How to Prepare for a Biotechnology Career
Biotechnology is a booming field with wide applications that cover everything from agriculture to health care to forensic science. According to the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute, The U.S. biotech industry is currently growing at roughly 12 percent each year. Within the next 20 years, biotechnology is estimated to make up 15 to 18 percent of the American economy.
Here in Kansas City, biotech makes up 58 percent of operating companies in the region, and local talent is in high demand (PDF).
A successful career in this exciting area of study all starts with a degree. Want to plan for a successful education experience in biotech? Here are a few suggestions from KU Edwards Campus advisors and instructors.
Get an early start.
Even before beginning a biotechnology degree program, it’s a good idea to explore opportunities for hands-on experience and mentorship.
Randall Logan, professor of practice for the KU Edwards Campus undergraduate biotechnology program, said he encourages students to get engaged as soon as they can.
“Hands-on experimental work is the most exciting part of becoming a scientist,” Logan said. “Once students have an opportunity to understand, witness and explore the translational aspects of science, they are hooked!”
To help prospective students get early lab and networking experience, the KU Edwards Campus offers several hands-on learning events for high school students throughout the year, including June’s Biotech Learning Labs program, and the annual Biotech Day, coming up on Nov. 18.
During the weeklong Biotech Learning Labs program, students conduct their own experiments, with oversight from KU faculty and students. Biotech Day lets students apply to be research apprentices to current KU biotech seniors. KU students work side-by-side with their high school apprentices as they perform, experience, and generate research data to present at the completion of their project.
Sandra Leppin, KUEC education coordinator, said programs like these, as well as the mentorship and internship aspects of KUEC’s biotechnology degree program, give students valuable experience that can translate quickly into professional success.
“Our hope is that the students gain a good sense of what daily life and real-world experience is needed to be successful in this field, and that potentially, they can make a smooth transition to the workplace immediately after graduation,” Leppin said.
Ask critical questions and think long-term.
When searching for a degree program, Logan suggests prospective students consider whether they want to pursue graduate education, or go straight into the workforce after graduating.
“If you plan to attend graduate school, how well does the program prepare you for graduate work? Does the program provide opportunities for you to generate evidence of your capabilities beyond GPA?” Logan said. “If you want to enter the workforce, how well does the program train you in workforce readiness skills? Are there opportunities to network with (people in) the industry prior to graduating? Does it allow you to showcase research projects that will give you an advantage over your competition? These are all good questions to consider before you make your choice.”
Leppin said the best way to have your questions answered and learn how a potential program aligns with your career and education goals is to speak with an advisor before you make your choice.
“Advisors are your best resources to map out a timely graduation, help you hurdle any issues that arise, and are always your go-to place to search out campus resources,” Leppin said. “Personally, I always take the time to make a semester breakdown for my students so they can have a visual representation of how long they’ll be in school, and also so they don’t feel that they’ll never get anywhere or graduate.”
Speak with current faculty or students in the program you’re considering.
Getting direct feedback from other students currently involved in an area you’re interested in is a great way to learn more about your potential program’s strengths, concentrations and whether or not it fits your needs.
Logan said that, like any consumer experience, talking with faculty and students about a program can give you an idea of quality as well as content.
“If you are visiting a new restaurant, do you want to hear the chef’s description of what they have created or do you want to hear the patrons share stories of their amazing dining experience? Probably both, right?” Logan said. “Ask the questions that are most relevant and important to you, but definitely ask current students if they feel prepared for their post-graduation plans, if the program helped them secure their post-graduation plans, if the academic challenges have helped them grow as a scientist, and if they have any advice for you.”
Leppin said direct interaction with faculty is a great way for prospective students to set themselves up for academic success early on.
“I’m always excited when students want to meet with the faculty and have in-depth conversations about their class content,” Leppin said. “They’re the experts, and I always think having an early connection to faculty is critical.”
Learn more about the Bachelor of Applied Science in Biotechnology degree program.
Do you already have your bachelor's degree and want to take the next step in your medical or health science career? Check out the new Post-Baccalaureate in Health Science program.