March 28, 2011

What Next?: Biotech

Our series about life after high school takes a look at the biotechnology field.

Jessica: The science lab at San Mateo High School used to be so dusty it would mess up students’ research projects.

“Last year, we had a lot of experiments where we got some weird data.”

Jessica: Well, the data is a lot more accurate now. That is because San Mateo spent $6 million to build a state-of-the-art science lab. The school hopes it will prepare students for a career that is expected boom over the next decade: biotechnology.

In biotechnology, scientists use living organisms in technology, medicine, even engineering. For example, using cells from a mouse to develop new drugs for humans or using plants to clean-up pollution like landfills and oil spills.

A lot of jobs in today’s biotechnology field are focused on genetically altering organisms, like modifying genes to make crops grow faster.

Scientists are even working on a way to take wood chips and grass and turn them into gasoline called biofuel.

Arun Assundi hasn’t even graduated from high school yet but he is already conducting the same type of research that biotech companies do.

Arun Assundi: I’m trying to break down cellulose into glucose. The goal is to eventually produce biofuels.

Jessica: Now the sparkling new lab is attracting a whole new generation of scientists.

Arun: Biotech. My sister had taken it and told me it was more hands-on and I like that, not just having to learn from a textbook.

“In this program, the goal is to increase the student’s proficiency so they can work as independent laboratory workers and transfer those skills to the adult world, in universities or industry labs.”

Jessica: So, what is next for students like Arun?

If he wants to work at a university or be a lead researcher at a biotech company he will need a PhD, which can take five to six years after college. Scientists with PhDs in biotech can earn between $110,000 to $140,000 a year.┬áBut there are other areas of biotechnology. You can get a bachelor’s degree to work in sales or marketing earning $75-$80,000. To do this, you should focus on taking science classes in high school and then marketing in college.

If you want to be on the science end but don’t have a $6 million lab at your school, don’t worry. By taking classes in chemistry, biology, physics and math, you will be heading in the right direction. And you could solve some of the worlds most pressing problems, like finding a cure for cancer or an alternative to gasoline.


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