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The Education Path for a Biotech Career

Graduate Degrees

Many positions are available to people with only bachelor's degrees. Positions with more responsibility and independence usually go to people with master's or doctoral degrees, however. Some master's programs focus on class work, while others combine classes and library and/or lab research. Writing a long research paper (known as a thesis) or taking a series of written and oral exams is generally required for graduation. Many universities now offer master's degrees in biotechnology. Some companies will allow employees to work part-time while pursuing a master's degree. In some cases, they even help pay for the additional education.

A few universities also offer programs that lead to a dual degree—a master of science in biotechnology and a master of business administration, or MBA degree. This combination of degrees is useful to students who are interested in working on the business side of biotechnology or opening their own biotechnology company.

Universities offering these dual-degree programs include Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Florida, and the University of Calgary in Canada. Admission to MS/MBA programs often requires that you first gain two years of work experience after receiving a bachelor's degree.

A doctoral degree is also known as a Ph.D. It is the highest degree that someone can earn in a scientific field. Students do not have to earn a master's degree before completing a doctoral degree. In fact, some doctoral programs grant students a master's degree once they have completed certain requirements and while they continue working toward their Ph.D. Doctoral students take a few classes. Mostly they do independent research in a university laboratory. A professor serves as a research adviser. Before they graduate, doctoral students write a book-length research report about their work and conclusions. This is called a dissertation.

Doctoral students and master's students who conduct research write papers about their results that are sent to scientific journals. They also present their research to fellow academics at conferences. These graduate students may also help teach undergraduate courses and grade undergraduate papers and exams.

Depending on the field of study, it can take four to eight years—maybe longer—to earn a doctoral degree. Afterward, many people complete a post-doctoral fellowship, or post-doc. They spend one or two years in the lab of another university or a corporation. They generally work on a project different from the one upon which their dissertation was based. Completion of a post-doc is required to apply for many higher-level biotechnology jobs.

Students interested in biotechnology can earn a doctoral degree in any of the areas listed under undergraduate majors. Very few universities currently offer doctoral degrees in biotechnology. Two that do are Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the University of Massachusetts. Some universities that do not offer graduate biotechnology degrees do offer specific training in biotechnology to graduate students who want it. This is called a designated emphasis or a concentration.

Earning a doctoral degree is a serious, long-range commitment, but it has many rewards. Doctoral degree holders earn more money than people with less education. They are also able to work more independently and be more creative. They often become the directors of research labs.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCool Science CareersThe Education Path for a Biotech Career - Before College, Undergraduate Degrees, Graduate Degrees