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Biotechnology - Detailed overview

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Occupation Training Program: Biotechnology

Biotechnology programs prepare people to use biology and other sciences to make new food and drug products. Students learn about microbes, genetic engineering, and the sequencing of DNA. They also learn about patents and ethics.

Biotechnology is controversial in some places, especially in Europe. But here in the U.S. it is going strong. Among its benefits, advances in biotechnology have made some crops more productive and resistant to pests. Some people believe it will bring about the next big industrial revolution. For example, goats have been bred to produce components of spider silk in their milk.

You can study biotechnology in a bachelor's degree program. This usually takes four years of full-time study beyond high school. About 60 colleges offer such a program. It includes a big helping of laboratory sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, and biochemistry. The goal is to teach you basic scientific research methods. In fact, this program emphasizes research more than most bachelor's programs. Often you are required to take a course in research methods. You may also have a seminar course in which you do research and report to the class.

You take classes in some of the most modern scientific techniques for manipulating genes. You learn about the inner workings of the cell and how they can be exploited. The goal may be to change the characteristics of the cell and the tissue that it forms.

The bachelor's degree is a good stepping-stone to medical, dental, or veterinary school. You may go on to further studies in physical or occupational therapy, or education, with the goal of becoming a teacher. Or it may lead you to graduate school in agriculture or another field of biology. If you want to stay in the field of biotechnology, you can get your career started at a higher level with the additional research training that graduate school provides. Or you may want an advanced degree with the goal of teaching in college. About 35 graduate schools offer master's and doctorate degrees. A master's usually requires two years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's. The doctorate typically takes an additional three years.

In graduate school you can often specialize in some aspect of biotechnology. You may be interested in genetic engineering of animal models of human diseases. Or you may want to study tissue engineering, biomaterials, and cellular bioreactor technology. You may go through a series of lab rotations. These expose you to different procedures and topics of research. Expect to learn how to use statistics to process data from experiments. You also should study some of the social and ethical issues that swirl around your field.

At the doctoral level, you are expected to join the community of scholars who publish their research findings. You undertake an original research project and write it up as your dissertation.


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