Congratulations on your decision to become a biotechnologist. Whether you choose to work in the field of cutting-edge HIV/AIDS research, help treat complex diseases through genetic mapping, develop bioinformatics tools and systems that support research, implement better processes through industrial biotech research, improve the quality of generic drugs, or study the mechanism of organisms in engineering biomechanics---a career in biotechnology will give you the satisfaction of chipping in to improve the quality of life for people around the world.
Enroll in biology, physics and chemistry in high school. Join a preparatory school such as the Biotechnology High School in New Jersey, which offers concentrations in bio-medical, agricultural science, the environment and genetics. The University of Wisconsin's biotech outreach program, BioTrek, conducts free workshops (there is a charge for materials used) for school groups K-16 and after-school groups located in Wisconsin. Courses can be held at your location if you foot transportation expenses. Many universities across the United States organize biotech summer schools for students in grades 9-12. For example: Stony Brook University offers a four-week residential program where students are introduced to techniques in biotech research, and Georgia Tech conducts a three-week program on investigative biology for students 11-12. California-based A Schmahl Science Workshop deploys mobile labs to enable school and after-school groups to conduct advanced experiments in biotech, biology and biochemistry. The Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative Inc. conducts summer camps on tissue re-engineering for students K-12.
Pick a field within biotech research after attending camps, reading news on the latest research initiatives available on university and company websites, and speaking to your guidance counselor and teachers. According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), biotechnology research has led to 200 new therapies and vaccines for various diseases ranging from diabetes and HIV/AIDS to cancer and autoimmune disorders. BIO estimates that over 400 biotech drugs and vaccines are currently in clinical trials, which target more than 200 diseases. While you are not expected to pick your specialization after high school, you must have some idea on what interests you while applying to college. Read up on the subject. Books include: "Know Your Gene," a high school workbook by Dr. N.C. Bailey and Dr. N.I. Eskeland, and "Opportunities in Biotechnology Careers," by Sheldon S. Brown.
Pick a college whose biotech programs are aligned with your interests. The online Biotechnology Degree Guide provides a comprehensive list of U.S. colleges/universities that offer biotech programs. "Mind to Market: A Global Analysis of University Biotechnology Transfer and Commercialization" by Milken Institute authors, lists the top biotech programs in the United States. The universities that scored high include Harvard University, the University of Texas, U.C. San Francisco, Johns Hopkins, MIT, the University of California system, Caltech, Stanford University and the University of Florida.
Follow industry news regularly. This will provide you with information on which companies conduct research in your areas of interest, and where your contribution will be most valued. You will also be informed on the trends in research and development funding and grants, and market opportunities for cutting-edge research. Online sources include "Pharma Industry News/Biotech Industry News" from Medical News Today; "GeneRef" for genomics and bioinformatics; and "MedPage Today."
- Be prepared for cutthroat competition. Though the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) estimates the pool of biological scientists to grow 9 percent from 2006 to 2016---the average for all occupations---the increase in research and development spending has steadily slowed since 2006. The DOL expects this trend to continue through 2016, resulting in an extremely competitive environment for the number of research grants that are awarded and renewed. Opportunities could be further reduced by the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to a lower-cost and equally educated work force in developing countries. But if you are determined to be a part of the group of biotechnologists who are poised to take research to the next level, then an exciting, challenging and immensely satisfying career awaits you.
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