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What jobs in biotechnology can put one in the frontiers of breakthrough research?

I am deeply fascinated by biology and have a passion for research. I want to explore my career options as a high schooler.

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Angeleah’s Answer

Hello Meghana,

I highly recommend conducting informational interviews and sifting through job descriptions in your areas of interest. This will help to inform you regarding what the job market looks like, as well as what skills are needed to be selected in various roles.

When I was at university my engineering degree, I called local companies and requested to conduct informational interviews of those in my potential roles. I asked them what the loved and didn’t love about their jobs, and what the most important skills are to bring. It really helped me refine my job searching after graduating.

I work for Thermo Fisher Scientific in Quality Management. Across our various groups and divisions, we have many job opportunities in biotech. We also offer internships during your university years.

Best of success! Always ask questions!
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much! I never thought of that idea at all. I will definitely consider Thermo Fisher in future! Meghana
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David’s Answer

I received my degree in Bioengineering: Bioinformatics, and got a job out of university at a company called Cue Health. They specialize in molecular diagnostic tests for various viruses and common health conditions. So I would say Immunology will probably be the biggest practical implementation of biotechnology. If biotech is your going to be your career, start looking into Boston and San Diego, as those are the biggest players in the biotech space. There are tons of new startups that pick up new graduates coming out of the local universities. If you know you are going to stay in your home town, I would try to reach out to professors at your local community college or university and ask them about their research and if they would be willing to take a volunteer intern. Having the ability to say you worked in a lab will be almost more beneficial than the degree itself. Here are some common jobs in biotech:

- Research Tech/ Associate: You typically maintain the lab space and run experiments that the Scientists/PI request

- Scientist: You collaborate with the PI on what experiments to run and analyze the data from the experiments (You typically need a at least Master's to reach Scientist)

Bioinformatician/ Data Analyst: This requires a lot of programming experience, and is where the money is right now. In this position you essentially interpret the data collected from the labs and have to create a coherent narrative around that data. The biotech industry is pushed forward by data, those who can interpret the data, basically dictate where the industry goes.

Wet lab duties:
- Cell culture, there's a difference between eukaryotic and prokaryotic cell culturing (eukaryotic is more challenging and thus pays more)
- Assays, all the assays (Western Blot, ELISA, PCR, Chromatin Immunoprecipitation, and many many many more)
- Spectroscopies (IR, Mass, X-ray Diffraction, Fluorescence, etc)

Dry lab duties:
- All the data analysis
- Learn Python/R
- Perform data visualization
- Machine Learning (Tensorflow, PyTorch)
- Molecular Sequence Analysis
- NGS (get familiar with algorithms ala Burrows-Wheeler Transform, Longest Common Subsequence, Sequence Alignment, BLAST)
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Diya’s Answer

Great question! I liked biology and research in high school too. I majored in biomedical engineering in college, combining those with my desire to do something hands-on.

As a high schooler, I would suggest participating in a science fair like the Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair or Science Talent Search. You could enter a research project that matches your interest for the fair.

Steps I took to get a high school research project:
1. I would look up research labs at colleges or universities nearby, reading what their lab does and making a list of which one sounds interesting to you based on the biology classes you've taken so far.
2. Call or email them, explaining why you're interested in working in their lab, what you understand about the work they do (even if it's just one small thing), and ask if you can be a high school intern or "research volunteer" or "student volunteer" in their lab.
3. Reach out to 8 to 10 labs because only 2-3 may get back to you. Don't be discouraged.
This will give you practical, hands-on experience. I did this and learned a lot.

I see you're in Texas so here's an apprenticeship program you can do as a graduating HS senior: https://wwwext.arlut.utexas.edu/se.shtml

Keep in mind,
Biology + Research = Biotech industry (in-vitro diagnostics, high throughput diagnostic equipment, genetics engineering, tissue engineering)
AND
Biology + Research = Medical device industry (surgical robots, insulin pumps, IV infusion delivery, implantable heart valves, prosthetics, coatings & hydrogels) or biopharmaceutical industry

To perform cutting edge research, think about both jobs in companies ("industry") and jobs in universities/national research labs ("academia").
- Industry jobs tend to ask "how": How can we turn new or existing research into a product that people can use (and that can be sold) ?
- Academia jobs tend to ask "why": Why does this mechanism/process/reaction occur and why is it important?
- Of course, this is an oversimplification and there's lots of overlap.

Also, think about a college major in science vs. engineering because both can offer research opportunities in biology related fields.

Examples of potential college majors (there are LOTS more I haven't included) :
- Biology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Biochemistry
- Data Science, Systems/Computational Biology
- Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Neuroengineering
- Mechanical or Electrical Engineering (looking at how mechanical forces can create an artificial extra-cellular matrix for cell culture or how electrical currents can stimulate neurons)

Companies I've done research in:
- Thermo Fisher, Edwards Lifesciences, Becton Dickinson, DNA Electronics, Cue Health

TL;DR - In my research experience, breakthrough research isn't one big "ah-ha" moment. It's not looking at the crisp full picture your camera takes. It's a series of small "ah-ha" moments, zooming in on one small square within the full picture. If we do that multiple times, working with many people, then we can stitch together a big discovery or a new product. It's a lot of work but it's worth it! Find a specific area in biology that you like enough to put in the hard work, and then persevere in that field. That will lead you to the frontiers of cutting edge research, imho.

Hope this helps! Good luck, and keep being curious =)
Thank you comment icon I love your answer! Thank you so much for your effort and time, I really really appreciate it! It gave me lot of insight about the field. Meghana
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