Understanding the much-hyped Biotechnology Careers

A few years ago, biotechnology was heralded as the new age career option with best prospects in a variety of industries ranging  from pharma, food, agriculture to research & teaching, but so far this promising field hasn’t produced any big magic when it comes to creating lots of jobs. Curriculum magazine spoke with Dr. David Smith  Course leader for MSc Biotechnology and senior lecturer in biochemistry at Sheffield Hallam University, UK, when he was on a visit to India recently.. Dr. David Smith 

There is a lot of hype around biotechnology even in India, but looking at the marketplace, career options as well as opportunities don’t justify that hype.  Biotechnology isn’t a career for masses.  Do you agree?

Biotechnology requires specialist skills and training so, in that sense, it is not a career choice for everyone. It is true that major biological breakthroughs don’t happen every day but the more we understand about biological processes then the closer we come to solving problems which would bring major benefits for human and environmental health. For those with a passion for biosciences, there are many exciting prospects. Imagine being part of a team which uncovers a successful treatment for a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Or being part of the research group which uses genetic engineering techniques to create a drought resistant crop. Advances and discoveries like this have the potential to dramatically improve lives.

Can you provide a detailed insight into emerging career options in biotechnology with the career progression point of view so that there is a reassurance among these student that what they are choosing is right?

By understanding analytical methods and cellular processes, biosciences graduates open a door to jobs all over the world, including in research centres, health organisations, the biopharmaceutical industry, forensics and analytical sciences. Multinational pharmaceutical and healthcare giants like GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Novartis are all major employers with thousands of global career opportunities. Roles for biotechnology graduates are varied and don’t all involve laboratories and white coats, there are also opportunities for those with skills and experience in these sectors as sales representatives, marketers, regulators, quality control engineers, senior managers and technical writers.

Let’s come to aptitude and foundation. So who is the ideal student to get into biotechnology and biochemistry course?  

There are many different personalities who succeed in biosciences but they all share a passion to learn more about the world and how it works. Students need to be inquisitive, bright, patient and prepared to question everything that they see and experience.

How do you see the progress the concept of STEM has made in arousing interest of students in the science and teaching community?

The idea of a focus on STEM in education is designed to meet the high demand in industry for graduates with academic and practical skills in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the past week, I have been participating in a STEM lecture tour in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to promote career opportunities in STEM subjects. The students I spoke to about opportunities in STEM subjects were definitely enthusiastic about their chosen STEM subject areas and their career prospects.

How about your university’s intake of international students particularly from India in these courses?

Sheffield Hallam University in the UK is well-established in India with an office in Delhi for more than a decade. The University has more than 34,000 students including more than 4,000 international students from over 100 countries. Indian students have studied a wide range of subject areas at Sheffield Hallam, including biotechnology, biomedical sciences and analytical chemistry.

What about placements?

All of our undergraduate degree programmes offer the opportunity to spend 12 months on a paid placement. Examples of companies or organisations where our biosciences students have recently completed placements include Reckitt Benckiser, Proctor & Gamble, Mondelez, Covance, National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Are there some scholarships?

In partnership with the British Council in India, Sheffield Hallam University is offering four GREAT Scholarships of £5,000 to India domiciled students who are starting masters study in September 2016 in the following subject areas: biosciences, engineering, business and management or construction, building and surveying. A biosciences GREAT scholarship will be awarded to applicants from one of the following courses: MSc Biomedical Laboratory Sciences, MSc Pharmacology and Biotechnology, MSc Biomedical Sciences, MSc Biotechnology, MSc Pharmaceutical Analysis, MSc Molecular and Cell Biology or MSc Analytical Chemistry.

Indian students can also apply for Transform Together Scholarships in any subject area. This is a competitive scholarship for a 50 per cent tuition fee discount for postgraduate courses and 50 percent tuition fee discount for each year of an undergraduate degree. Transform Together scholarships are awarded to high-achieving candidates based on personal, professional or academic merit.

The deadline for applications to both GREAT and Transform scholarships is 31 May, 2016. You must hold an offer for your chosen course before applying for a scholarship.

For more information on scholarships, visit www.shu.ac.uk/international/scholarships