application of viral vectors to biotechnology.
- Bioethics: Students look at traditional and modern theories of the philosophy of the good. This course examines the morality of critical issues in biology, including organ transplantation, experiments with human subjects, the use of animals in research, and in vitro fertilization. Students also discuss the ethics of data collection, analysis, and publication.
Many online biotechnology master's programs offer areas of specialization, but the specific concentrations depend upon the school chosen. The list below provides a sample of the kinds of specializations students can choose. Some online biotechnology master's degrees do not offer any specialization options.
- Biodefense: Students learn to protect populations against attacks by biological weapons. Coursework includes epidemiology, immunology, and infectious diseases. Learners may also take lab work in infectious diseases and biodefense.
- Drug Discovery and Design: Students in this specialization gain an in-depth knowledge of the bioinformatic and technology processes used in drug design. Courses draw from both molecular medicine and the business of science.
- Bioinformatics: Focused on biological studies that use computer programming, this specialization requires coursework in biostatistics, tools for genomic analysis, and gene expression data analysis and visualization. Students also learn the theory and practice of searching and analyzing a biological database.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Most master's in biotechnology online conclude with a practicum, capstone experience, or traditional thesis. Practicums, sometimes called internships, can require up to six months of work in an academic or professional biotechnology environment. Some schools allow students to conduct a practicum on campus while others expect students to work off campus.
Students who complete a capstone may create a full business plan for a new company, drug, or technology. Those who write a thesis focus on in-depth biotechnology research using the scientific method under the direction of a faculty member. Some programs require both a practicum and a concluding project.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Biotechnology Program?
The best online biotechnology master's programs hold regional accreditation with the appropriate agency along with programmatic accreditation from a reputable organization such as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology or the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Along with accreditation, top schools offer a multidisciplinary curriculum that blends research and innovation with the latest trends and discoveries in biotechnology. Courses should draw from the molecular biology, genomics, cell biology, biochemistry, and proteomic. In the best programs, students take both traditional courses and labs.
A hallmark of any great academic program is the quality of the faculty. While online faculty members may not be the same people as their on-campus counterparts, they need to hold equivalent academic qualifications. Usually, that means a Ph.D. from a top program, a background in research, and extensive teaching and publication credits. As when choosing any part-time graduate program, prospective students should pay careful attention to graduation rates. A low rate may signal a degree without adequate support for students.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Biotechnology Degree
Professionals who earn a degree from one of the top online biotechnology master's programs can enjoy a variety of career options. From working in an engineering lab designing new medical technology to overseeing a natural science resource and development center, biotechnologists study and develop processes and systems that improve people's health. These professionals may work for private companies in the federal government or at colleges or universities serving as researchers, managers, or teachers.
Most college and university teachers hold a Ph.D., but community college faculty members may provide instruction on the basis of an accredited online biotechnology master's degree. These professionals teach classes, oversee student labs, serve on committees, and advise individual students. Some postsecondary teachers serve as adjuncts while others work full time.
- Median Salary: $78,470 per year
- Currently Employed: 1,314,400
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: 15%
Medical scientists work in schools and research and development centers to conduct clinical trials and other research that results in findings that improve overall human health. Most medical scientists hold a Ph.D. in biology or a related field, but an online biotechnology master's degree can provide a robust background for doctoral study in the field.
- Median Salary: $84,810 per year
- Currently Employed: 120,000
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: 13%
Natural Sciences Managers
Serving primarily in manufacturing centers, the federal government, and research and development institutions, natural sciences managers oversee scientists who perform research, development, quality control, testing, and production activities. People in this field often blend a background in management with knowledge of and experience in the natural sciences.
- Median Salary: $123,860 per year
- Currently Employed: 56,700
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: 10%
Biochemists and Biophysicists
These professionals conduct experiments and analyze the results to advance the body of knowledge regarding physical and chemical principles of biological processes and living things. Most biochemists and biophysicists need a doctoral degree, but a master's in biotechnology can serve as the academic foundation for the doctorate.
- Median Salary: $93,280 per year
- Currently Employed: 31,500
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: 11%
Working primarily in the research and manufacturing of medical supplies and equipment, these professionals collaborate with scientists and healthcare professionals to develop and roll out new healthcare devices, equipment, software, and computer systems. Biomedical engineers might build artificial body parts or rehabilitative exercise equipment. They may emphasize bioinstrumentation, biomechanics, biomaterials, rehabilitation engineering, or another subfield of the discipline.
- Median Salary: $88,550 per year
- Currently Employed: 21,300
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 Years: 7%
What's the Expected Job Growth for Biotechnology Careers?
Job growth for biotechnology professionals can go as low as 7% or as high as 15% depending on the specific job. In general, the industry will likely expand as the BLS projects that life, physical, and social science occupations will add 124,000 new jobs from 2016-2026. Federal research grants, and therefore federal policy priorities, drive much of the job growth in the field, meaning that specialists with skills in securing federal funds should remain in high demand.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Biotechnology
Biotechnology students and young professionals who join organizations can use their membership to position themselves as leaders in the field. From networking opportunities and career centers to webinars and applied academic journals, these organizations provide a wealth of knowledge and opportunities that let members learn from top professionals in the field.
- Institute of Biological Engineering: Engineers, technologists, scientists, and allied professionals who join this organization can take advantage of meetings and publications, along with a career center and access to educational materials. The institute also publishes the Journal of Biological Engineering.
- Biomedical Engineering Society: More than 7,000 biomedical engineering students and professionals make up this society. Members receive a subscription to the Annals of Biomedical Engineering along with discounted attendance at conferences. The organization also offers awards, fellowships, and a job board.
- Biotechnology Innovation Organization: This organization serves primarily as an advocate for the industry, promoting public policies that improve patient access and support innovation. Members can attend conferences, join committees, and read journals to stay up to date on policy-related happenings in the field.
- International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering: Pharmaceutical professionals can join this society, which offers conferences, training courses, and regulatory resources. Students and young professionals can participate in activities designed just for them, and local chapters allow members to network in their areas.
- Society for Biomaterials: Academic, healthcare, governmental and business professionals who join the society can take advantage of professional development and networking opportunities along with annual meetings and publications such as the Journal of Biomedical Research and Applied Biomaterials.
How to Pay for a Master's in Biotechnology Degree
Graduate students may pay for their own degrees, receive support from their universities, or rely on external funding from public and private agencies. Many students combine support from all these sources to meet the gap between what they owe and what they can afford. Typically, universities assist students in gaining the support they need to attend.
- Federal Financial Aid While certain federal grants go only to undergraduate students, the U.S. government makes available many low-cost loans and other funding opportunities to master's degree students. Applicants simply need to fill out the FAFSA to find out what they qualify to receive. Members of the military and other federal employees and their families can receive significant financial aid.
Monsanto Awards Professional organizations and private companies such as Monsanto offer scholarship funding and other financial support to graduate students in the field. Prospective students seeking support from Monsanto must demonstrate academic excellence with a 3.0 GPA. This scholarship does not serve undergraduate or doctoral-level students, but it does welcome applications from any STEM field.
- E. Goldsworthy Scholarship Graduate students in biotechnology can receive scholarships from their school such as the H. E. Goldsworthy Scholarship from the University Of Wisconsin-River Falls. Recipients of this funding work on breeding wheat or another project related to biotechnology. Specific requirements for institutional scholarships vary from school to school.
- Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship Graduate students can take advantage of privately and publicly funded assistantships, fellowships, and research positions such as the Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship, which provides funding to first-year graduate students. Students doing graduate work in the computer, mathematical , physical, engineering, or life sciences may meet the eligibility requirements.