Is biotechnology a good career? The pros and cons

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Biotechnology is a diverse and rapidly evolving field that offers numerous career opportunities, with plenty of in-demand jobs currently available within the sector. Although you might be interested in getting into a career in biotech, you might first be wondering what the pros and cons are of working in the industry. At the end of the day, this could influence your final decision on whether or not to follow this particular career path.

In this article, we have listed the main pros and cons of a career in biotechnology to try and help you figure out whether the industry is a good fit for you. 

Pros of choosing a career in biotechnology 

Meaningful impact

Naturally, biotech is at the forefront of scientific innovation. This means that professionals who work in the industry have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to society, as they will often be working at the cutting edge of research and development, ultimately contributing to advancements in healthcare, as well as in areas like agriculture and sustainability. 

Stella Vnook, founder of Oral Bio Life, who began her career at Merck & Co and is now focused on building biotech startups, said: “Many individuals find working in biotech rewarding due to the direct impact on human health and quality of life, as well as contributions to addressing global challenges such as disease outbreaks and climate change.”

Amy Reichelt, chief innovation officer at PurMinds Neuropharma, also pointed out that biotech companies often operate on a global scale, meaning they need to collaborate with researchers, healthcare professionals, and organizations all over the world. “This provides opportunities for professionals to work on international projects and contribute to solving global health issues.”

Ultimately, whether you are working in a lab, an office, or in sales within biotech, you will be playing a role in helping people live healthier and happier lives.

Competitive salaries

Salary is always an important factor when choosing a career path, and the good news is that biotechnology companies typically offer high wages that reflect the specialized skills and knowledge required to work within the industry. 

“Biotech careers typically offer competitive salaries and benefits, especially for individuals with a PhD – an entry position in biotech pays more than a postdoc,” said Reichelt. “Moreover, biotechs understand that they need to retain their talented employees as well as attract talent; they typically do this via the award of company shares or equity, which fosters a sense of ownership among their staff, along with generous bonus schemes (often ranging 12%-30% of annual salary) to reward staff for their hard work, commitment, and skills.”

Jared Auclair, director of the biotechnology and bioinformatics programs at Northeastern University, commented in a blog on the Northeastern website: “I would say that the typical starting salary for one of our students with a master’s is [between] $75 and $85,000 per year…I anticipate that we’ll see that go up a bit in coming years, but overall that’s pretty good for a first job.”

Career growth opportunities

A priority for many people when choosing a career path is having the opportunity to advance within their field. Luckily, there are plenty of career growth opportunities available in the biotech industry. 

“The biotech industry is rapidly expanding, offering ample opportunities for career advancement, as well as being able to apply your skills across different types of companies, e.g. from CNS [central nervous system] to oncology,” said Reichelt. 

Additionally, with the right educational background and experience, you can be prepared for opportunities for advancement to a managerial or executive-level position, especially as many companies offer leadership development programs. 

Collaborative environment

Vnook said that another perk within the biotech industry is that it offers numerous opportunities to work as a member of a team: “Biotech often fosters a collaborative culture, where multidisciplinary teams work together to solve problems, leading to a dynamic and supportive workplace.”

Furthermore, because the field is brimming with bright, motivated people, it can make each workday intellectually fulfilling, as well as being a good way to meet new, like-minded individuals. 

So, if you happen to be passionate about working with others to solve complex issues, a career in biotechnology could be a good fit for you purely on that basis. 

Cons of choosing a career in biotechnology

Regulatory hurdles

Biotech products often require approval from regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and navigating these regulations can be quite tricky, often requiring significant resources and expertise. 

Vnook explained: “Biotech products and innovations are subject to rigorous regulatory approval processes, which can be time-consuming, costly, and uncertain, delaying time to market and increasing the risk of failure.”

In addition, the regulatory environment is constantly changing, which means that you and your organization must put in the time and effort to stay up-to-date on the latest regulations and requirements.

Risk of failure

Speaking of the risk of failure, this is also a downside to working in the field. Vnook said: “Biotech research and development involve high levels of uncertainty, with many projects failing to reach commercialization despite significant investment of time and resources.”

Reichelt agreed that projects often have high failure rates, particularly in drug discovery and clinical trials. She added: “Investing significant time and resources into a project that ultimately fails can be disheartening, and being ‘let go’ from a role can be difficult emotionally.”

Financial instability

Despite the competitive salaries that a career in biotech can offer, financial instability is potentially a big concern when wondering whether to get into the industry. This issue has been very noticeable of late since the economic downturn has led to multiple layoffs, budget cuts, and even bankruptcies in the last couple of years. 

“Biotech startups and small companies often face financial challenges, including limited access to funding, cash flow issues, and dependence on external investors, which can lead to volatility and instability in employment,” said Vnook. 

And, as biotech jobs rely heavily on technology – which is always expanding – you or your company may fall behind if it cannot keep up with the times. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) has been widely incorporated into many companies within the industry. Gideon Ho, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of HistoIndex, told Labiotech in a previous interview that the people who use AI will “definitely” replace people who don’t use AI. “It’s a natural evolution of things. If you have new tools and you do not use them, you’re basically rendering yourself obsolete. If it is a good tool, we should use it and embrace it so that we will continue to remain relevant to the industry.”

High competition

Another potential downside of looking to get into a career in biotech is simply that breaking into the field can initially be very challenging due to high competition. 

Vnook explained: “The biotech industry is highly competitive, with numerous companies vying for funding, talent, and market share, leading to pressure to innovate quickly and differentiate from competitors.”

However, this is the case for many skilled professions, and as long as you have the correct qualifications and experience, and know how to hone your CV and interview skills, there is no reason why you should not stand a chance at securing a job within the field. 

Is a career in biotechnology a good fit for you?

If you are still unsure as to whether a career in biotechnology is a good fit for you after viewing the pros and cons, Labiotech asked Reichelt and Vnook to help provide some further pointers on the subject. 

According to Reichelt, biotech jobs are suited for people who are passionate about both science and the application of science to real-world problems. She said: “People who succeed in these roles are also highly rigorous, curious, and analytical. Teamwork is very important too, so having these ‘soft’ skills, including the ability to clearly communicate complex information and interpersonal skills, are vital too.”

Vnook also agrees that passion is vital to determining whether a career in biotech is right for you. “Keep your passion for the field and maintain a sense of purpose in contributing to meaningful advancements and innovations that benefit patients,” she said. “I had to learn how to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and remain flexible to learn new things, adapt to changes. Like with any industry, you must be open to tackling new problems, exploring unfamiliar areas, and pushing the boundaries of your knowledge and skills.

“I am passionate about the evolution of healthcare. And many times, when I had to practice patience or stay resilient, I reminded myself of the meaningful impact that biotechnology has on human health, the environment, and people that are waiting for this new treatment.”

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