If you have a scientific mind, enjoy Life Sciences and problem-solving then a career as a Biotechnologist could be for you.
Biotechnologists are tasked with carrying out innovative work to improve processes in a variety of industries. This includes pharmaceucticals, quality control, healthcare, data innovation, argiculture, food production and quality certification. There are six main areas of biotechnology: environmental, industrial, medical, biofuels, agricultural and marine biotechnology. Essentially, Biotechnology is applied biology where the application of biological knowledge and methods are used to develop products and services.
In each of these fields of biotechnology, Biotechnologists will need to conduct experiments and record their results in the interest of designing innovative products which will improve health, food, the environment, energy efficiency etc. A Biotechnologist is typically involved in studying the physical, genetic and chemical properties of cells, tissues and organisms then making products with the use of experiment results as well as methods such as genitic modification. The work carried out by Biotechnologists aims to answer questions and sove issues using science.
Most tertiary institutions will need you to have taken the following subjects at high school:
- Pure Mathematics (matric level)
- Physical Science (matric level)
- Life Sciences
- Information Technology
The following institutions are highly recommended for studies in Biotechnology:
- University of Pretoria (UP) – APS of 30
- University of Johannesburg (UJ) – APS of 21
- University of Western Cape (UWC) – APS of 33+
In order to qualify as a Biotechnologist, you will need a formal qualification. Most institutions offer a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology/Advanced Biotechnology/Molecular Cell Biology or a Diploma in Biotechnology. The qualification will vary from institution to institution but you will be expoxed to the study of chemistry, biochemistry, genetic engineering as well as physiology.
It is typical to specialise in a form of Biotechnology by studying further and getting your honors, masters and PhD. Some common specialisations include biochemistry, genetics, stem cell research, pharmacology and molecular biology.
You will need to have the following skills to succeed as a Biotechnologist:
- scientific mind
- research techniques
- communication skills
- scientific writing
- computer skills
As a Biotechnologist, you will be able to work for large Biotech companies depending on your area of interest. You can also work for food/drink manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, argricultural companies, in academia (for universities) or for the government.
If you’re working outside of academia, your typical working week can be between 35 and 45 hours. However, you could find yourself working in shifts and over the weekends if you’re conducting experiments that need constant monitoring.
As a Biotechnologist, your earning potential will depend on where you work. The average annual Biotechnologist salary in South Africa is R179 105.
Here are a few things you can expect from a career as a Biotechnologist:
- you will work indoors, usually in a laboratory where conditions are sterile and you need to wear protective clothing
- you will typically be conducting experiments where you will need to share your results
- you might need to produce research papers and attend conferences
- you will be using computerised machines and laboratory equipment to run your experiments and produce results
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